Just Getting Started: Christine Havrilla


“I’ve felt energized by my small accomplishments–especially knowing how tough it was to get where I am today.”

I stumbled upon my guest today, singer/songwriter Christine Havrilla, in my kitchen while eating a bowl of Cream of Potato Soup and a handful of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos. I usually make my lunch, take it to my office, and eat while I work. However, on the day I ran into Christine, I decided to plant myself in the kitchen for some reason. I turned on the television and began flipping through the channels.

Click. Stupid.
Click. Boring.
Click. Oh, brother.
Click. What the hell?

Click. And there she was on some kind of local programming channel. Her spicy sweet chili-packed voice and lyrics caught my attention. When her performance came to an end and her website address flashed across the screen, I knew I had to find out who this woman was. I absolutely loved her soulful, honest voice and the original song it relayed. Once I read about her and listened to some of the music she’s written, I knew she’d be a wonderful addition to Aberration Nation.

And I was right!

Now here she is!

Her story reminds us to take joy in our small accomplishments. Over time, it’s easy to grow numb to all the positives in an effort to survive the negatives. If you’re like me, you tend to focus on the big picture, the end goal, the shimmering mountain top. Christine’s made me realize that I’ve become highly skilled at squelching away the excitement I used to get from the small wins, those tiny shimmers of hope and support I so desperately needed and appreciated.

The first time an agent called to request a copy of my manuscript, I literally danced through the house. I screamed. I cried myself to sleep with tears of joy. It was as if I’d won the lottery. That was back in 1994, five years after I’d begun writing my first novel. I had no idea about all the twists and turns ahead. I wouldn’t have cared anyway. I soaked in that moment of joy and accomplishment for all it was worth. It energized me and reminded me how hard I’d worked and how much it meant to me.

When I was offered the opportunity to write a book for McGraw-Hill, I walked on air for months. Again, I cried. I was going to be in print! Someone was interested in what I had to say. I was legitimized as an author. I knew it was a positive step, regardless of any other stumbling blocks yet to come.

Today when agents or editors love my work, a sad clamp closes across my heart and a little voice whispers, “It probably won’t amount to anything. Don’t let yourself get too excited.” When people send me notes about how much they were moved by my novel, Aberrations, I feel myself shutting down, squelching the joy.

Does this feedback mean any less to me than it did in 1994? Absolutely not.

In fact, it means more to me with each passing year and with each word I write. It’s difficult sometimes to explain the toll of surviving ongoing rejection, year after year after year. To walk away from it and keep going, I’ve become a bit numb. I hate that. I’ve become like some kind of dark prairie animal who tunnels through the terrain, ignoring the painful bumps and jabs, and also the clear, smooth silky pathways that seem to clear out on their own. It’s almost like none of it–the negative or the positive–matters anymore as long as I’m moving forward.

I miss that early joy.

Someday I hope to stick my head up out of the tunnel and realize that I’ve achieved my goal. Christine has reminded me how much happiness and pride I may be missing by not allowing myself to celebrate all the A-list editors who now know my name and have acknowledged that I’m a talented writer despite not picking up my work; all the fantastic reviews Aberrations has received although it’s not flying off the shelves at the moment; and all the people who’ve so appreciated reading and being highlighted here on Aberration Nation.

Once upon a time, as a twenty-something with low self-esteem, I feared that writing a novel was an impossible feat. It literally felt like an attempt to jump into the stars and fly. I wondered if people would laugh at me if they knew what I did late at night. I didn’t tell anyone except my family that I was writing a book for three years.

Now I’ve written four.

Thanks to Christine, I realize it’s time to remember where I started and get busy sucking that positive energy out of all those small accomplishments. I suspect she’s just getting started. So am I. Those shimmering mountaintops may be just over the horizon.

What’s your story (in a nutshell)? Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?

I picked up a guitar around the age of four and taught myself how to play. I was inspired by my dad who played as well as my aunt, two uncles, great grandfather, and great uncle who all had guitars, mandolins, accordions, drums etc. I was surrounded by a family who loved music! I used to take my guitar to school (I went to catholic school and played in church with the nuns!).

As I was growing up, I always had a friend around to play music with. I finally joined a band and then started my own band doing my own music…As I noticed more and more people coming out to hear us, I wanted to make an album & really go for this “music-thing” that had been pulsing in my veins from an early age. So now I am still making recordings, writing, and touring all over as a full-time musician. I’m not surprised because I knew I was always drawn to that flame of music. I had other interests (sports, drawing, photography) but always came back to music as my main passion!

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an “ah-ha” moment you can tell us about?

One of the first ones was about two years before my first recording when I realized people were coming out in large numbers to hear my music and support what I was doing. It hit me and touched me in a way that has made such a difference as far as really going for it. The fact that there was a very cool connection happening at shows made me feel like I was right where I was supposed to be.

As far as my current creative focus–that concept seems funny at times because I’m finding myself creating three different kinds of projects right now and not always having an easy time focusing. It is not a bad thing because I am still creating. I believe I’m gearing up for an “a-ha” moment very soon that will help me decide which direction to go!

For you, is music more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a singer/songwriter?

My music is both. Yes, I create songs; however, I feel as though it is just as important how I am expressing it to an audience. A piece of work can be made, a song can be written … but there is more passion when it’s being expressed from my heart and gut. To me, one does not dominate over the other. To be a singer/songwriter you need a song to tell your story and if you can tell it in a way that people see and hear the passion behind it, it will make much more of an impact.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

I do believe an artist can be drawn to different types of creative outlets, but if you’re giving 110% to a certain project, it should be your main focus and commitment. It should be sucking the life out of you. That is what propels me to want it and want to get somewhere with a new project. It works because it “matters” in a extreme way.

I do also find that mixing it up and finding another creative outlet can help you express yourself in a new way. It may help you see from another perspective and then that relate back to your main project.

The other issue I sometimes face while working on a song is that I end up getting ideas for a new song and then take a right turn. I eventually go back to the main song I was trying to work on. There are times when I just let myself be taken in a different direction by my music and ideas. It’s great to see where it leads!

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life’s aberrations, or both?

Being creative and wanting to follow my heart and gut to be a musician has led me down a road that is different from others who might have chosen a “safer” path. Yes, this may have lead to aberrations in life but, in the long run, getting through those struggles and really getting over the huge mountains that were laid before me (I put them there sometimes) has turned out to be highly rewarding. I’ve felt energized by my small accomplishments–especially knowing how tough it was to get where I am today.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you’ve dealt with it?

Yes, I’ve had a few people in my life who may not have understood to the fullest extent what my passion for music is and why I must do what I do. I knew I could never convince them or make them see through my eyes so I had to slowly weed out some people from my life who were negative or trying to bring me down. Now it’s all good. However, I will say that when challenged by people, you need to try to understand their motives. It may not be as simple as a failure to support you.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

Many creative people never achieve their dreams but it’s the pursuit of these dreams that keep up creativity and the ability to continuously challenge ourselves. I still have goals that I want to achieve but fortunately have been blessed by many accomplishments along the way that nudge me to keep going! I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do what I absolutely love and have had songs in films, won awards and grants, recorded albums, played amazing shows with bigger names and have also played at amazing venues. However, I DO want more! I want to continue all of this and reach out to larger audiences.

Do you ever wonder if what you’re creating or expressing is as meaningful to others as it is to you? How important is that to you with regard to your overall goals? If you’ve created something that purely expresses who you are, is that enough, or is the circle only completed when someone else says that you understand them or how they feel?

I create a song with a story in mind or something that inspired it. When I share it with an audience, it can land on them as the way I see it or they can totally have their own interpretation of it. I’m satisfied if a song can “move” someone and there is a connection. At the end of the day, I don’t need people to “get” me or my music to feel complete. When I can finish a song that is one satisfying feeling. When it goes over well, that is the second. If it compels someone to write in to tell me about how much it touched them and how life-changing it was for them, then that is the most amazing feeling there is!

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Yes, I do believe there is a difference between being “creative” and being “talented.” If you can have both, that is amazing!

I know some musicians who can read music and play any song you lay in front of them; however, they can’t create a song of their own from scratch. They are very talented musicians, but maybe not as creative.

For me, just playing a song is not enough. Getting back to the point I made about “HOW” you play a song, I feel that if you are creative and can write a song that is one thing. If you can write the song and then be talented enough to express it in the best possible way, there you have the collaboration of the two working for you.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

There is an Emerson quote I love that says, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Those words always grounds me and remind me that no matter what great thing I’ve done, here I am now. No matter what is going to come, here I am NOW. What I’ve learned inside is more important that what I’ve accomplished. I try to take that with me and be “present” for every show and every moment. It’s sometimes difficult, but a challenge I will always take on.

I also have a motto about music being, “How you sing … and how you play it.” I never want to go through the motions.

The last thing is that I will try any music experience once to see how it goes. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by how amazing it is when I originally thought it was something to pass up.

5 thoughts on “Just Getting Started: Christine Havrilla

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  1. Thank you for this article/interview. Christine is amazing. I have been following her since the mid 90's and am still a huge fan. I can happily say that I call her a friend now, and although I only see her maybe once a year, I am hearing her on my i-pod all the time. Her music is a source of healing and therapy for me. It has seen me through home remodeling, a terrible break-up, and a move across country. There always seems to be a song that fits my place in life. As a very busy first grade teacher that loves music, but is musically challenged, I am enormously grateful for people like Christine to fill my life with her wonderful songwriting and singing.

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  2. Christine Harilla is one of the most exciting musicians I've ever seen, or had the privilege to work with. Her albums are great but her live performances make audiences stand up and SCREAM. truly. I played and recorded with Christine for eight years before her recent move to Oregon and I'll take her Emerson quote and one-up it: What lies behind us may be a tiny matter compared to what lies within us, but looking back on the music I made with christine has changed forever what lies within me. I believe Emerson would agree, that's the best of both worlds.

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  3. This was a great read. I just saw Christine in Houston yesterday and cannot express enough how wonderful it was to see her again after I moved away from the east coast. Once again…a truly joyous event. I always find something that connects me at each show…never the same. Everytime I listen to a song; it affects me in a different way. Her music takes me back to a transitioning period in my life that has a huge impact on me now. Listening to her music is like reading a novel of a life's journey facing challenges with failure and success. Christine's lyrics provide me with the much needed encouragement to climb the mountains of life. I can't wait to see her again!

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  4. Thank you to everyone for reading & posting comments…it truly touches me how you let yourselves be open to my music! I am glad there is a connection, no matter if it is at a live show or on a CD or ipod….Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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