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Music / Havalina Rail Co.

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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 sense.

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 two more obscure releases. The first was A Bullfighter's Guide to Space and Love, an EP featuring demo versions of three album tracks, and a few b-sides. The second was Havalina and the Creaky Old Bridge, a Rockumentary focusing on the tour leading up to the release of Space, Love & Bullfighting.

It was after Bullfighting 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 this writing (February 2020) the album still seems to be stuck in 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 from Pacific.

In 2015, Matt Wignall started a new band, Wargirl, with a few other Havalina alumni (Jeff Suri and Erick Diego Nieto) joining him. Wargirl's moderate success is making the release of Pacific look even less likely than before.

    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
  • Mercedes Stevens aka Starry Dynamo (Bullfighter EP and album): guitar, cello, backing and lead vocals

And those are just the actual band members. Who knows how many guest musicians they've had.

Provides examples of:

  • Always Late: "That Bohemian Music" (Dave Maust's contribution to the "Space, Love and Bullfighting Suite") includes a monologue about life in a modern-day abby. Fernando is frequently late to morning prayers, because he holds prayer vigils by himself in the cloister very late at night. The narrator, who has a room overlooking the cloister, encourages the other monks to be more forgiving, without giving away Fernando's secret.
    And I see Fernando down there sometimes, but never during the day. Sometimes when I can't sleep, I see him in the cloister, at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. Sometimes, he lays there prostrate in the grass, where it's all wet. He may even lay there an hour or two, and when he's finished he usually eats a candy bar. At morning prayers, everyone complains, saying, "Fernando is always late." They look at their Casios, and they shake their heads. And I say, "Hey, guys, give Fernando some grace. He's probably listening to that Bohemian music."
  • Artist and the Band: After the departure of a key band member, Matt Wignall announced he was marking the shift by changing the band name to Matt Death and the New Intellectuals. Under the new name, they only released a few songs via Myspace, as their finished album wound up getting shelved indefinitely.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: In The Creaky Old Bridge, for reasons unknown, Erick Nieto only speaks Spanish, and the rest of the band talks to him in English. He breaks character and speaks English during the end credits.
  • Break-Up Song: All the love-themed tracks from Space, Love, & Bullfighting (so, about a third of the album) are about a relationship on the brink.
  • Book Ends: That sax riff from Diamond in the Fish.
  • Christian Rock
  • 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".
  • French Accordion: They had an accordion player on their first album, but they mainly used that sound to play zydeco and American folk music. However, they also had one musette-inspired song, so they called it "French Theme".
  • 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" is so bad that even the band didn't know what they sang. The liner notes have the following blurb in lieu of the lyrics:
    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 instead.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • Russian Lullabies ends with "Rivers of Russia" (7:08).
    • Space, Love & Bullfighting ends with ''Space, Love and Bullfighting Suite" (6:05).
  • 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.
  • Train Song: Actually named "Train Song", to boot.
  • Tsundere: "Flower of the Desert".