STRINGS & SUDS SERIES: Eddie Perez of The Mavericks
The Mavericks work hard. They tour constantly. At the moment, the eclectic Latin-country quartet is working on two albums: a cover record and a set of new Spanish-language originals, both of which will be released through Mono Mundo Recordings, which they own and operate themselves. You don’t work that hard if you don’t love what you do, and Eddie Perez, who plays guitar in the Mavericks loves what he does. His love of music is evident in everything he does and speaking to him just makes you happy. We talked over the phone earlier this week about Los Lobos, Motown, Telecasters, and more. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.
DW: Just a few days before I found out I was going to interview you, my parents saw you with Los Lobos up in Dayton. They loved the performance. You've been doing quite a few dates with them this year. What's your relationship with them like?
EP: Well, it goes back a long way. We've done shows with them in the past. And our singer Raul was in a project with a couple of the Los Lobos guys called Los Super Seven. So, doing these shows with them is like a bunch of friends getting together. When you tour as much as we do, you meet everyone that's doing what you're doing. And they certainly fall into that same category as us, so we've known each other for a long time and when we get together, we're just a bunch of friends hanging out.
DW: Yeah, and they've been doing the country-plus-Latin-plus-everything-else thing since the 70s. Do you see them as an inspiration? Did they somehow open the door for the Mavericks?
EP: They're absolutely an inspiration. They've kept their thing going for more than forty years now. That's like a beacon to us. They stay true to what they're trying to do. Album after album, they seem to find a renewed spirit in what they do.
DW: I've been listening to the Brand New Day album a lot lately. And your range on the guitar amazes me. Sometimes, like on that final track "Damned (If You Do)," electric guitar is the primary rhythm instrument, but other times you're just doing strange little flourishes here and there. It got me thinking, what do you consider your role in the Mavericks? Are you a lead guitarist? Rhythm? And does that change between the stage and the studio?
EP: I see my role as being just another part of the orchestra. When we go in to make those records, we're just looking for what feels right, what's going to tell the story best. We're not necessarily thinking about what the rhythm guitar part should be, or which songs need guitar solos. It's wide-open, quite honestly. The deeper we get into the song, the more it reveals to us what it needs. So, on any given track, I could be playing banjo or mandolin or acoustic guitar. Or it could be a full rocked-up thing.
But if you listen deeply, there's a lot more electric guitar in our music than you might think at first. We keep the rhythm parts pretty low in the mix so they're adding something but you're not quite sure what it is at first. And if you've ever been to our shows, you know that they're big dance parties. And a big part of that is that chugging rhythm that's always at the forefront.
DW: And everyone in the band is responsible for creating that rhythm. The electric guitar is just a small part of it.
EP: Yes, absolutely. It's very layered. The horns do a lot of it.
DW: This might be one of those subtle, orchestral flourishes you were talking about, but there's a lot happening at the end of the track "Ride with Me," a lot of people improvising at the same time, but you really shine there. I absolutely love those leads you're playing with that insane-sounding reverb. What was the idea for that sound?
EP: Thank you! You know, that song is absolutely autobiographical, in every sense. It's based on things that we went through as a band, and my thinking for that ending was that it would sound like everyone in the band on the bus. There are all these distinct, dynamic individuals with their own flair, their own style and their own way of playing. Without every one of them, the Mavericks wouldn't sound the same. The band is based in Nashville now, but it got its start in Miami in the late 80s. I joined in 2003. So everyone's style is also a representation of where they're from. So, what I brought to that particular track was my own West-coast surf-guitar vibe. But if you listen to that track, the way everyone's playing sounds like who they are and where they're from. And I know these personalities really well, and I love them dearly, and when I hear that track, I hear all of them.
DW: You wrote an autobiographical guitar solo somehow.
EP: Yeah, exactly!
DW: So, you told me you were working on an album of cover songs with the Mavericks. What was the process of choosing those songs like?
EP: If the songs don't resonate with Raul, our singer and frontman, then they probably don't have a good chance of making it on the record.
DW: Because he can't sing them, sincerely, would you say?
EP: Right. We're a very genuine, very sincere band. But also, when we put out a record, we tour those songs for at least a year, so we have to make sure that we enjoy what we're doing when we're on tour. So we don't want to make Raul sing a song he doesn't believe in. But that record started early on at soundchecks. We'd mess around; play little bits and pieces of this song and that song. There's a song we've been playing at our live shows, one of Raul's all-time favorites, "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" by Freddy Fender. We do a Waylon Jennings tune, a Marvin Gaye tune.
DW: Which Marvin Gaye Tune?
EP: It's a song from the thick of Motown, an early 60s track called "Once Upon a Time."
DW: That's a great one! One thing that isn't discussed enough about The Mavericks as a project is how much soul, and specifically Motown, is in your sound. The title track from Brand New Day is basically a Motown track with a country singer on top of it.
DW: The guitar you play most often is a Telecaster, which is the iconic country guitar. Have you been a lifelong tele guy? Or has your relationship with that particular guitar changed over the years?
EP: My earliest influences were Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, so I was more into Les Pauls and that sort of thing. But when I first heard Dwight Yoakam, it was around 1986. I heard that Telecaster sound and I just never turned back. Something about the twang, but also the ballsiness of that sound: traditional country music but with a new, rock-and-roll attitude. Since then I've been a solid Telecaster player. Before I joined the Mavericks, I was out on the road for about seven years with Dwight Yoakam playing a tele.
DW: What's your number one tele right now?
EP: It's a 2008 Nash telecaster. About ten years ago I was at a music store. I had a buddy that worked there, and he called me and said, "We just got a new guitar in that's all you. You've got to check it out." Then I saw it. It was a little bit beat-up. It had this great off-white color to it with no gloss or anything on it. Flat-looking. Then I plugged it in and played one chord and I just knew this guitar had the goods. I can cover a whole two-hour Mavericks gig with just that one guitar.
DW: You mentioned Dwight Yoakam just now. You've played for him and some white artists, artists that are more going for a straightahead Nashville sound, or at least a sound with less of a Mexican or Cuban influence, people like Miranda Lambert or George Strait. Do you approach the guitar differently when you're playing with those artists? Or is that a false distinction? Are you just you no matter who you're playing with?
EP: Nobody's ever asked me that before, but that's a great question. You know, my wife says "You're like a chameleon. You seem to know how to gel with whoever you're playing with." But no matter who I'm playing with, I'm still myself, in that I'm sincerely feeling the music. But my strategy is to observe what the band is doing, and to find myself in what they're doing. And that goes for how I play, but also how I present myself.
DW: So, like a cowboy hat might work with one artist but not another.
EP: You know, I think the cowboy hat always works. Honestly, I think if you're spirit is right, and you're genuine about what you're doing, then people will give you the space to be yourself.