Matt Wignall, Havalina Rail Co. and former Jackson/Rubio Recordings
Andrea Saylor

Havalina Rail Co.

Andrea: Let's start out with Jackson/Rubio Recordings. What exactly is the situation there?

Matt: I found some good bands… Like, Brainwash has gone on to Squint, Soul Junk has gone on to Five Minute Walk. Havalina doesn't have a label now…I think our distributor has a lot to do with the situation. Basically, you could just say that I ran into problems with my distributor, that caused us to run out of money eventually. I just told the [Jackson/Rubio] bands they can do whatever they want, go wherever they want. I'm not holding anybody to their contracts. So, in the meantime, [Havalina Rail Company is] just looking for a new label, and if we don't get a new label- we want to go to a general market label and if we can't get a general market label I will probably distribute the record under Jackson/Rubio.

[Note: Since this interview there's been a change at Jackson/Rubio. Here's the official word from the JR web site: "Oh boy, big news at Jackson/Rubio, I have decided to sell the company to Scooter for 200.00 dollars. I will not be doing any work at Jackson/Rubio any more. Scooter will continue to sell the products. I will be building a Havalina web site and putting all of my energy into playing in Havalina and taking pictures." ]

Andrea: What do you think you'd do differently, if you were starting out again?

Matt: I probably would not have signed a Christian distribution deal, for mainstream Christian market. I would have just kept it smaller in the Christian market in the first place. But then again, it's kind of hard because at the time I couldn't have known that, and when "Russian Lullabies" came out they did a good job distributing it, and as a result of that, we were able to get bigger. We might not be where we're at today, had I not done that. At the same time, I kind of wish that I could have been on a better distributor or, had I known, I might have just signed to a different label and had some one do the label work for us. Ideally, if somebody else is paying for your art, that's always a good thing. Unless they take all your money and you don't make any royalties and that kind of stuff. [Laughs.]

Andrea: Anything else you're involved in right now other than Havalina?

Matt: I engineer records for people in the event that they want to hire me, but I don't get hired all that often. I just did the Snax record, on Screaming Giant Records. I do the Havalina records, I engineer those. I do photography. I row gondolas. Like Venice, you know, gondolas? If you go to, that's where I work.

Andrea: I saw some of your photography in the [Purple Door] art gallery down here. Do you do that as a hobby?

Matt: I do it professionally. I guess it's a hobby also, but usually if I do artwork, I try to sell it. I shoot for different record companies, or whoever will hire me to shoot for them.

Andrea: Could you give me a brief history of Havalina?

Matt: We started in 1992, and we had a girl singer originally, and as we wanted to get more serious as a band, the girl wasn't that serious about it. Eventually, the girl ended up leaving. We tried a couple other girls out and eventually I ended up doing the vocals. We started to grow a little bit. We got signed to Tooth and Nail Records, which was in 1993. Then we put our first record out in '94. There's been a couple line up changes, but four of the band members are pretty much original. We have two new people who are only about a year old, Mercedes [guitar, vocals, and cello], and Dave [organ and accordion]. I personally like it the way it is now more than I ever have. I like the music we're doing now. I feel like we're the most open and creative and there are less boundaries on what we're doing than we have before.

Andrea: Do you prefer your albums or your live shows? Because it seems like people can like your albums but they really get into it at your shows. Do you have a preference?

Matt: Playing live is really, really cool. And that's what music's all about, you know? There is certain stuff that's really cool to listen to in your car or while you're going to sleep or something but isn't necessarily exciting live. I think that if music can't be done live, than in a certain sense it's not that interesting or not that cool. I like the live aspect of it and at the same time, recording is also really cool. We do a lot of our mellower stuff on our records. "Russian Lullabies" has a lot of mellow songs on it. If we just did a bunch of mellow songs live I don't think we'd get the same reaction. People probably wouldn't like us as much. It would seem a little more self-indulgent or something, you know, up there playing these long, droning, depressing songs. [Laughs]. But they both have their pros and cons. We love to play live, though. What you see on stage isn't a show. We do what we feel.

Andrea: What's your opinion of the current ["Christian"] music scene?

Well, in some ways I think it's really cool because a festival like today [Purple Door], there's some pretty cool diversity. Pedro the Lion played earlier, and I'm a big fan of their music. Somebody like us plays, Denison Witmer plays, and Over The Rhine's playing. There's really some very, very cool bands out there in the Christian market. If you think about the diversity represented at a festival like this or Cornerstone, it's almost kind of cooler than going to Ozzfest where it's just heavy metal all day long or something like that. That, to me, tends to get a little bit grating, you know? [Laughs] You can see a punk band, and a little bit later you can watch an acoustic performer or something like that. I really think that music is one area where Christians in the arts are really doing something positive. There's a lot of talent there. In that regard, I like the Christian market. On the other hand, there are these trends that come along, and it's like, the big Nashville labels sign a million bands that sound like whatever the popular trend is at the time and everybody explodes overnight and it's hard to get a show anywhere else 'cause there's so many of the trend bands around playing. [Laughs] That is, sometimes, a little bit weird. But, you know, that happens in any market. I live out on the West Coast in the Long Beach, Orange County area and all those bands like Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris live out there and that kind of style gets big so that's what everybody's into for a while. But I think for the most part, something like Purple Door, something like Cornerstone is pretty hip and I'm very much happy to be a part of it.

Andrea: Who are your favorite artists?

Matt: Well, I like the Bob Marley "Kaya" album a lot; I think that's one of the best albums in the world. I like almost all of Neil Young's stuff… Simon and Garfunkel, I really, really like their stuff a lot. Credence Clearwater Revival; I really, really, really like them. As far as modern stuff, I like things like Weezer and The Rentals… Just anything that's good, a lot of, like college rock garbage.

Andrea: How did you become a Christian?

Matt: I kind of grew up in a Christian family, and I didn't really think much of it until after high school. I just got to a point where my number was up, in a manner of speaking. God intervened in my life and said, "That's enough of this," you know? I didn't have any major, "Fall on your face, go forward," transformation or anything like that. I just kind of realized one day that life was more than just me going around being a jack-ass all the time, living for myself and doing what I wanted to do all the time. And I believe God very much made me aware of himself and kind of just knocked me over the head with the reality of a lot of things I hadn't known and had just kind of suppressed in the back of my mind for most of my life. From that point forward, I just kind of said, "Well, I need to live differently now and I need to spend time knowing God and meditating on the things of God, rather than my current path."

Andrea: Is there anybody in your life who's been particularly influential?

Matt: Everybody that's close to me in my life, and every book I've read, and the artists that I admire. Everything has an impact on my life, and add pieces to my personality and my music and my art and everything else. Everything from my parents to the band members who I spend my life with, my wife. I think my wife has had a really profound influence on my life. The music I listen to, the filmmakers, and the actors in the movies. I really like Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. Those are both written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Stuff like that definitely has an influence on me creatively, and I kind of feel like I act like some of the characters. Maybe not in Rushmore [laughs] but in Bottle Rocket. Me and my brother are kind of like the guys in Bottle Rocket.

Andrea: What's Bottle Rocket about?

Matt: You haven't seen Bottle Rocket? Oh man, Bottle Rocket is like one of the funniest movies in the world. It's just like these dorky guys who decide they want to be criminals so they hold up a library and they try to hold up a meat-packing plant or something like that. [Laughs] It's just really silly but at the same time it's a lot of funny acting and the whole freewheelin' kind of lifestyle, I guess. It reminds me of me and my brother a lot, which, my brother, incidentally, is kind of a funny case. The reason I mention him is if you go to the Jackson/Rubio web site, I'm starting a little fashion section on there. In the last year my brother's done the Gucci campaign, for all their clothing, and coming up, he's in the new Valentino campaign, and the Dolce Gabbana campaign. So he's my little brother that just played Nintendo before and now he's a super model. [Laughs] So, it's kind of funny.

Andrea: So, the Jackson/Rubio web site's still going to be up, but Jackson/Rubio's not…

Matt: Well, like I said, I'll see what happens. If Havalina ends up signing to another record label- If things change, I'll just have to see what happens. Right now I'm going to keep it going because we put tour schedules on there. There are things that change on there, and get updated. Some people are interested in some of the bands. If we're able to get another label, and as we're able to grow, I would still like to be able to run a label in some regard, even if it's small, indie; just to be able to put out cool bands and help people. Like, there's a band, Warp Factor Nine, and it's bands like this, that you come across sometimes, and they're just some of the coolest bands I've heard. I would just love to be able to help out smaller bands. It's hard to say what the future will hold. I would like to be able to foster, or be involved in finding, and helping to establish cool bands. Because you just get bored of the stuff that's all the same and I'm always excited to find stuff that's unique and different.

Andrea: How do you feel about the mainstream, secular market?

Matt: I don't know if there's anybody mainstream… You know, I like Sting. [Laughs]. I like some of the adult, alternative mainstream or whatever is kind of cool sometimes. But it's cool in a kind of, "Oh that's not so bad to listen to if it's on the radio." I liked The Police much more than I like Sting, or something like that, you know. But as far as just, music for young people in the popular world, it's pretty bad for the most part. You know, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, and there's just all this crap that just all sounds the same and doesn't really have anything to say except for, you're pissed off and you're having a bad day, or you're white trash and you like beer, you know? It just doesn't strike me as being that interesting. And it's creative; they're doing something, and there are obviously people who like it. I just wonder, could some of the smaller bands be a lot bigger if record labels would put a bunch of money behind them? Take somebody like Pedro, take somebody like Over the Rhine, and put Kid Rock money behind somebody like that. Could they get huge? It's hard to say. Like Sixpence, they got pretty huge, and their record label certainly put a lot of money into making that happen. I don't know, I think the mainstream is always pretty much bull crap. Because what does the mainstream do? The mainstream jumps on a trend that started in the underground five years later, two years later, and they beat it to death, and then it disappears. I mean, look at award shows. Look at MTV awards, or Grammys, or any of those things. Look at the people who have won. MC Hammer, the Spice Girls. All these people have won these awards, and it's just like, who listens to any of that stuff now? Whereas, it's like, go back and look at ten years ago, and there's other bands that have been around for the last ten years and have consistently been putting out good music, people are into them like they were back then.

Andrea: Do you think in order for music to be successful, it has to have a lot of money behind it?

Matt: No, I don't think that, but I think it can definitely help. There's definitely been bands that have gotten huge without a lot of money behind them. But it's hard. It really is hard. With my band, we don't have any money. [Laughs] Like, we're in debt, you know? We sleep in the car at night. We never pay for a hotel room. We've toured for basically two months this summer. The only time we stay in hotel rooms are when people pay for them and other than that, we sleep in the car. And it's like we're totally satisfied sleeping in the car, we just do it, even if we don't like it, and that's how we get by and that's how we make money. I can definitely see how having money, being able to tour more, being able to have promotion, it helps. It makes life easier.

Andrea: Why do you think the mainstream is like that?

Matt: I don't know. I'd like to think that people have better musical taste than stuff like that, but I guess maybe I'm just being naïve and hopeful. Maybe people… sat around waiting for something like Kid Rock their whole lives and now it's come along and they love it and one year they'll be playing that for their kids, and to the kids of the year 2020 or something, that'll be like the Jimi Hendrix or the Led Zeppelin or whatever, of their parents. [Laughs] But I don't know. I have no idea why. I think a lot of it is popular is because the mainstream press, and the media, and everybody else have so much money that they put behind this, and they just kind of say that "This is good, this is popular," and therefore everybody says, "Oh, this is good, this is popular," and they just kind of jump on the bandwagon. I don't know. It's weird. I don't think about it that much. It's hard to answer these questions. I don't want to sound derogatory at all, because there are good people out there, but there is a lot of crap that, five years from now, nobody's going to remember.

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