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Girl in a Coma gets eclectic
By Mike Usinger
Publish Date: April 15, 2010

San Antonio–based Girl in a Coma is getting ready to pull opening duty for the Billy Goats when the Georgia Straight reaches bassist Jenn Alva on the phone in Nashville, Tennessee.

“They're kind of rap artists with some rock 'n' roll,” she explains, perhaps for the benefit of those who've never heard of Stereogum. “Like the Pharcyde or Beastie Boys. It should be really fun.”

Considering that Girl in a Coma's most recent outing, Trio B.C., doesn't exactly sound like the golden age of Def Jam Recordings, the pairing might seem like an odd one. However, Alva and her sibling bandmates—Nina Diaz (vocals and guitar) and Phanie Diaz (drums)—are used to finding themselves slotted in with acts they don't necessarily have a lot in common with. Since forming in 2005 they've opened for a long list of artists that includes alt-folk darlings Tegan and Sara, punk-rock icons Social Distortion, mope-pop legend Morrissey, and out-there experimentalists Xiu Xiu.

If anything binds these artists together, it's that their fans tend to be of the fanatically devoted variety. That Girl in a Coma managed to not be driven off the stage in each instance speaks volumes about the group's ability to move easily between musical worlds. And the band does just that on Trio B.C., offering up guitar-crunched pop songs laced with everything from greased-lightning rockabilly (“Slaughter Lane”) to Tex-Mex waltzes (“El Monte”) to black-hearted country (“BB”).

“When we first started out, we sounded like girls learning their instruments,” Alva says with a laugh. “At the time Nina was very heavily into Morrissey, to where she even tried to sing like him, and also like Björk. There was a lot of that—and a lot of Jeff Buckley. We tried to semi-emulate our mega-influences. By the time we did Trio B.C., though, I think you can see that we'd advanced a little, but even then I don't think we'd completely figured out the direction we wanted to go in. And I think we'll always be like that.”

While Girl in a Coma—and, yes, the name is inspired by the Smiths' “Girlfriend in a Coma”—doesn't completely know where it's going, the band's members know exactly who has got them to where they are today. As much fun as it is playing spot the influences on Trio B.C., there's an easier way to figure out what's on the most-played list of the group's tour-van iPod. GIAC—which records for Joan Jett's Blackheart Records—is releasing a series of vinyl EPs this spring. Titled Adventures in Coverland, the 7-inches find them paying tribute to their favourite artists, including Selena, the Beatles, Joy Division, and Patsy Cline.

“We had to figure out what we could pull off without butchering things,” Alva says. “The thing is that you have double fans coming at you when you do a cover: your fans and the fans of the original bands. So our list got shorter and shorter as we went along.”

As much as that final, um, eclectic list might make sound like Girl in a Coma is trying too hard, one listen to its impressively crunchy, radical revamping of the Velvet Underground's “Femme Fatale” will convince you the trio has established itself as a force worth watching.

Hell, you can almost imagine the band opening for Selena and living to tell the tale.

Girl in a Coma opens for the Wedding Present at the Biltmore Cabaret on Tuesday (April 20).