Artist Q&A: Catching Up with Mau & Ricky

Artist Q&A: Catching Up with Mau & Ricky

They began writing songs when they were just kids.

Now Mauricio and Ricardo Montaner are writing hits – and not just for themselves. Their single “Mi Mala,” with Karol G, debuted on the Hot Latin Songs chart last year at number 47 and peaked at number 38. This year they’ve released hits including “22” and “Mal de la Cabeza.”

Mau and Ricky established themselves in the industry by writing music for recording artists including Ricky Martin (“Vente Pa Ca”) and the duo of Becky G and Natti Natasha (“Sin Pijama”). But their careers have blossomed beyond songwriting. With “Mi Mala,” they became major figures in Latin music.

We caught up with the brothers this week to talk about songwriting, making the transition to recording artists and their famous father. And since it’s Hispanic Heritage Month, we also asked them about their Venezuelan roots and how their background influences their music.

Mau and Ricky

SoundExchange: You started out as songwriters and wrote songs for lots of artists from Becky G and Natti Natasha to Leslie Grace to Maluma and Ricky Martin. That’s quite a list! But now you’ve established yourselves as recording artists. At this point in your careers, which do you prefer – songwriting or recording?

Ricky: Well, I feel like they are different loves for sure. But there’s nothing that quite compares to writing the music that you’re performing live and hearing people sing it back to you.

The one I like the least would be singing a song that I didn’t write or that Mau didn’t write… because we don’t really consider ourselves just singers. We sing out of necessity to interpret the songs that we’ve written. It’s all beautiful because being able to have something to do with a career of an established artist, or to be able to support somebody’s dream with a song and for them to say, “This is the biggest song I’ve ever sang” and knowing that we had something to do with… that is beautiful.

SoundExchange: When did you decide to make that switch from writing hits for others to recording your own songs?

Ricky: Since we’ve grown up in an artistic family, our development as artists and songwriters happened a bit in the public eye. That comes with having a dad who’s an artist… So, at 15 years old we were able to say “Hey, [we] want to record something,” and we could get in the recording studio quickly. But it didn’t mean it [always] worked. We’ve been doing this for over 15 years and recording for 12 or 13 of those 15 years, and we were really trying to make things happen and it wasn’t connecting… and we couldn’t understand it.

Then as songwriters a song connected and we started perfecting our vocabulary as artists… and we thought about “Why did this song connect, or why didn’t this song connect? What’s going on here?”

That’s what brought us to be able to write “Mi Mala.” That also happened because we were doing a different type of music for ourselves. We’d write commercial stuff for other artists and we’d focus on just wanting to write artistic and profound stuff that maybe was a little too complicated [for ourselves].

One time we had a conversation with our manager and he’s like “What’s your dream?”

We said, this is our dream. And, he’s like “Ok, then there are certain things you have to do. You keep making all these hits for other people, but you’re not making them for yourself. And then we said, “You’re right.” So, we started writing, and the first song we wrote for ourselves with that in mind was “Mi Mala,” and it was the song that changed our lives.

Since that song came out we’ve been trying to perfect this artist thing… and we feel like people can connect with us. “Mi Mala” is our first song and is also the first song in Latin music to feature that many female artists. Crazy!

SoundExchange: Can you tell us about your single “22”? That’s a great arrangement with the violins. How did the song come together?

Ricky: So, “22” is a song that we tried to put enough of a twist on and enough of something different in our music for it to stand out but [also] follow certain guidelines so it’s consumable for people. We’ve always liked strings and very syncopated arrangements and that’s how the whole intro and beginning of that song came to be.

We created it with a producer called ‘Dale Play,’ and he’s a genius and he really captured the feel of the song. He’s like “Yo, so out of what you told me and what we’ve been talking about, here’s this track. Do you want to write to it?” And we loved what we heard, and we said “Yeah, let’s do it.” So, we wrote the track and we knew there was something special there… and [now] it’s become a birthday anthem to girls who are turning 22 years old, which, thank God, is a lot of them daily. We’ll constantly… daily… be getting videos of girls celebrating their birthday with the song playing in the background.

SoundExchange: Can you describe how you collaborate with one another? Does one of you work on the music while the other one works on the lyrics? Have you found a system that works?

Ricky: It varies every time. In the case of “Sin Pijama” for example, Mau took over melody wise, and maybe I focus more on the lyric side. Another song that is going to come out next week is a song that I took the lead on melodically because it was an idea I had initially.

We bounce ideas off each other and the rest of our team, such as Camilo and Jon. We just worked on a song for a very big artist, and if it works out, it will be our biggest placement yet. We began creating the concept as we were in the car, and after Mau said an idea it sparked up a different idea I had in my head and then we grabbed those two combinations of just bouncing off those two ideas off each other and made us land on a concept that we really liked.

It varies. I’ll take a step back on the melody sometimes or sometimes I’ll take the lead or sometimes Mau will take the lead. It depends on the song and on the mood. There’s sometimes that Mau wakes up more creative than me and he takes the whole lyric on the whole song and then the next day… a couple of tweaks here and there and we’ll write a verse to justify my split.

SoundExchange: Your father is a famous songwriter and recording artist. Do you ever run your songs by him while you’re working on them to get his opinion?

Mau: When we first started out, yes, he was the filter and the last test of the song before we could be sure and finally say the song was good.

Nowadays, I feel like we show him the songs when the songs are about all ready and about to come out. It’s not really a filter process anymore. It’s more of a “I hope he likes it” sort of thing. In fact, there’s an upcoming song that there’s a couple things that in the lyrics that he does not agree with, yet we didn’t change it. We feel very strongly about what it says. Our dad has his way of writing and communicating with his fans, and we have our own way. I guess what we try to do when we write is… say things differently, but at the same time say them how people nowadays say things.

SoundExchange: Do you always write in Spanish? Do you feel like that’s the best way to connect with a Latin audience?

Mau: I started writing in English. The reason why I wrote first in English was because I felt like my dad wouldn’t be so hard on me. My dad was never that hard on my songwriting, but I always felt a lot of pressure because Rick was already writing. I started writing when I was 11 or 12, and Ricky started when he was eight years old.

I had Ricky, [who was] a constructive critic. Also, my dad. Also, my two older brothers… and I created this pressure that did not exist because dad is and has always been super loving whenever he corrects me on a song lyric. So, because I felt pressure and I put that pressure on myself, I said “you know what, let me write in English, and my dad won’t understand all the lyrics.”

I realized I really enjoy the language in Spanish. In Spanish there are so many ways of saying one thing [and] you’re able to create so many beautiful pictures and images through those words. I remember one day I sat with Rick and we started writing together in Spanish. That motivated me. I was on a trip in LA at the time I started writing in Spanish and I ended up writing 10 songs back to back in Spanish. A couple of them made it on our last album, “Arte.” It’s awesome that people felt that… some of my first songs in Spanish were good enough to be on the album. I felt super happy about that.

We constantly go back and forth [between English and Spanish]. We just wrote for an artist who is huge… [the song] is in English and hopefully it comes through… we’re waiting to see what happens. But yeah, because we were raised in Miami we write in both English and Spanish.

SoundExchange: Since we’re running this interview to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, let me ask you about that. How important is your background to your music? Does your cultural heritage play a role in your music?

Mau: A hundred percent. I know people can hear the way we sing and pronounce certain words and how we totally forget that the “s” exists in the dictionary in Spanish because we never pronounce it!

I also feel like that super Caribbean feel from where we’re from… and you can hear it in what we do. And, also the Venezuelan culture has so many different types of music that I feel like you’re able to play around with it so much with all the different styles and flavors when creating this sort of fusion and incorporating into what is happening right now in music.

I totally feel that the influence of someone’s country and heritage does matter in their music. Such as the way you’re brought up and the food and the culture and everything does matter in the flavor of a song. In music, I don’t think you can ever hide where you’ve come from. I think that you’re able to tell instantly where someone is from.

I love Venezuela, and I love my country! I wish I could have spent way more time there than I did. I lived there until I was almost eight. So, the cool thing is that Miami is full of Venezuelans, so it’s almost like I was in Venezuela without being in Venezuela. And, a great majority of my friends are all Venezuelan… and the food in my house is Venezuelan… so it’s very easy to feel like I did live my entire life over there.