By Scott Cunningham
Published May 20, 2015
Given enough time, just about anyone can use enough effects, auto-tuning, and engineering to make music sound sort of like, well, music. Take away all the gimmickry, though, and most musicians would sound radically different.
Not The Mavericks.
Not only did they record their most recent release live in the studio (everyone plays at the same time, performing the song like it would be in a concert), they did it with no pre-production, or even concept of what the finished material would sound like when they walked into the studio.
Oh, and to up the level of difficulty, they released the record in mono. Yes, mono, the way records used to be released.
In a word, the result is fantastic.
The album, aptly titled ‚ÄúMono‚ÄĚ, was released earlier this year and recently peaked at Number 1 on the Americana Music charts.
In advance of their concert Friday night at Revolution Hall, I spoke with drummer Paul Deakin about the album and how the band generates one of the most memorable, unique, and delightful sounds in all of music.
Step one is drawing from those who have gone before them, artists such as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.
‚ÄúOne of the things we do is we‚Äôd come in around 10 or 11 in the morning and listen to vinyl records to kind of inspire us to play,‚ÄĚ Deakin says.
During one of these listening sessions, producer Nico Bolas joked that they should mix the album in mono, emulating the style and feel of the music they were drawing inspiration from. Everyone readily agreed, if for no other reason than the fun of not following conventional wisdom, a trademark of the band.
While the decision to release the final mix in mono didn‚Äôt impact the recording process, it did present some interesting challenges for Bolas and front man Raul Malo in the final engineering steps.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no trickery with stereo to boost something over here so your ear goes somewhere else,‚ÄĚ Deakin explains. ‚ÄúThe real challenge was for Nico and Raul mixing it, and to be honest with you the drums sound really good because it is right down the middle in mono. They are very present.‚ÄĚ
Recording live also presents its own set of challenges. First and foremost, Deakin says ‚Äúeveryone has to submit a good performance of the song.‚ÄĚ
In a digital world where retakes can be endless and the only cost is studio time, that is a feat easier said than done. The Mavericks pull it off with aplomb and precision.
Pretty impressive considering the band didn‚Äôt road test any of the material before laying it down in the studio.
‚ÄúRaul, for the last two records, has given us an interesting way to play. He doesn‚Äôt give us any music and we don‚Äôt do any pre-production. We don‚Äôt have any idea what is going to happen,‚ÄĚ Deakin says. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs kind of like the old Johnny Cash thinking, ‚ÄėLet‚Äôs cut this before we learn it.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
From start to finish, ‚ÄúMono‚ÄĚ was recorded, mixed, and mastered in six days, something unheard of outside of basement studios.
The album was recorded at John McBride‚Äôs Blackbird Studio in Nashville, which is pretty much Disneyland for musicians.
Deakin brought his own drums to the studio, thinking he would play them on the album. Upon hearing this, McBride said, ‚ÄúYou brought drums? That‚Äôs like bringing sand to the beach.‚ÄĚ
He soon found himself in a drummer‚Äôs paradise.
‚Äú(McBride‚Äôs) drum collection is ridiculous. He took me in this room and it was more drums than I‚Äôve seen in our local drum shop. He had about 150 snare drums all along his wall. He has about 60 kits.‚ÄĚ
Style wise, the band draws from numerous sources: country, early rock (and rockabilly), and Latin. The end result is what I‚Äôve always considered to be one of the most distinctive, pleasurable sounds in contemporary music.
I asked Deakin about this eclectic mix of sounds and genres, searching for some easy to grasp explanation for what defines the band and their music.
‚ÄúI think it is really luck,‚ÄĚ Deakin told me. ‚ÄúThis group of people started playing together and it works. I think that what makes this band undefinable is the fact that there‚Äôs a lot of luck in putting the right people together.‚ÄĚ
Luckily, The Mavericks visit Portland this Friday, May 22, when they appear at Revolution Hall, located at 1300 SE Stark Street. Doors are at 7:00pm and the show is general admission. Tickets are still available.