Nashville-based tunesmith Raul Malo has no trouble recalling the good old days, a decade or so ago when his platinum-selling, MCA-signed ex-outfit The Mavericks was riding high in the country world.
Trouble is, in hindsight, they were not so great. Back then, it was easy to blow through $250,000 recording one album. And if the disc sold 2 million copies, Malo says, “The label immediately thinks that the next record is going to sell 4 million, and they budget everything accordingly. And before you know it, you have three producers, you’ve recorded 70 songs and you still don’t have an album out. So it’s no wonder, honestly, that the record business is in the toilet.”
But the self-starter, who appears in San Francisco on Monday, decided to fight back with “Sinners & Saints,” a recording he self-produced in a studio he jury-rigged in his ranch-house living room.
How did he polish such glossy cuts as “Sombras,” the flamenco-spiced title track, and a faithful reworking of Rodney Crowell’s “’Til I Gain Control Again”?
It began with last year’s Steve Berlin-assisted “Lucky One,” Malo says.
“I started doing demos at home, and a couple of ’em ended up making it onto the record. And I thought, ‘If they passed Steve Berlin’s test, then they must be OK!’” he says.
So Malo, 45, dove headlong into the DIY world, augmenting his mic-preamp-computer setup with some key pieces of equipment, then played almost every instrument — even drums — himself.
The experiment should not have worked. “My living room is a big rectangular chamber with high ceilings and tiled floors, almost a completely wrong sonic environment,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s absolutely perfect if you adapt to the room and you like that live-room sound, which I happen to love. So my room just has a lot of personality, a real vibe to it.”
To achieve that warm, intimate sound, Malo studied the techniques of early Motown percussionists and taught himself to play “like an old-school guy, where you temper your snare hits and cymbal crashes,” he says. “And that was the trick — once you control the volume of your drums, everything else can fit in its place accordingly.” All told, the album cost a mere $25,000.
Luckily, the TV room and bedrooms were on the opposite side of the abode. Malo’s kids knew not to interrupt dad’s sessions.
“So I didn’t even soundproof my studio, I’d just shut the door,” he says. “And if you really, really listen to ‘Saints,’ you’ll hear our dogs walking in, their chains rattling. I made it as organic as I could!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Contact: (415) 655-5600, www.yoshis.com