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Girl in a Coma go deep in the heart of Texas
by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Contributor
Wednesday Nov 17, 2010

When you’ve got Joan Jett on your side, you know you’re doing something right as a rock band, and that’s a distinction that Latina-rockabilly-punk band Girl in a Coma holds close to heart.

The San Antonio, Texas-based three-piece have been recording music and touring practically non-stop since they were signed by Jett’s Blackheart Records in 2006. Along the way, they’ve earned a loyal following just as diverse as their multi-genred songs and envious list of touring mates (including Morrissey, Cyndi Lauper and Tegan and Sara).

According to the band’s drummer Phannie Diaz, one of two band members who identify as lesbian, they’ve long been able to count on both their gay and Latino fan bases to count on, parts of the band’s collective identities that influenced the songs they chose for their most recent series of EPs, Adventures in Coverland. The albums, containing songs from Selena, Ritchie Valens, Joy Division and others, are only a teaser for their upcoming third studio album, which they expect to release next spring.

Shortly before hitting the road for a three-city home state stint with the Dresden Dolls’ reunion tour in Dallas, Houston and Austin, the talented ladies of Girl in a Coma - also including vocalist/guitarist Nina Diaz (Phannie’s sister) and bassist Jenn Alva - spoke with EDGE about their wide range of musical influences, their forthcoming album and how they’ve overcome sexism in the music industry.

Favorite tours
EDGE: You’re playing with the Dresden Dolls for a string of shows coming up in your home state of Texas. How did that come about? Are you excited?

Jenn Alva: It’s exciting because we’ve been in talks with Amanda [Palmer, Dresden Dolls singer] for a while and she’s been doing her own thing for a while. For them to get back together and for us to be with them as they do it -- on our own home turf -- is something to be really excited about.

EDGE: You’ve definitely had a fair share of touring buddies to be excited about -- you’ve performed with a really diverse group of performers including Morrissey, Tegan and Sara and the True Colors Tour in 2008 with Cyndi Lauper, the Indigo Girls, just to name a few. Do you have any particularly favorite touring experiences?

Phanie Diaz: For me, it was definitely Morrissey. Being a fan, that was an amazing tour.

JA: It’s not really any of the big shows we played, but this band we toured with in 2009 called Miss Derringer. We enjoyed their set every single night and that was one of my favorite shows.

Nina Diaz: I really liked playing with Sia because she’s a great performer. I liked seeing how she would handle the crowd. She always gives 100 percent no matter what show it is. It was a great learning experience for me.

Distinct sound?
EDGE: I think your diverse touring mates say a lot about your very diverse sound. You’re pretty difficult to define and you definitely appear to be part of the trend of musicians not being so well-defined by any particular genre - it’s kind of punk, kind of rockabilly, with a Latina flavor. To what do you attribute that?

JA: There’s definitely a trend of bands being all over the place in terms of genre, but I don’t know if we’re too conscious of that. I guess we’re all just doing what we want to do when it comes to songwriting and it pulls from being from south Texas. Our influences are all over the place, from old Spanish music to country to punk -- it comes from everywhere.

PD: Our parents listened to Patsy Cline and Elvis and the Beatles and it was all put into our brains at an early age. We can’t help but play what feels natural. We’ve noticed it in our crowds, too. Two of us are gay, plus we’re Latinas and female. We see the Latino and gay communities all coming together at our shows and I think it’s all a matter of being true to ourselves and I think people catch on to that.

EDGE: What inspired your latest album, which consists mostly of cover songs? How did you choose the songs? I think the Selena selection - "Si Una Vez" - might be the most surprising choice to a lot of people.

PD: We chose to do this covers album because we wanted to show our fans why our second record sounded the way it did. It was our way of explaining what we grew up listening to, on top of maybe educating people on some of these artists they haven’t heard of before, like Selena. We played in North Carolina and people had never heard of her there. It’s our way of exposing these artists. As for that song, it was our favorite Selena song that we wanted to cover. Nina really liked the lyrics, so we thought we could turn it into this fun, kind of punk rock tune.

EDGE: On the topic of covers, do you have any singers that you’d really like to see cover a Girl in a Coma song?

ND: I think it’d be pretty awesome if Bjork ever did a song of ours because I love her.

JA: There’s this old song we have that got recorded but was never released that we could give to Morrissey because it sounds like something he would have done.

PD: I’d definitely like to hear Morrissey do one of our songs.

EDGE: As an all-female band, do you still encounter a lot of sexism from the music industry? How do you deal with it?

PD: We still do get the sound guys who come in and see us and don’t think we know what we’re doing, plus the occasional "I don’t like girl bands but I like you" comment.

JA: I think we just kind of brush it off. With those sound guys, we just play our set and afterwards they want to be our friends. That’s actually how we make friends.

EDGE: Has the extent to which the LGBT community has embraced your sound surprised you, given that you’re so different from the Katy Perry type sound that so many gays seem to prefer?

JA: We were actually just talking about that, that we don’t have to be that kind of all-girl lesbian group preaching on stage. That’s not what we do. We play music and that’s all. I think that just by being on stage and looking the way that we do, that’s definitely good enough in a way.

PD: I mean, we’ve been doing this for ten years and we appreciate the support. I think a lot of what the community sees is that we’re proud of who we are. The community has come to be aware that we’re here and they’re supporting us back as we help out as much as we can. We see having both the Latino and gay communities behind us as important to what we’re doing.

What’s next?
EDGE: Are there any misconceptions flying out on the Internet about you, or anything about yourselves that surprises new fans?

PD: I think we’re open books mostly, but a lot of fans don’t realize that we have been around for as long as we have, over 10 years of traveling and touring with different acts. We pretty much wear our hearts on our sleeves and tell people whatever they want to know.

EDGE: What is up next for Girl in a Coma, following the Dresden Dolls shows?

JA: We’re going to just enjoy these Texas gigs and it’s good to be home. We’re really focused on writing our new album and catching up with Nina. She’s got like 20 songs written already, so we need to write our parts now. Hopefully that next album will be released in the spring.

EDGE: Any hints on the kinds of writing we’ll be seeing on the new album, Nina?

ND: Whatever I listen to when I’m writing usually comes out when the songs come about and I’ve been listening to lots of Jeff Buckley and T-Rex. So, it’ll just be some really good vibes.

Upcoming dates for Girl in a Coma are November 19, 2010, 7:00 PM, Granada Theater, Dallas, TX (with The Dresden Dolls); November 20, 2010, Fitzgerald’s, Houston, TX (with The Dresden Dolls). For other dates visit the group’s website.