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Girl In A Coma Interview
Both Before I'm Gone

Kelly Wiles Featured Writer

Hollywood Boulevard has changed a lot over the past decade. Where once there was nothing but dingy souvenir shops and old-timey dive bars, now there is The Virgin Megastore and upscale sushi restaurants featured on The Hills. Instead of trannies, there are tourists — lots and lots of tourists. They flock with their families and disposable cameras to the newly-renovated Boulevard, shuffling over the stars in the sidewalk with the subconscious hope that they’ll catch a glimpse of Lady Hollywood, that elusive California screen siren with blonde hair and tanned skin. If any of these tourists had walked further west on Hollywood Boulevard, they would have been confused and bewildered by the scene spilling out of The Knitting Factory this past Friday night.

The place was a sea of choppy black hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and ratty converse. The older fans had tattoos on their arms, and the younger ones had punk band buttons on their backpacks. Everyone had come to pay homage (and rock out) to Girl In A Coma, three non-blondes from San Antonio dishing out fierce, epileptic bites of melodic goth-centric rock from their 2007 debut album, Both Before I’m Gone. Nina Diaz, Phanie D, and Jenn Alva were like a slice of real Texas reaching out to a slice of real Hollywood. It was touching. It was enough to make you want to shove a copy of Both Before I’m Gone into the fanny packs of the tourists outside and say, “How you like Lady Hollywood now?”

If The Smiths had been angrier, grungier, and female, not to mention Texan-Latina instead of British, they might have been Girl in a Coma. Morrissey himself seemed to be of this sentiment; the girls toured as an opener for Moz this past year. Since getting signed to Joan Jett’s label Blackheart Records three years ago, the girls have, as bassist Jenn Alva told me during our phone interview, been touring their asses off.

Kelly Wiles: Is this the first time you’ve played at the Knitting Factory?

Jenn Alva: This is our third, actually. First time in Los Angeles was 2004. For our first show, we pulled up to The Dragonfly, and I guess the promoter who booked us got fired because they had booked some other show, so they were like, “Sorry [you can't play tonight], but we’ll make it up to you.”

KW: In doing my music critic research on you guys for this interview, I kept running into reviews that compare you to these sort of touchstones of goth, like Siouxsie Sioux, Joy Division, The Cure, The Smiths, etc. This is probably an annoying question, because asking you to label yourself is annoying, but would you, or have you ever, classified yourself as a goth band?

JA: No, never. If anything feels the most comfortable to us, it’s garage or punk. It’s what you’d consider punk — all attitude and stuff — and garage fits really well with us [too], just maybe because we grew up in the ’90s. [Laughs]

KW: Obviously, The Smiths and Morrissey are influences, as you named your band after a Smith’s song (”Girlfriend In a Coma”). What other influences do you have?

JA: Well we’re obviously influenced by Morrissey and The Smiths. When we first started out, we were super fanatics, and so that’s always going to be there. Other than that, Nina is into anything to do with Mike Patton (of Faith No More). Phanie is into female-fronted bands — she loves all that Riot Grrrrl stuff, and I’ve [been] getting into ’50s and ’60s music.

KW: What’s the music scene like in San Antonio?

JA: The music scene [in San Antonio] has been a big influence on us. We love our city a lot, and we like that it’s kind of a secret. Most people go straight to Austin, but there are a lot of great local bands [in San Antonio]. The problem is that they don’t tour. I always tell my buddies in [San Antonio] bands that you don’t have to move to New York or Los Angeles or whatever — you just tour the country like crazy. We’ve been touring our asses off.

KW: I’m not incredibly familiar with Texas, so excuse me if I sound kind of silly asking this, but the stereotype of Texas — at least the stereotype of white Texas — is all sunshine and sorority blondes, high school football games, and big, brassy, cowboy stuff. First of all, is this accurate? Secondly, do you feel as though South By Southwest has had anything to do with showing a new side of Texas to the rest of the country?

JA: Yeah, of course that stereotype is definitely there. I think it’s kind of funny. But we’re from south Texas, so it’s like three notches different from the hee-haw [stuff]. It’s more Mexican American culture; it’s Tex-Mex and it’s very different. It’s different than living in California and having Mexican Americans there — it’s a whole other world. As far as South By Southwest, that’s really just an Austin thing. I know that bands travel miles and miles to come to South by Southwest — we’ve done it for years, but we think of it really just as “Oh, that’s some Austin thing.”

KW: What kind of fan reactions do you get? You seem like the kind of band with the kind of lyrics that would get a lot of kids telling you that your music saved their lives.

JA: We do have extreme cases of something like that. [We've heard people say things like] “I was really suicidal” or “This album saved me.” We also had this girl [who] rode her bike for this fundraiser and she said she would listen to her CD and that’s what was pumping her up, and we were just like, “Wow.” It’s always nice to know that Nina’s lyrics are doing something.

KW: Would you say that music has saved your lives in any way, shape,, or form?

JA: I know for me, [growing up] was, “Oh, she was always a weird kid and we need to kind of put her back in line.” Phanie and I grew up together, and we would walk around in our high school and see these people in there, and music was not their priority, and we’d look at them [thinking], “Oh my god, I could not live like that.” For me, it was sort of like some people just have to do something with music, and if they don’t, they’re gonna go crazy.

KW: You were signed to Blackheart Records — Joan Jett’s label. If the major label executives in suits ever came knocking with more money and bigger venues for you, would you be tempted?

JA: [Laughs] Wow, I can’t even [answer that question]. I mean, Blackheart is like our family, they’ve treated us so well. When we’ve toured our asses off, we’re not just doing it for us and our fans, we’re doing it for [Blackheart] too. We’re just so happy to be on a record label.