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Monday, August 3, 2009
Girl in a Coma Rocks Camp!


On Thursday, July 30, 2009, Girls Rock Camp Austin writers interviewed band Girl in a Coma after an amazing performance for the camp at Austin Studios in Austin, Texas. Girl in a Coma is from San Antonio, Texas, and is made up of three members: sisters Phanie Diaz (drums) and Nina Diaz (guitar and vocals) and bassist Jenn Alva. The band got its name from a Smiths song called "Girlfriend in a Coma"; other bands they like include Smashing Pumpkins, the Beatles, and Sonic Youth. All of the group members are vegetarians, like shoes (especially Doc Martens and Vans), and are Latinas – they even plan on recording an album of songs in Spanish someday. In the meantime, their mix of punk, garage, and rockabilly can be heard on their new album, Trio B.C. Writers Reyna, Monse, Andrea, P.J., and Kat conducted an interview with the band after their performance for GRCA.

Girls Rock Camp Austin: What drew you guys to the Smiths?
Jenn: Phanie was into them first and showed me a CD. It was a great CD – it's called Louder Than Bombs, and it has all these great Smiths songs. We got into it.
Phanie: What drew us was the lyrics
Jenn: We got into the lyrics ...
Phanie: The lyrics and the melody was what got me. I don't know about you [laughs].
Jenn: Yeah – the way he sings and – everything. The music is pretty intense. We try to play it ourselves, but it's so complicated. They're just great musicians.

GRCA: What kind of other music do you like?
Nina: Right now, I'm really into Jeff Buckley. He's always been around, but just recently I'm really getting back into him. Björk. Stereolab. Old-school, like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone.
Phanie: Jenn and I tend to listen to – well, we all tend to kind of listen to the same stuff – but Jenn and I grew up listening to bands like Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill. Recently, I've been kind of going backward – listening to 90s music. Nina got into Smashing Pumpkins, and now I'm into Smashing Pumpkins. Superdrag. Jenn's a big Elvis fan.
Jenn: I love Elvis Presley, and Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. I like a lot of rockabilly.
Nina: And the Beatles. You gotta like the Beatles.

GRCA: What influenced your style of music and your appearance?
Nina: The music is more about whatever we're feeling at that moment – that kind of influences the way we write. Like when I start a song – I really got into Sonic Youth, and I wrote a song called "Baby Boy" on the new album that really kind of has that kind of vibe and same style. We really don't go for a style – it's just whatever pops up. When it comes to clothing, we don't really have much fashion sense [laughter]. I love wearing my Docs, I like wearing boots.
Jenn: Yeah, we're into shoes. I think, if anything, we care about the shoes. We like Vans, and –
Phanie: We shop at thrift stores.
Nina: We go to thrift stores. I do like Forever 21, though. I do like that store. [laughs]
Jenn: WHAT???! [laughter]
Nina: Purple pants, man! ... Kick me out of the band! [laughter] No, it's only thrift stores!

GRCA: It’s cool that you buy your stuff at thrift stores. It’s all about helping the earth, and you are, too.
Jenn: We're vegetarians, too!

GRCA: What is your cultural background?
Phanie: We're Latinas. Our grandfather came from Mexico, and we grew up in Texas. [looks at tape recorder] Did you hear? We're Latinas.
Jenn: She's talking to herself!
Nina [louder]: We're Latinas! [laughter]
Jenn: Phanie, she's real soft-spoken.
Nina: She's quietest, but she's also the loudest.

GRCA: Did being Latina affect your music?
Nina: Well, recently it's been working its way into it. We did this show two years ago in Los Angeles – it's a Mexican-rock show – and we did a bunch of songs in Spanish – covers of these songs. "Ven Cerca," which is actually the second-to-last song we played [in the Girls Rock Camp set] is a cover by a band called Los Spitfires. We kept that with us, and we took it on to our new album. Eventually, we'd like to do a full album of songs in Spanish.

GRCA: So do all of you speak Spanish?
Nina: Phannie speaks the most out of all of us, but we got – we have Rosetta Stone.
Jenn: [laughs] Yes, we have Rosetta Stone! ... We're in the learning process, basically.

GRCA: How did you all get into rock music?
Nina: It started with them [points to Phanie and Jenn].
Phanie: Actually, this is a funny story. The reason I started listening to rock is that our grandfather-in-law gave me a headphone set with a cassette already in it, and it was Guns 'n' Roses. So I started listening to only that tape.
Nina: Why did he have that? [laughs]
Phanie: I don't know why he had a Guns 'n' Roses tape! He didn't listen to rock or anything. Then I started exploring rock. Then I got into Nirvana. Jenn was already listening to – [asks Jenn] how did you get into rock?
Jenn: Well, when I was in sixth grade, there was a girl who was all into Nirvana and stuff. This was when they had just come out. I was cool, but then I kind of put it to rest for a bit –
Nina: – and brought out your Boys II Men tape [laughs] –
Jenn: [laughs] Yeah [laughs]. I'm like, "okay Nirvana, I'm gonna go back to Boys II Men." No, but my brother was like, he's kind of nerdy but I kind of looked up to him. He had a cool car and he listened to Pantera and White Zombie, and I was like, "Cool, I want to be like that!" So when I moved to San Antonio and met Phanie I was wearing, like, White Zombie T-shirts, and I thought I was all cool. Then Phanie and I learned, you know, not better music, but we got into our own kind of rock, basically. Because, you know, White Zombie and Pantera are really cool, but –
Nina: I got into rock because, being the younger sister, you listen to what your older [siblings do]. For a while I was listening to what my brother was listening to, and he was listening to a lot of Korn and Pantera and stuff. And then I moved on to Nirvana. I remember when I was putting up a poster – there was a Korn poster, and there was another poster for this band called Travis. I was like, "Which one do I want to follow????" because they're two different genres [laughs].
Phanie: They're completely different.
Nina: Yeah, completely!

GRCA: What convinced you start band?
Nina: I either wanted to be an actress, a singer, or a waitress. [laughs] I don't know why waitress was in there somehow. I would play air guitar and listen to bands and pretend I was playing their music. And [Phanie and Jenn] were in bands, so it was always around me. I thought, "Hey, I could do it, too." So I picked up the instrument and started going for it.
Phanie: I just wanted to be in a band. I liked seeing performers, and our grandfather played in a band and my dad drums, so ... I just wanted to do it, too.
Jenn: I liked the way it looked. I've always liked being onstage with a guitar and performing in front of people. Since I was real, real young, I wanted to be in a band. Finally, Phanie came into my life and made it possible. [Laughter.] "Came into my life." I mean, it might sound cheesy, but it's kind of in you. It's like, you want to play. When Phanie and I stopped being in a band for a little bit and were doing other things, I just didn't feel right. It's like you just want to play. It's in your heart, and you want to play music. And it's good to go for it! Because if you don't, you'll always live with, like, "Man, I could have been in a band," or "What if I was doing this?" You really just don't want to live with "what ifs." You'd rather just do it, and if it works, it works. It's just: You did it.

GRCA: Were there any barriers in your way when you were trying to start the band?
Nina: There were a lot of sacrifices we had to make. I dropped out of high school my junior year – I got my G.E.D., though!
Phanie: You always have to tour. We're broke a lot because everything that we got, moneywise, we put into the band.
Nina: Lots of little arguments because, you know, at one point you think "Should we just give up, or should we keep going?" or "Should I get a real job?" But then we'd just keep going and we'd push each other along. Whenever one was down, we would attack them, and say "no, come on, do it!" It's a lot of hard work.
Jenn: It's the greatest job in the world, I'd say but, yeah, it's tons of work.
Phanie: You have to really want to do it.
Jenn: Yeah, definitely. We miss our families back home, and we're on the road a lot, driving miles, and you get tired. Going from city to city, playing, you kind of get little a tired, exhausted – but it's all worth it.

GRCA: What's your favorite song that you wrote?
Nina: Favorite song I've written, out of all the songs? It would have to be "Their Cell." When I wrote it, it just completely flowed out. The lyrics just came out on their own. It kind of wrote itself. I don't know how. Before, I didn't really have an idea of what I wanted to write about, and on that one, an instant story came out. It felt really good. Every now and then a song comes along, and it just makes me feel like, "Whoa! I'm doing something!"

GRCA: Do you want to add anything?
Phanie: Don't get discouraged!
Nina: Yeah, there's going to be a lot, I don't know why, there's a sense of competition with other female musicians or something – I mean, anybody can be rude, but whenever you see another fellow musician, never see it as competition. Just see it as, "awesome, you're playing music, too" and embrace each other's talents. Respect everybody who has the guts to get up onstage and play.

GRCA: I hear a lot of rockabilly sounds in your band's music. When you guys first started out, did you ever intend for it to sound that way?
Jenn: No, no. Most of the songs start with Nina. We just kind of do whatever feels right at the time. All of us listen to everything.
Nina: There's lots different bands and music lingering on and then when you play, it's whatever flows out. Of course, we love Elvis, Patsy Cline.
Jenn: There's no rules with music, no matter what people say, like with the structure. It's good to have dynamics in a song, because I think that's great, instead of it just being flat – to have changes and stuff like that. Music is an art, and in art, like painting, there's no rules. People throw things together all over a canvas and people are like, "whoa, that's amazing." There are no rules with music. I just say, stay in tune, and have fun. Write whatever you want. You don't have to follow a pattern. That song we did, "Vino": It was kind of this slow song, and then we decided to make it all rockin'. And then all of a sudden, we do this little rockabilly line just because we want to. You know, just – no rules!