July 03, 2009
Girl In A Coma comes to the Valley with a lot of force behind them
BY ALAN SCULLEY - SPECIAL TO THE STATESMAN
If ever a band deserved some slack for its youth when it first came on the national music scene, it would be Girl In A Coma, which performs next week at Neurolux in Boise.
The group's songwriter, Nina Diaz, was all of 19 when the band's first CD, "Both Before I'm Gone," was released, and many of her songs had been written when she was younger than that. Still, it was a promising debut.
And now with the release of the second Girl In A Coma CD, "Trio B.C.," it's apparent that the promise of the first CD was no illusion. Diaz, 21, who is eight years younger than fellow band members Phanie Diaz (her older sister, drums) and Jenn Alva (bass), has clearly absorbed additional musical influences - Sonic Youth and '90s alternative rock among them. Growth in her songwriting makes for an album that suggests Girl In A Coma will be a force on the modern rock scene.
"The first album was songs I wrote from 13 to 18, so that's a lot of time and experiences and growing up and messing up and fixing thingsÉIt's a crazy, tornado time," Diaz said when asked about the growth in her songwriting during a phone interview. "I wanted to really listen to what I was doing and let it flow and find beauty in other music around ... And incorporate it somehow into what I was writing and somehow turn it into something new."
Diaz has good reason to be pleased with her efforts. "Trio B.C." has songs (such as "Static Mind" and "Joannie In The City") that live up to both the style and the standard set by "Clumsy Sky." But it is also a more diverse and ambitious effort. "Slaughter Lane" rocks with a rockabilly kick, while the band's pop instincts shine in songs like the tart and catchy "Empty Promise" and the shimmering "In The Day," the latter of which has a bit of an R&B tinge in its peppy tempo. Overall, the playing is considerably more polished and tight.
That Diaz has stepped up her game as a songwriter probably doesn't come as a surprise to the other members of Girl In A Coma. They recognized Diaz's songwriting talent (and her edgy yet mature singing voice) when she was 12 years old.
That's when one day Nina asked Phanie (pronounced "fawnie") and Alva - who had been trying without luck to form a band - to listen to her play a song. The original tune was all they needed to hear to make Nina Diaz the lead singer/guitarist in the band, even though Nina was eight years their junior.
The group got to work gigging, writing songs, and after a few years got a big break, an invitation from to star in a pilot for a cable show spotlighting new Latino music acts. As part of the pilot, Girl In A Coma got to fly to New York to play at the Knitting Factory, where the band performed for what at the time was an unnamed record producer.
The surprise guests were rocker Joan Jett and her producer and musical partner Kenny Laguna. They were so impressed they signed Girl On A Coma to their label Blackheart Records and released "Both Before I'm Gone" in 2007.
For the recording of "Trio B.C.," the group combined the familiar and new in bringing together producers to work on the CD.
The group brought back Gabriel Gonzalez (formerly of the band Sparta), and Laguna and Jett to work in supporting roles. But the primary producer, Greg Collins, was new to the band. He had both the resume and a connection that made him a natural choice.
"He had done No Doubt and Sheryl Crow and just endless amounts of people that he's done," Diaz said. "He's done a wonderful job with every one of them and our manager is a friend of his. And so he thought hey, let's give him a shot."
Just as Diaz had tried to be open to various musical possibilities in writing the songs for "Trio B.C.," the band sought to carry that outlook into the recording sessions, an approach that Collins shared.
"The goal was just to let our guard down," Diaz said. "We were open minded a lot more than before, because we could be very stubborn at times. But we just let go."
Diaz is pleased to have a second album of material to mix in with the group's earlier songs in its live show and said Girl In A Coma has grown considerably tighter musically on stage.
"I definitely think we've gotten a lot more comfortable with
ourselves and with our instruments, so it definitely shows on stage,"