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Girl in a Coma to wake up Plush
San Antonio trio brings unique sound to Old Pueblo
By Gerald M. Gay
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.23.2009

Girl in a Coma didn't have much support when it set out on its first national tour in 2004.
The San Antonio trio — sisters Phanie and Nina Diaz and childhood friend Jenn Alva — was without a label or agency to represent it.

They left Texas with $500 in their pockets. By the time they reached their final gig in San Francisco, that was gone, too.

"We were stranded," Phanie said in a phone interview last week. "Jenn had to take the burned demo CDs we had in our car and sell them in bars for five bucks a piece. We made $180. That is how we got home."

Those struggling-artist days are long over for this up-and-coming band, playing Plush on Friday.

Thanks to the group's unique sound, driven by Nina's haunting lyrics and Björk-like vocals, the group has managed to snag some high-profile shows as well as praise from some prominent musicians and critics.

They've traveled on Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" tour and hit the road with Tegan and Sara. In 2007, they were hand-picked by Morrissey — the man whose Smiths' song "Girlfriend in a Coma" inspired the band's sound and name — to open for a string of his shows through the United States and Europe.

Girl in a Coma released its second album, "Trio B.C.," named after the Diaz sisters' grandfather's band, early last month on Joan Jett's Blackheart Records label.
Phanie, 29, spoke to Caliente on the way to a show in Long Beach, Calif.
How is your current tour going?

"Nothing bad has happened yet. We haven't met anybody creepy. We've been watching the crowds get bigger. For all of us, that is a surprise. We'll get to random cities and go, 'Wow, we didn't know we had fans here.' "

Do you remember your last visit to Tucson?

"The last time I remember playing at a place called Solar Culture. It was cool. We went in and the guy fed us lasagna. We had a fun show, then left right after that."

Morrissey was in town that same week. He invited you on tour later that year. Did you ever think you would share a bill with him?

"Never. We were Girl in a Coma. We thought he would automatically dismiss us just based on the name alone.

"He showed up at a gig in L.A., and a couple of weeks later we were on the tour with him. It was really fast. We didn't have time to think about it. We went into work mode. Morrissey fans are very particular. We went in with a mission."

Did you get to hang out with him?

"We noticed he would sit on the side of the stage, out of view, and watch us when we were on tour with him. He would leave us "Thank You" cards and notes saying he respected us from a distance. On the last night, he came in with a bottle of champagne and thanked us and told us to keep it up. He was just cool."

The Austin American-Statesman said you are putting San Antonio on the musical map. What do you think of that?

"We try not to overthink it, because it is pressure. It is flattering and an honor to hear things like that. But we tell ourselves, no matter what they say, we'll just stick to what we know and what we do, and either it works out or it doesn't."

Was there a concept behind "Trio B.C.?"

"No. When we get together to write music, we don't say this album is going to sound like this or that. Nina starts the lyrics and basic melody, then Jenn and I structure around that. 'Trio B.C.' goes everywhere. It has rockabilly, then a '90s-influenced song, then a punk song. If we like a song, we are going to put it on a record."

How big of an influence was your grandfather?

"He was our first exposure. He would bust out his acoustic guitar and sing to Nina and I when we were little. He would play records that showed us what a good album could do. You sit there and drink a beer and get nostalgic. You remember good times that happened when that song was popular. His passion is what showed us that music can be worth something to other people.

How did production go on this release?

"With the first record, it was a collection of songs we had created over seven years. For this record, we had two years. We wrote it on the road. Nina would sit in the back of the van with "GarageBand" on her Mac, trying to come up with songs.

"We ended up being happy with it. It opened up our minds to new concepts and new techniques."

Joan Jett is featured on the track "Joannie in the City," and the album is on her label. How big of a help has she been?

"She is like a sister figure. If we need to know something about the business, we know she is there and we can call her up and ask her advice. She's been through it all.
"She doesn't try and interfere and tell us how we need to be. She just says, 'I'm here' and reminds us to remember the experience and love it."