EL PASO TIMES

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Trio returns after recording new album at Tornillo studio
Girl in a Coma
El Paso Times Staff
Posted: 07/23/2009 04:50:34 PM MDT


By Doug Pullen

EL PASO -- The women of San Antonio's Girl in a Coma say a chance to record at Tornillo's Sonic Ranch was just what they needed after two years of intensive touring.

"The (record) label gave us the choice of where we wanted to record, and right away we said Sonic Ranch," bassist Jenn Alva says.

"For one thing, we fell in love with it. We're glad we did.

"It's not like a fancy place. It's just perfect, out in a ranch setting. The nights are dark, you could hear the coyotes howling. It was really cool."

That laid-back Tornillo ranch setting, which has also attracted the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Conor Oberst in recent months, contributed to the sense of growth and adventure that pours out of new songs like the love ballad "El Monte," the hard-rocking "Static Mind" and the bouncy, rockabilly "In the Day."

"Trio B.C.," their second album for Joan Jett's Blackheart Records, is chock-full of singer-guitarist Nina Diaz's sharp-eyed world-weariness -- surprising for someone barely in her 20s -- and a growing palette of sounds and influences from brash punk to twangy rockabilly.

It also includes two songs, "Vino" and "Joannie in the City," that were written and recorded with Jett and her co-producer, Kenny Laguna, at her New York studio.

The album was named after Diaz's grandfather's Tejano band.

"It's just us growing up as musicians, doing whatever we want to do," said Alva, whose group performs Saturday at Zeppelin's


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Underground and Sept. 4 at UTEP's Minerpalooza. "There's a little more freedom and playing around with things."
All the touring Girl in a Coma did in support of their 2007 debut, "Both Before I'm Gone," paid off with loads of confidence, but Alva said that she, Diaz and the singer's sister, drummer Phanie Diaz, went into the studio last year with no real expectations and came out pleased with how much they'd pushed the envelope.

"Me and the girls really, really like this album a lot. We've been reading reviews and it's been a lot of good stuff, but ... if there's anything negative, it's people can't categorize the album as a whole," she said in a telephone interview.

They certainly tossed out the template from their first album, which was recorded at the Austin home of co-producer Gabe Gonzalez, the Sleepercar guitarist who suggested Sonic Ranch in the first place.

"They're always open to ideas," Gonzalez said. "With them, they can be pretty rockin' at times, they have this overall vibe, but there's also some ethereal stuff, especially with Nina's voice, so some non-conventional instruments were called for (including toy piano). They're always open to that."

Alva credits all the touring they did in support of that first album, which produced the hit "Clumsy Sky," for expanding their sound on the new album, which Gonzalez co-produced with Greg Collins, who has worked with No Doubt and Sheryl Crow.

"Nina would write while we were on tour in the van. She has that little program on her computer, Garage Band, so we wrote a lot of music on the road," Alva said. "When we got home, we only had a certain amount of time to get them complete. ... Sometimes, when you're pressured like that, good things come out."

Gonzalez said they originally were going for more of a '50s-Latino vibe, but things evolved in the studio, where influences ranged from Sonic Youth to Elvis. He said they were already talking about their third album while in production on "Trio B.C." last summer and fall.

"I think the third one, however they do it, will be even more different than this one. They'll keep on going. They're not going to stay in the same place, they will not paint themselves into a corner," he said.

For now, the band is enjoying digging into the new songs onstage. "We've been doing about 13 or 14 a night and it doesn't feel like it," Alva said. "When we would do that many songs on the first album, it became, 'Oh, my God, this feels like a long set.' "

She doesn't know if they'll return to the Tornillo studio for album No. 3, but it sounds like they'd like to.

"It felt like a vacation, honestly. I think that's why we enjoyed it so much," Alva said, adding: "When it was over, me and the girls were like, 'Ah, I miss the ranch.' "