For the Love of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Girl in a Coma pays tribute to icons with Adventures in Coverland
By Erin Rook
With Joan Jett at their ear and Morrissey at their back, the lady rockers of Girl in a Coma are not lacking for star-studded support. But it’s the raw talent, classic yet distinct sound and broad fan base that will propel the San Antonio girl band to large-scale success.
GIAC formed after Phanie Diaz (drums) and Jenn Alva (bass) bonded in junior high art class over their shared fondness for The Smiths, Nirvana and ditching school. The band solidified its lineup in 1999 with the addition of Phanie’s younger sister Nina (vocals/guitar) who, though just a tween, showed promise as a singer and songwriter.
In 2006, GIAC was picked up by Joan Jett’s Blackheart record label in a scene out of every aspiring musician’s dreams—and it only got better from there. The band caught the attention of Morrissey the following year (the act’s name is a reference to his song “Girlfriend in a Coma”) and wound up touring with their idol.
Influenced by artists as varied as Bikini Kill, Elvis Presley and Jeff Buckley, GIAC channels the energy of ’90s riot grrl groups and replaces the screaming with sexy warbling vocals. The trio has shared the stage with Tegan and Sara, The Pogues, Frank Black and others.
Girl in a Coma is currently opening for Brit-rock band The Wedding Present and will wrap up that leg of their tour with an April 22 date at the Doug Fir. The act then goes on to tour with Sia.
Phanie took some time to talk with Just Out about the band’s new album, Adventures in Coverland, their diverse fan base and the challenges still facing female musicians.
JUST OUT: What was it like being picked up by Joan Jett?
PHANIE DIAZ: It was definitely surreal. ... We were doing a documentary and we were supposed to be surprised by her at the end [with her] advice for keeping it going, but she ended up … wanting to see us live cause we had a gig that night. She came and as soon as we were done … just signed us on the spot. ... [Joan] and the label in general is just like a family.
JO: How did you decide to do the three-EP cover album?
PD: We’ve noticed a lot of the younger generation, like teenagers that are getting into music, aren’t familiar with bands like Joy Division or things that The Beatles have done or even Selena. Selena’s really well known in Texas, but the farther north you get she’s not a household name. So we decided it’s important to show kids, “This is the reason why we’re here and this is the reason why a lot of artists that you’re into are doing what they do.” It’s important history. … We thought it would be cool to do this record to, number one, educate and teach them why we sound the way we do.
JO: Do you have a favorite song to cover?
PD: Right now our favorite is doing the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” song. It’s just so fun live and it kind of just builds itself and if people aren’t a Beatles fan and they hear that cover they’re just always like, “I don’t really like that song but it’s cool to watch it live and watch your version of it.”
JO: How would you describe your audience?
PD: It’s really a mix. Because we’re Latinas we get a big Latin fan base, but because Jenn and I are lesbians we also get a gay fan base, and because we’re all female we get people that support female groups and what we’re doing. So it’s kind of fun to watch the crowd. ... I didn’t realize we were doing so much for our community and the gay community. To watch it come together all in one room at the same time, it’s fun.
JO: Have you ever run into discrimination or ignorance on the road?
PD: I think that’s gonna always happen. Number one, because we’re girls. We’ve run into sound guys who think we have no idea what we’re doing or they expect us to sound a certain way because it’s what they believe a girl group is going to always sound like. And then on top of that, we get picked on more because we’re girls and the way that we look, weight, whatever, they just want to showcase that, like, “You would be so much better if you lost 30 pounds” or something. ... But you gotta kinda let it go in one ear and out the other. Just realize and know what you’re doing is important and it doesn’t really matter.
JO: How do you feel about being labeled as a lesbian band? You and Jenn are out, but do you ever feel pigeonholed that way?
PD: We try not to make it the focus of the band. ... It’ll come up and of course we’ll get into gay publications, and we’re all about it. We’re proud of who we are and we’re proud to help the community in any way, but we also make sure and remind people that it’s not about that, we’re a rock group. ... We’re gay and that’s our lifestyle, but it has nothing to do with songwriting and decisions we make as a band. ... A lot of people label nowadays so it’s gonna definitely happen. But we’re accepting of it.