with Girl in a Coma
Girl in a Coma just want to be understood. The San Antonio-based trio have been around long enough (eight years as a band) to have learned "what to do and what not to do," as bassist Jenn Alva said.
But there are a few things they need people to understand.
First, they may be named after a famous song by 1980’s indie rock band The Smiths, but they don't sound anything like them.
"After a while, it gets old," said drummer Phanie Diaz. "We're fans of Morrissey, but we formed a band — and maybe we brought it on ourselves — but we will never be [The Smiths], and we're not trying to. It's like they don't even listen to the album. 'Oh they're like the Smiths.'"
It didn't help, of course, that The Smiths' former frontman, Morrissey, came to see Girl in a Coma play at the Viper Room in Los Angeles in 2007 and afterward, invited them to open for him on a large tour.
"He really liked the music," Jenn said, acknowledging that there are probably skeptics who think he chose the group based on their name. But like having Joan Jett handpick them to be one of her label’s flagship artists, it was a validation that only gave Girl in a Coma more reason to keep going.
In 2007, the trio released Both Before I'm Gone, a romantic, dark album that is clearly rock but with influences from several other genres, including rockabilly, cabaret and Pasty Cline-esque country.
Fronted by Phanie's sister, Nina, Girl in a Coma released a handful of singles, including "Say," a quick-paced, catchy track, and "Road to Home," a song with a slow and light intro that picks up the tempo in time to engage listeners in hand claps. The video for the latter included drag icon Amanda LePore, and also included a cameo from their mentor, Joan Jett.
Phanie said having Joan appreciate their music is a big boost, but it can also perpetuate some boring interview questions and assumptions.
"I mean, it's not a big deal, but you kind of get tired," Jenn said. "It's like, we're always down for interviews, but it gets really tiring to answer a million times. Like we were in Austin and there was this girl, poor girl, she built it up, saying, 'I have been dying to ask you guys this!' and we're like, 'Yeah? What is it?' and she says, 'How did you get your name?'"
"I think we made something up once," Phanie said, "It involved something like that I was a stripper."
Since the release of Both Before I'm Gone, Girl in a Coma has toured extensively on their own, as well as with Morrissey, with another 1980’s band called The Cult and on the True Colors Tour. They are currently switching from the opening slot on the Tegan and Sara fall tour to opening for Bitch and the Exciting Conclusion. They’ve played a whirlwind of venues, from rooms the size of garages to auditoriums holding thousands of people.
"At first it was kind of intimidating to go from playing little shows to huge venues," Phanie said.
"I like that, though," Nina said of playing venues where she is on the same floor as the attendees. "I like playing those small kinds of shows."
Their exposure to all types of venues is most likely why the band has one of the most diverse fan bases possible: from punk lesbians to Goth teenagers to 40-something Hispanic men, the average Girl in a Coma concert is a melting pot of music fans.
"I think the reason we've gotten to where we are is people telling each other about us, word of mouth," Jenn said.
Girl in a Coma’s queer fan base is no doubt attracted to the fact that Jenn is an out lesbian. Touring with gay-favorite Morrissey, and acts like Tegan and Sara and Bitch, can only mean more gay women will be finding themselves falling for Girl in a Coma.
During the summer, the band took a break to record 14 tracks for the new album, slated to release on Blackheart again in March 2009.
"It's very '50s, but also very '90s," Phanie said.
"I don't know where the '50s thing came from. It just kind of popped out," Nina said. As the songwriter of the group, Nina said she purchased Rock Band for her computer so she could start to write while on the road. Their songs are a work in process as Jenn creates the harmonies to add over Nina's vocals.
Girl in a Coma recorded their second album on a small peacock farm in Texas, which is quite different from their previous recording environment.
"Nina recorded vocals in her bathroom," Phanie said. Nina nodded.
When they aren't on the road, staying close to their home in Texas is important for Girl in a Coma. They note that San Antonio has been nothing but supportive, even before they were picked up by Joan Jett, and they could play "a really s----y show, all out of tune" and their San Antonio fans would still be proud of their hometown girls.
"It's awesome. They love that we're representing our hometown," Phanie said. "A lot of bands leave and move to L.A., but that's our home. They're great."
The spring album will also have a little bit of a Broadway musical element to it, which Nina said she was aiming for and hopes to develop in the future. She'd also like to work with Mike Patton of Faith No More fame.
But first, some time off.
They'll be home in San Antonio for the holidays before hitting the road again in support of the new album.
"We just love touring. We want to get better, work on new stuff and then get out on the road. That's what we love to do," Jenn said.
The musicians have been applauded not just for their music, but for their collaborative sense of style. In a recent issue of Venus Zine, they were called Style Icons and posed on a bed together.
"I came to that photo shoot and was like, ‘I don't normally dress like that,’" Nina said.
"We wear the same thing every day," Phanie said. "Jeans! Very boring. We don't go out there thinking, 'We're gonna look like this.'" But their style comes naturally, and they have a way of making T-shirts and jeans look unattainable.
Phanie notes, “It's fun to go out and buy a new pair of shoes or find a cool vintage T-shirt. You don't want to look like total trash!" But she doesn’t think clothing or fashion has anything to do with their music.
"Nowadays, the focus does seem to be more on what you're wearing or if you've got a new hairstyle," Jenn said.
One of Girl in a Coma’s biggest challenges is reviewers who just don't give them a fair shot.
"There was one reviewer that said we were like Avril," Jenn said. "I guess it's because we're girls."
"I used to wear ties a lot," Nina said with a shrug.
"We usually chalk it up to that they didn't listen to the CD or they have a very limited knowledge of music," Jenn said, adding with a laugh, "It's like, 'Well they're either like Janet Jackson or …"
And one last thing they'd like to clear up: "It was [written] somewhere that when we first met Morrissey, I fainted," Nina said. "It was not true! I shook his hand. We knew he was going to come, but we didn't think we'd actually meet him."
"We got a call that day [that] he wanted to come to the show [and] to see if we could put him on the guest list," Phanie said. "Like we would have said no!"
Check out Girl in a Coma at MySpace.com/girlsinacoma