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Childhood friends materialize their lifelong musical dream
Two sisters and a childhood friend blended their muiscal passion and friendship to create Girl in a Coma.
By: Claire Abisalih
Posted: 2/21/08
The phrase, "Girl in a coma," may invoke tragic images of someone lying motionless, hardly alive and void of essence.

Picture the opposite, and you've got the band Girl in a Coma, a trio of young women with tattoos decorating their arms, vibrant crimson painted on their lips, jet-black hair and eyeliner to match.

Two members of Girl in a Coma, Jenn Alva and Stephanie "Phanie" Diaz, met in an eighth grade art class.

"I had a People mag with Kurt Cobain on the cover after his death," Diaz explained. "Jenn saw that in my bag, and we started talking about Nirvana. Then I told her I played guitar and she said she played bass, which she lied about."

It was then and there that Alva and Diaz knew they wanted to start a band.

Within a week of that art class, they started jamming together.

"Well it was actually me teaching her to play her bass," Diaz said. "Then we started writing songs soon after."

Throughout high school in San Antonio, Texas, the duo experimented with a few bands and various genres, but never quite found what they were looking for.

Enter Nina Diaz, Phanie's younger sister by almost a decade. Nina Diaz had seen Jenn and Phanie play music for years while honing her own guitar skills.

"I used to play Phanie's guitar when she would go out," Nina, the younger Diaz, said. "She taught me a few things and I took it from there."

Neither Alva nor Phanie knew about Nina's talents.

"It wasn't hard to hide it," Phanie Diaz said. "She was out a lot."

When she was 12, Nina Diaz asked if she could play a song for the two older girls.

"I was muy, muy excited!" she said.

She had no idea her showcase would lead to the formation of a band, with her taking the reins as leading vocalist and guitarist.

"I never thought I would be playing with them," Nina Diaz explained. "When I decided to show them what I had written, it was more to get an opinion on what I was doing."

Alva and Phanie were blown away by Nina's distinctive sound and poignant lyrics that continue to remain her trademark. Immediately, they recognized the makings of Girl in a Coma, the band they had been trying to establish for years.

The band's curious name comes from a popular song by The Smiths - "Girlfriend in a Coma."

Nina Diaz said being eight years younger than her band members, and related to one of them was challenging.

"I hate her!" Nina Diaz joked, referring to her sister Phanie. "Just kidding."

"It can be [difficult] because they can be more parental figures than bandmates," Nina Diaz said.

But it is an invaluable experience that has brought the girl group all closer.

"We've grown together, and I think now we are at the same level with each other," she said.

Girl in a Coma's debut album, "Both Before I'm Gone," a title inspired by a James Dean quote, is a blend of old and new. Some songs were written as long ago as 2000.

Combining Phanie's drum beats, Alva's steady bass lines and Nina's innovative guitar playing and intriguingly rich voice, Girl in a Coma has succeeded in creating a wholly unique sound.

"We have a lot of different influences, which you can hear in the music," Phanie Diaz pointed out. "It ranges from Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline and Elvis to Morrissey and Pixies."

The bandmates have been compared to a myriad of different musicians, but their sometimes rambunctious ("Say"), pensive ("Clumsy Sky" and "Road to Home") and consistently strong sound is truly their own.

While listening to their album, one can't help but bob one's head to the beat and imagine Julia Stiles' character in the teen flick, "10 Things I Hate About You," blasting the record on her way to school.

"It's the kind of music that you'll listen to 20 years from now and remember exactly what was happening to you then," Phanie Diaz said.

Along with literary and musical influences, the members of Girl in a Coma cite "family and true passion" as their inspiration.

Family, friends and their hometown are still very close to their hearts, despite touring all over the country with living legends such as The Smiths' Morrissey.

"Everyone was very supportive," Phanie Diaz said of friends and family's reactions when Girl in a Coma first hit the road. "Now they're extremely proud."

Playing in San Antonio is still their favorite gig. "We've never felt so much love and pride and support from one city," Alva said.

Being on the road can be daunting and it's never easy.

"You definitely have some hard times on the road. Running out [of] funds, sleeping in vans," Phanie Diaz said.

But there's a plus side to everything, and it's not just fame and fortune.

"At the same time it's the best time of your life," Phanie Diaz said. "Nothing is ever that hard if you're doing what you've always wanted to."