Rick Trevino has come to terms with his past as one of the hottest young hat acts of the early ‘90s. More profoundly, Trevino has also come to terms with the Hispanic music heritage he tried for years to ignore.
With the release of his new Warner Bros. album, In My Dreams, the 32-year-old singer-songwriter is getting another shot at his career. It’s a chance that has escaped many of the other freshly-starched acts of the mid-‘90s whose careers ignited — and then faded.
“It’s nice to have people excited about your music, people flying you places and taking you out to nice dinners with radio,” Trevino tells CMT.com. “I do appreciate those things a lot more the second time.”
Perhaps it’s hard to fully appreciate things the first time, especially if you’re in your early 20s and it took less than a year to land your record deal. Maybe you take things for granted even more when your debut album goes gold and you score a No. 1 single and five more Top 10 hits.
You can categorize Trevino’s album as a comeback, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In many respects, In My Dreams is the first solo album that attempts to address Trevino’s ambitions as a serious artist.
In 1992, Trevino was a college student taking hiatus from Texas A&M before his junior year. After performing acoustic gigs around Austin, Texas, Trevino soon attracted the attention of executives from Sony Music Nashville. After the initial contact, he was quickly signed to Sony’s Columbia Records imprint.
“It took me 10 months to get my deal,” Trevino says. “It just seemed like they wanted to find a Hispanic George Strait or Hispanic Garth Brooks or a Mexican-American Clint Black.”
Trevino realized he was lucky, but he had no real concept of the inner workings of the country music machine. “I remember my first trip to Nashville,” he says. “I remember the very first song meeting. It was just so intense — songwriters coming in and dropping tapes off.
“Looking back on it, it was unfortunate for Sony that I was so green. They saw a lot of potential in me. This is the way I think they were thinking: ‘We can make this guy a star if we just give him the right songs. If we can just find that ‘Don’t Take the Girl’ … to take it to the next level. From the time I was signed to Sony, I was trying to find my own identity.”
His own artistic identity or not, Trevino made an impressive arrival. Despite marginal chart success for his 1993 debut single, “Just Enough Rope,” and the follow-up, “Honky Tonk Crowd,” Trevino hit the Top 10 in 1994 with “She Can’t Say I Didn’t Cry” and “Doctor Time.” In addition to the 1995 chart-topping single, “Running Out of Reasons to Run,” Trevino’s run at Columbia netted other Top 10 singles, including “Bobbie Ann Mason,” “Learning as You Go” and “I Only Get This Way With You.”
“Our first album was a gold album, but each album declined in sales,” he explains. “The second album, we missed out quite a bit at radio. The third album, we had quite a few hits, but the sales still declined.”
By the time the third Columbia album was released, Trevino’s manager — Dan Goodman — was involved in assembling Los Super Seven, an all-star band that included Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Freddy Fender, Joe Ely and Flaco Jimenez. Although Trevino understood that working with such respected musicians would only raise his respectability as a serious artist, there was one big problem.
“I approached it very hesitantly,” Trevino says. “I had been at arm’s length with my Mexican heritage — and Mexican music. I associated Mexican music with very negative family issues. My dad listened to Mexican music and got very sentimental. And he drank a lot when he listened to Mexican music, so I associated that music — Tex-Mex especially — with alcoholism and family dysfunctions.
“I’ve had such a hard time with Mexican music my whole life. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be a part of it. I didn’t associate it with positive things in my life at all. So it was strange, man. It’s like if you’re trying to get into some kind of music you didn’t like — not because you didn’t like the way it sounded — but because of other things.”
Trevino’s attitude began changing after his wife delivered their first son, Luke.
“At that point, I think I was able to look at Mexican music from a different perspective,” he says. “I was able to say, ‘I have a son now. How do I want to raise my son? I want him to have a closer relationship with his Mexican heritage and the music.’ That’s why I got into it … somewhat reluctantly. But I’m glad I did.”
Trevino admits that he was “scared to death” when he first showed up for the initial Los Super Seven recording session. “They’re heavy duty guys,” he says, “but they’re also coming from a different world musically … a different way of making records. It was such a great experience to watch these guys make records different from the Music Row way of making records — or the only way I knew of making records.”
Until then, Trevino had only recorded at Nashville’s most sophisticated studios, including Emerald and the Money Pit. “Then we go to Cedar Creek in Austin,” he says. “Where I’m used to seeing mixing boards that go from this end of the room to that end of the room, there I see this board that’s like a box that used to be owned by Elvis, with these big round things that looked like a bad sci-fi movie. But it’s amazing how wonderful that board sounded. The magic that came out of that studio was just unbelievable.”
Eventually, Trevino found himself holding a Grammy for his work on the 1998 album, Los Super Seven. “What a mind trip,” he says. “To think that once I faced the music, that got me my first Grammy.” Still, the album failed to impress Trevino’s parents who have been married for 35 years.
“They didn’t care for it,” he says. “They didn’t care for it at all. They didn’t care for me going into Mexican music. My parents are very opinionated about my career. I get the feeling there’s something about being a Mexican in a white business — and succeeding — is very thrilling to them. And to see a Mexican succeeding in the Mexican world is not that big of a deal. I think that’s how they look at it.”
However, even Trevino admits that he prefers Los Super Seven’s 2001 album, Canto, that added Mavericks lead vocalist Raul Malo to the band. “I really like the Cuban tropical salsa music stuff more,” he explains. “I like the percussion. I like the piano, the percussive sounding stuff. It was so refreshing to be in another world, a different way of making music.”
Los Super Seven provided a side gig for the musicians, but Trevino was trying to keep his solo career afloat after he was dropped from Columbia’s artist roster. Added pressure came when the country music tours took an economic downturn in the late ‘90s.
“I was still playing enough to make a living, but it was very difficult,” he says. “A lot of the musicians that played with me had played with me since ’93. We were touring, doing 185 dates a year, and they were making some good money. Once things started slowing down, you start hearing rumblings like, ‘His career’s over. We’re not making any money. This is lame.’”
Things didn’t improve when Trevino couldn’t afford to continue renting a tour bus and was forced to transport the band and its equipment in a van and trailer. “Some musicians quit because we were not in a tour bus,” he says. “When I got a van, they quit. Which I guess is understandable. I guess once you get used to certain things, you expect to be treated like that.”
Did it bother Trevino when he had to drastically downscale his operation?
“Hell yeah, it did!” Trevino laughs. “I didn’t want to do that. But then you’ve got to think about it: Do you keep your tour bus — or do you fire your managers and business managers? What’s more important — your bus or your booking agent and your team? Obviously, these guys are a lot more important the bus. So it was hard. That wasn’t fun at all.”
Trevino remained in contact with Malo, who produced In My Dreams. Despite their work together in Los Super Seven, the new solo album is aimed at mainstream country radio.
“If you listen to it, there’s some Marty Robbins influences,” Trevino says. “There’s some Johnny Cash. There’s some Buck Owens influences. There’s some Glen Campbell influences.”
Malo and Trevino never even discussed the musical direction the album would take.
“We never had a conversation like that,” he says. “We just sat down and started writing songs. That’s one of the things I loved about this project. We never had to talk about it. That’s the thing that amazed me about the whole process. Raul knew my story. He knew where I was coming from. There was no talk about the direction we would go in.
“We knew what was going on. We just wanted to have a good time and make music.”