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Havalina Rail Co.

  • 1999 30 Sep
Havalina Rail Co.

"One of the things I think is to the shame of some Christians is this tendency to shut themselves off from the world. Well, we don't want to be like the world. My whole thing is doing creative music that's better than the world, more creative and more inventive."

{{Havalina Rail Co.}} has spent the past seven years attempting to expand Christian listeners' imaginations beyond the hip, trendy, and whatever else may reside in the upper regions of the sales and airplay charts. The band is known not only for its musical virtuosity, but for displaying a near encyclopedic knowledge of 20th century musical styles (See sidebar sketch of each HRC album.). On any given album, you might hear touches of rockabilly, swing, blues, country, jazz, old-time string band music and even modern Eastern European music. Band leader Matt Wignall says the main thing that all of Havalina's concerts and recordings have in common is a sense of humor.

"We started Havalina just to play, just to have fun. I don't think we had any great ambitions. My main goal in putting the band together was being experimental with music. Just an avenue to do something unique."

Although he played guitar in various informal groups during high school, Wignall's first professional gig was as a photographer, a talent that brought him to the attention of Tooth & Nail Records president Brandon Ebel. "I took some pictures for the band {{Focused}} and met Brandon as a result of that. Photography was really my introduction to the whole music thing."

In addition to taking photos for Tooth & Nail artists and other bands, Matt was that label's first publicist. Before releasing their third album, ==Russian Lullabies==, Havalina & Wignall parted ways with Tooth & Nail and Matt launched his own company, Jackson Rubio Recordings. "Had I not been in Havalina, I probably wouldn't have started Jackson Rubio. It was definitely an avenue for me to release records by my band. But it also became a way for me to release music by other artists who didn't really fit the Christian popular music market."

Jackson Rubio's roster includes also includes surf/pop band {{Thee Spivies}}, psychobilly group The Wednesdays and avant garde/hip-hip/pop band {{Soul Junk}}. Wignall, a sometimes-reluctant record executive admits he'd like to find someone else to take the reigns of Jackson Rubio, both for his sake and the sake of his artists. He says he's sure that Havalina could be doing better with stronger financial backing. "I've been thinking of shopping both the band and the label around to a bigger company, just so we could get a little financial independence. I've got a bunch of good bands and cool things ready to happen, but if you can't raise the visibility, it's very difficult.

"I think if ==America== had been put out through ForeFront or Essential, we could be selling a lot of records," asserts Wignall. "A lot of record companies tell people who to like. But Jackson Rubio doesn't have that kind of money. If we could get a bigger label interested, I'm sure we'd do better, or if my record company could get bigger."

With its pronounced roots music overtones, ==America== may very well be the most musically accessible Havalina album to date. Aside from the track, "The Devil in the Cornfield," there are few other overt gospel references, something which may stifle the album's acceptance by a larger Christian audience. Matt Wignall says its simply not Havalina's calling to be an evangelistic band.

"There's tremendous diversity within the church and within Christianity. I look at Havalina as a unique extension of the church -- a group of believers who play music. I don't feel like we have to preach a message in the music. But at the same time we do very much preach a message by the way we live. Almost any time we play and anywhere we go, people know we're Christians without us telling them. We do have a very legitimate ministry.

"One of the things I think is to the shame of some Christians is this tendency to shut themselves off from the world. Well, we don't want to be like the world. My whole thing is doing creative music that's better than the world, more creative and more inventive. The reason we do what we do is we have fun doing it and we love it. And we have a very cool ministry to people that normally would never give Christian music a chance."

HRC Project By Project

==HAVALINA RAIL COMPANY== This is just us experimenting with some of the music we were starting to get into. A lot of blues and country. We were getting into people like Tom Waits, who was a huge influence. A lot of that album was very early material we wrote when we first formed the band.

==THE DIAMOND IN THE FISH== The spy album, or as someone once called it, "the soundtrack to a spy movie that doesn't exist." We tried to play jazz while being a little naïve about how much talent it takes to play jazz well. I like a lot of the record, but there are a couple of tracks on there that sound like a bunch of kids trying to play jazz as opposed to a bunch of old guys actually playing jazz.

==RUSSIAN LULLABIES== We deliberately toned down the jazz and invented our own weird thing, which is just a mish-mash of styles. It was a concept record, trying to incorporate music that sounds like what our impressions of eastern European music would be, had we actually spent much time listening to that music or traveling there. Kind of like what Les Baxter used to do with all the Vegas lounge music and Polynesian music only he never left L.A.

==AMERICA== - is just doing what we do best, playing American roots music, traveling around the country and sampling all the regional music styles. It's really romanticizing the different areas.