Mau and Ricky Montaner are tired of talking about their famous father. The 23- and 26-year-old songwriters have grown up in the shadow of one of the most beloved ballad singers in Latin music: Venezuela's Latin Grammy-winning Ricardo Montaner, who has sold more than 22 million albums around the world. But this year, Mau y Ricky are poised to steal the spotlight.
The Venezuelan-born, Miami-raised pair wrote Ricky Martin's 2016 chart-topping hit "Vente pa' Ca," which proved their songwriting credentials. But to be recognized as their own artists, they must step out of their father's shadow and establish their credibility, one song at a time.
"Once someone hears us playing live, that's when they realize we stand on our own, not needing our father watching, and that our music speaks on its own," Mau says.
As the duo prepares on a recent day for a live show at the University of Miami, they certainly don't seem like superstars, or even sons of a superstar. They've driven their own car to the gig, brought their own instruments, and set up their own stage. They instruct the sound technicians on levels and microphones. They glide around the stage like teenagers hanging out in their living room. But there is an underlying tension.
"Mau, do you want to freak the fuck out?" Ricky calls out from one side of the stage with a high-pitched urgency that his controlled, raspy vocals rarely display. Mau leaves his drum kit and runs to his brother.
With a tattooed arm and leather pirate boots, Ricky is the risk-taker. But as he kneels on the stage floor and rifles through his bag to find his special earpieces, even his nerves seem to fray. Mau, biting his nails, stands over him. "Glory to the Jesus Christ!" Ricky calls out, lifting the earpieces triumphantly when he finally fishes them from the bottom of his hand-woven sling bag. "My blood pressure dropped," he says, smiling his Han Solo grin as he stands and leans on Mau.
"We have a joke," Jon Leone, Mau y Ricky's music director on the road, explains later: "When everything runs too smoothly, it means something's wrong; we shouldn't be this comfortable."
Four days earlier, Leone's computer was electrocuted and his hard drive burnt because of a bad power strip. He did not have time to fly back to Los Angeles to recover backups, so Ricky would not let him sleep until he reprogrammed the keyboard sounds for the show.
The crew has had its share of sleepless nights. But it's paying off. "We've been busting our butts to make sure something's happening," Mau says. The easy thing, he explains, would be to say, "Fuck this — peace," and return to writing songs for other artists, cashing the paychecks, and living comfortably. But after growing up onstage, they are addicted to playing live.
"They get really restless when they don't have shows going on and they've spent too much time in the studio. They wanna go out and push the music," says Leone, who is also Ricky's roommate.
"They are only beginning, and it is a good moment for them," says Jorge Mejia, president of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. "They are great artists, and they will be a huge success, just like their father."
Mau y Ricky entered the music industry at the ages of 12 and 15 while touring with their father's band throughout Latin America. They opened for their dad's Soy Feliz Tour in Mexico in 2010, which took them to that country's famed Auditorio Nacional. Ricky played guitar and Mau played drums while they both sang. At the ages of 17 and 20, they released an album of songs they wrote, calling themselves "MR."
Ricky had dreams of studying music composition and guitar. Three years before their debut album's release, when he was 17, he applied and was accepted to the University of Miami Frost School of Music. He had to choose between touring and school. Ricky recalls sitting in a waiting room next to other prospective applicants before an audition. He asked the other applicants what they wanted to be. They all said touring musicians or songwriters.
"I realized as everyone was answering that I'm already doing these things," Ricky says. "I thought, If people want to graduate to do what I'm already doing, then let me grab this opportunity."
In the years that followed, Mau y Ricky wrote songs for artists such as Thalia, Leslie Grace, Maluma, and Ricky Martin. With its dance beat and double entendres, the song they penned for Martin, "Vente pa' Ca," checked all the boxes for a radio hit.
A decade later, they're back at UM, preparing for their show — their eighth in the United States in six months. Though they've toured extensively, this is the first time they'll play with this drum kit, back-up percussionist Juan Manuel Coral, and new production software.
Mau and his brother-in-law, Camilo Echeverry, struggle to tighten the screws on the drums.
"Don't stress me out," Mau tells Echeverry.
"But that's the reality," Echeverry responds, frowning at the impossibility of tightening all screws simultaneously. Meanwhile, Mau attempts to loosen the drum pedal. He still needs to "figure out the mechanics" of this new kit, he says. Time is ticking.
Echeverry compensates by giving Mau a back massage.
Arte, the duo's first EP as Mau y Ricky, will drop this Friday, May 19. It will also be their first with Sony Latin Music, one of the largest purveyors of Spanish-language songs. In addition to having their father's reputation to uphold, they now also have their own credibility to defend.
With their revamped identity and new label, Mau y Ricky this year have the chance to establish their names — and not just their last name. "My dad spent ten or 11 years before his career started, picking up," Mau says. If the timing of their career parallels their father's, this year would be their breakthrough point.
But Mau y Ricky have what it takes. Their Grammy-winning producer, Julio Reyes Copello, says their refreshing sensibility makes them "oxygen for the music industry." When they finally take the stage at UM, even "Vente pa' Ca" reverts into a Mau y Ricky song. Whispered, in aloof phrasing that syncopates the rhythm, the lyrics take center stage. With only the organic sounds of Mau's cajón and Ricky's arpeggio, the song sheds its commercialized exterior to reveal a thoughtfully crafted love song.
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Back in their music studio, Ricky wears a nylon bomber jacket with his name, Ricardo Montaner, embroidered in red on the left breast. It seems like fan gear for his father. But his jacket, like his music, is his own.
"The moment we have a smash hit... that's the day people stop asking about our father. It might take us 20 years or a month," Ricky says.
Either way, Mau says, "we're not going to stop doing what we do because people compare us or because people mention our dad."