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Entertainment Weekly

Music

The Mavericks say Hey! Merry Christmas! on new holiday album

John Shearer/Getty Images

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Multifaceted rockers the Mavericks bring tidings of comfort and joy on their spirited new holiday album Hey! Merry Christmas! 

As is their way, the quartet hopscotches through a variety of sounds from country to pop to Latin-inflected numbers, all in the name of providing the perfect soundtrack for your holiday party. From festive crowd sing-alongs like the title track to late night mistletoe rendezvous music like “I Have Wanted You (For Christmas),” the Grammy-winning group is here to help you jingle all the way.

From the naughty (especially the winking “Santa Wants to Take You For a Ride”) to the nice, singer-songwriter Raul Malo and guitarist Eddie Perez reveal to EW the secrets to writing great original holiday songs, no easy feat in a world of pre-sold classics. (And if you love Christmas music, be sure to check out Malo’s dynamite 2007 solo holiday album Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites.)

PRO TIP: IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO WRITE HOLIDAY MUSIC DURING THE HOLIDAYS

“People ask how we were inspired to write Christmas songs,” says Malo of the clutch of 8 originals on the album. “You’re really never inspired to write Christmas songs. During the holidays you’re inundated with the stuff. You might come up with an idea, but you’re busy: you’ve got family, there’s one party after another, this and that,  and then it’s over. It’s like ‘Oh damn, I didn’t write my Christmas record.'” Noting that many of the classics were written by professional songwriters, Malo says, “It’s not like they were inspired, no, it was a task. You have to kind of approach it in that regard and forget inspiration,”  he says, before adding with a laugh, “How about poverty? That’s my inspiration.”

BUT, SERIOUSLY, THERE WAS INSPIRATION BEHIND SEVERAL TRACKS, INCLUDING THE SWOONINGLY ROMANTIC “I HAVE WANTED YOU (FOR CHRISTMAS)”

“We lead pretty full lives and we get to experience all of it and so that kind of romance– you wonder if it exists,” says Malo of the tune in which he employs his angelic voice to extol the idea of a love that stretches beyond a lifetime, beyond time itself. “We can be cynical about whether or not it exists, but it’s still something to shoot for.” Adds Perez, “I’d like to believe that it does.”

CHOOSE THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT TO WRITE AND RECORD—IN THIS CASE, ARIZONA

“I don’t need to be in three feet of snow to write about it. The hell with that,” says Malo with another chuckle about the desert serving as the unlikely backdrop for the band summoning its yuletide cheer. “You just hole up, get a pen, paper, a cup of coffee, roll a joint, and go at it.”

THE KEY TO TIMELESSNESS? NOSTALGIA.

“When I first heard the mix of it in the playback, it hit me in a deep-bones kind of way, like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be around a really long time,'” says Perez of the wistful “Christmas Time Is (Coming ‘Round Again).” “We all aspire to the greats that have come before.”

DON’T RULE OUT GETTING WEIRD

On the mellotron-centered version of “Happy Holiday,” Malo takes a familiar favorite and messes with the meter and the mood with beguilingly quirky results, transforming the vibe from cheery to haunting. “I love that juxtaposition,” says Malo. “I thought, it might creep some people out but if it ends up being in some Christmas horror movie it’s like I’ll get the last laugh. It will be the perfect song.” Perez says the band loved the rendition when they heard Malo’s demo and urged him not to change it.  “It sounded from another era,” shared the California native. “It still has the inherent quality that is the Mavericks because of Raul’s sentiment.”

SANTA CLAUS NEEDS TO CUT LOOSE SOMETIMES

“He’s earned it,” says Malo of the bawdy, jazzy “Santa Wants to Take You for a Ride.” “He’s worked his ass off to bring a bunch of toys to a bunch of unappreciative little brats that are going to sift through it and ignore it for the rest of the year. Let’s get real now. Santa’s had enough of their s—. He’s going to have himself a little fun too or cancel the damn thing.”

EVEN MAVERICKS HAVE TRADITIONS

“As Cubans, on Christmas Eve we get together and have the big party, and there is usually pork, rice and beans,” says Malo. “Sometimes we go all out and actually cook a whole pig. That’s a lot of work.” Perez also settles in to watch movies and specials with his wife and son, including A Christmas Story, Elf, A Charlie Brown Christmas and Trading Places. And naturally, for both men, holiday music is key. On their playlist and recommended for you: Elvis’ Christmas Album by Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong & Friends What a Wonderful Christmas. They hope Hey! Merry Christmas! can become a part of other folks’ traditions. “We feel like it’s a great representative of the band.”

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