The end of the beginning. Matt, Orlando, Mark, Nathan, Jeff, and Lori from The Diamond in the Fish.
The beginning of the end. Dave, Matt, Mercedes, Erick, and Orlando from Space, Love, & Bullfighting.
Havalina Rail Co. (or just Havalina) was an eclectic folk/jazz/rock band from Long Beach, California. From 1994 to to 2005 they played chaotic shows and recorded five albums, none of which sounded like any of the others, or like anything else in the world. At the end, frontman Matt Wignall spoke of them deconstructing
pop music, and (possibly with tongue in cheek) described them as "the last true punk band in America". Either Wignall was joking, or he meant Punk Rock
in the Genre Roulette
sense (think The Clash
's album Sandinista!
), not in the Three Chords and the Truth
Perhaps it would be more informative to give an album-by-album breakdown:Havalina Rail Co. (1994)
: A mix of folk, swing, and zydeco, and the only release that wasn't some kind of Concept Album
. Easily their best album.The Diamond in the Fish (1996)
: A Rock Opera
(about the recollections of a retired secret agent) told in Rat Pack
-style jazz, as filtered through folk and blues. The band would look back on this one as their least favorite album, but it still has its moments.Russian Lullabies (1999)
: A musical experiment. The band read up on Russian folk music so they could mix it with rock music... but they deliberately avoided listening
to any Russian music, so the end result was something else entirely. When the album went out of print, the band put the songs up on their website
for free download. Definitely HRC's best album.America (1999)
: The audio equivalent of a road trip across the USA. HRC threw together a diverse array of regional American music: folk-rock, surf-rock, swamp rock, Latin rock, country, bluegrass, bebop, hip-hop, violin, banjo, steel guitar, and field recordings of bullfrogs were all thrown together with little regard for trifles like "making sense". Probably their best album.
Sometime after the recording of America
, half of the band (i.e. three of their four percussionists) departed. An additional guitarist and an organ player were brought in as replacements. While this was hardly the first time their lineup had changed, it was certainly the biggest single change in their history. They commemorated it by changing their name to Havalina.Space, Love, & Bullfighting (2002)
: A mix of Latin music, cheesy 60's love songs, and cheesy farfisa-fueled space-pop; thus, the closest thing to a mainstream album that Havalina has ever released. A strong contender for the position of best album.
The album was preceded by the A Bullfighter's Guide to Space and Love EP
, which featured demo versions of three album tracks, and a few b-sides.
It was after Bullfigher
that things started to fall apart worse than usual. Matt Wignall had written a new album, titled Pacific
, which he considered (for serious this time
) his best work ever, but numerous difficulties delayed the recording. And then in 2005, bassist (and the band's only other constant member) Orlando Greenhill announced his departure. In response, Matt Wignall retired the Havalina name, and the remaining members of the band formed a Spiritual Successor
band named Matt Death and the New Intellectuals. The initial plan was for Matt Death to refine and release Pacific
, but as of 2013 the album still seems to be stuck in pre-release limbo.
In 2006, Havalina released a retrospective album, We Remember Anarchy
, as a free download on their website
. Besides the obligatory "best-of" tracks, it featured previously-unreleased material: early recordings, live-in-the-studio tracks, and two cut songs
Personnel over the years:
- Matt Wignall: primary vocalist, guitar, banjo (plus lap steel guitar and mouth harp on America)
- Orlando Greenhill: upright and electric bass, noise, backing vocals
- Daniel J. Brooker (HRC album only): accordion, piano
- Grady McFerrin (HRC album only): trumpet, washboard
- Mark Cole (HRC through America): percussion
- Nathan Jensen (HRC through Russian Lullabies): saxophone, backing and lead vocals
- Jeff Suri (HRC through America): drums, percussion, piano, backing and lead vocals
- Lori Hoopes-Suri (Diamond through America): percussion, backing and lead vocals
- Erick Diego Nieto (Russian Lullabies onward): violin, drums, percussion
- Dave Maust (Bullfighter EP onward): farfisa, wurlitzer, moog synth, accordion, hurdy-gurdy
- Starry Dynamo (Bullfighter EP only): guitar, backing vocals
- Mercedes Stevens (Bullfighter album only): guitar, cello, backing and lead vocals
And those are just the actual band members. Who knows how many guest musicians
Provides examples of:
- Breakup Song: All the love-themed tracks from Space, Love, & Bullfighting (so, about a third of the album) are about a relationship on the brink.
- Black Sheep Hit: Tooth & Nail Records promoted "Ragtime" as a single from their first album, leading many to assume HRC was part of the 90's Swing revival. The actual album had, at most, two songs with rhythms conducive to swing dancing.
- Book Ends: That sax riff from Diamond in the Fish.
- Christian Rock
- Development Hell: Pacific.
- Driven to Suicide: "The Bullfighter".
- Epic Rocking: At least one per album. "New Song", "Ron", "Prelude and Blues", "Rivers of Russia", "Bullfrog", "Let's Not Forget Hawaii", "You Got Me Cry'n" (EP version), "Space, Love, and Bullfighting Suite".
- Everything Is an Instrument: A library cart as percussion on "Murder".
- Hidden Track: America has a long silence after the last listed song, followed by a brief recording of... something. The self-titled album has a cover of Woodie Guthrie's "Take You Rid'n in My Car" hidden in the middle of the album—it's stuck on the end of "Train Song" and not listed on the back cover.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: "One Day".
We only know the chorus... Special Havalina prize if anyone can figure out the rest of the words and hand deliver them to Mark Cole.
- Insistent Terminology: The term "guest musicians" never appears in their liner notes. For reasons unknown, the phrase "Latino All-Stars" is used in instead.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Russian Lullabies and We Remember Anarchy as free downloads.
- Name's the Same: Havalina was actually their first name, but they lengthened it to Havalina Rail Co. to avoid being confused with The Havalinas, a surf-rock band. Around 2000 or so, a major lineup change (and the news that The Havalinas had broken up) inspired them to change their name back to Havalina. Now that they've broken up, there's a completely unrelated Spanish band also named Havalina. No, it's not confusing at all.
- Old Shame: The Diamond in the Fish. Tellingly, three songs from it appeared on their greatest hits album—and two of them were completely new versions of the songs, rather than the versions from Diamond.
Matt Wignall: We were experimenting with idea of like playing jazz, which incidentally, we kinda sucked at. And found out why most of the time all good jazz players are over fifty, 'cause it takes that long to get good at it.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Leica", possibly.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Matt Wignall's the primary singer, but over half of the band members have sung the lead on at least one song.
- Science Marches On: Havalina was actually ahead of the curve. They wrote "Pluto" (featuring the chorus "Not quite a planet and not quite steam / Pluto's caught right in between") four years before its namesake was officially demoted to dwarf planet.
- Train Song: Actually named "Train Song", to boot.
- Tribute to Fido: "Leica" is a tribute to Laika, the Russian dog who became the first animal in space.
- Tsundere: "Flower of the Desert".