After a pair of albums on the Big Machine imprint Valory Music Co., The Mavericks announced a new direction last week: The country veterans are striking out on their own and launching Mono Mundo records. The new label partnered up with Nashville indie Thirty Tigers for distribution. In a statement, the band indicated that it plans to test its luck immediately by releasing a pair of albums within the next year.
Billboard caught up with Mavericks frontman Raul Malo to discuss the decision to go indie and where his band fits in the modern country music landscape.
When did you first start thinking about starting your own label?
This conversation started a couple years ago. It was just something that we’ve always wanted to; it’s always been in the back of our minds. And just looking at the business and how it’s been going and how it’s been going for us, it seemed like this was going to be an eventuality that we were going to end up at. It seemed like a natural progression.
Tell me more about that.
Just looking at the music we were making, the fanbase that’s coming out to the shows, where we should be positioned at retail — musically, you can tell mainstream radio’s not gonna play our stuff. And that’s not a slam at them; it’s the reality of it. There’s a certain point where you have to realize where you fit in in the grand scheme of things and act accordingly.
What was it like ending your relationship with Big Machine?
We were done legally, but it’s not easy to part ways. They’re friends; there are expectations on both sides and everybody wants to do their best. The fact that we had two records on Big Machine really solidified the reunion of this band. It made us legitimate and it gave the band wings and it led us to this point. Knowing Scott, we’ve been friends for a long time — I don’t think there’s a bigger supporter of the Mavericks. We’ve learned more about the business than we’ve ever had. I’m forever grateful to Scott and Big Machine. It’s just two different worlds. We’re not in that world, and that’s OK.
Do you feel like country was always split into two different worlds or that disparity has become more pronounced?
That’s just it — even back in the day when we were in the thick of it, it was still two different worlds. We were always the outsiders. We got lucky with a few records, we snuck in there and had some success. But people think we had lots of No. 1s and top 10s; no we didn’t. We had one record in the top 10, and it was top 10 for a minute, like a week. That was “All You Ever Do Was Bring Me Down.” We won awards, we won the CMAs, we won a Grammy, but I think that was just because — we earned them, I feel like we did — we toured quite a bit, and we were successful touring. We were selling records in spite of radio not playing us. That’s always been a recurring theme in our lives.
How did you connect with Thirty Tigers?
We’ve known David [Macias] for years. When he started Thirty Tigers, we always kept in touch. It wasn’t the right thing for us at the time a few years ago. Once the deal with Big Machine expired, moving forward the timing was perfect with David right now on both sides. He’s been able to try different things, learn a lot, and grow his company and really get through some of the growing pains. Us as well — we’ve learned a lot about retail, manufacturing. The knowledge that both parties have acquired over the years will serve well in this endeavor. It feels right.
Independent labels haven’t always had a ton of success in Nashville; do you feel like that’s beginning to shift?
Definitely. Thirty Tigers has proven that indies can succeed; they can do things a little differently. For artists like us, that works really well. We’re prepared, and they’re ready to take this project on. It’s all relative. And certainly for The Mavericks, everything has always been relative anyway.
Why the return to a live album?
The live show is essential to us. I don’t think we would exist without it. Obviously the concert business is key to us, so there’s not a better way to promote it than putting out a live record.
And will Thirty Tigers give you input on the studio album you’re working on?
Honestly Big Machine didn’t even have input on our records. I think with The Mavericks, you take what you get when you get it. The record’s done. That’s never been an issue. Wherever we’ve been, the creative process has always been left to us. That’s just an understood thing. If someone wants to take me out to dinner and buy me some wine and talk about it, then sure, that’s fine. I’ll talk about it.