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Interview: Girl in a Coma

words by Ryan Brosmer | photo by Michael Rubenstein
08.04.2009

Girl In a ComaSo you walk onto the set of a cable TV show in New York that showcases unknown bands and in the audience is Joan Jett. What do you do? Get signed to her record label, Blackheart Records, right there on the spot.

At least that’s what the San Antonio, Texas trio Girl in a Coma did.

Girl in a Coma was a band almost a decade in the making. Drummer Phanie Diaz and bassist Jenn Alva have been friends since 1992, and somewhere around 2000 Phanie and Jenn started a band. They still lacked a singer and guitarist, but soon found both in Phanie’s younger sister Nina Diaz.

“She showed us a song and we thought her voice was incredible, so we asked her to be in the group,” Alva says of their discovery of the latent talent held by the younger Diaz sister, only 12 years old at the time.

The band got its break when they showed up to play that TV show at the Knitting Factory in New York and had their first introduction to Joan Jett and her longtime songwriting partner, Kenny Laguna. Girl in a Coma was soon signed to Jett’s Blackheart Records and it’s with that label that they just recently released Trio BC, their sophomore album.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” Alva says of playing in front of Jett and Laguna. “We were huge Runaways fans and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and when we first met her it was a surprise. We’re just glad that she liked us.

Girl in a Coma was signed on the spot, which Alva says is every band’s dream.

“Eventually with every visit from her, watching us play, it gets a lot more comfortable,” Alva says of the band’s continuing relationship with Jett. “I think the whole goal with all of us is just making her happy and making her proud, and we’re just happy that we’re part of her record label and know her.”

The band has grown since the first release, Before I’m Gone, but Alva says that it’s just the fact of them growing as musicians.

“When we decided to write [Trio BC] we had no pattern, we had no plan of this is what we’re gonna write and this is how it’s gonna be. It’s just what came about.” Alva says the response to the new material has been good on their latest tour, and adds that they’re playing a set of nearly all new songs with only a few old favorite thrown in.

“We’ve played those songs so many times, we’ll always love them,” she says of the material from their first album, which has been out since 2007. “We’ve noticed that our really, really die-hard fans already know the lyrics and the meaning. And a lot of the fans who come to the shows are more familiar with the first album.”

The members of Girl in a Coma have a few hurdles to bound in the traditional music industry. They’re an all-female group for starters which has long carried its own stigma in the music scene, but they’re also all three Latinas and Phanie and Jenn are both lesbians.

“It’s kind of like dealing with all this other stuff, plus being all girls,” Alva says of their unique experience with the music industry. “I think the only thing we obviously see is that there aren’t many out there… It’s kind of like you didn’t choose it, but you kind of did choose it.”

On the new album the band has embraced its ethnic heritage more than ever before, featuring songs sung in Spanish, and the album title itself is an homage to the Diaz sisters’ grandfather’s tejano band from the 1950s.

“We have a lot of Mexican culture and it plays a huge role, I think especially lately.” Alva quoted Nina, saying, “It’s been there and it’s been breathing down out necks and we can’t hide from it, and we now want to do more songs in Spanish.” Alva says that Phanie speaks and understands Spanish the best between the three of them and that she and Nina feel bad for not being more familiar with the language.

“We definitely want to represent a lot better than what we’re doing. Any other language besides English sounds really flowy and beautiful, so I can’t wait.”

Girl in a Coma is currently on tour through the end of August and their new CD Trio BC is out now.

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