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S.A. trio 'Girl in a Coma' living dream of music success

by Gary Cooper / KENS 5

Posted on May 24, 2010 at 11:31 PM

Updated today at 6:38 AM

San Antonians are proud to say the likes of Vikki Carr, The Krayolas, Flaco Jimenez, Steve Earle, and, of course, George Strait (just to name a few) call our city home. Now, you should feel free to include the all-girl alt/punk/rock trio Girl In A Coma to that list of notable San Antonians.

GIAC -- composed of 20- and 30-somethings Jenn Alva on bass and sisters Phanie and Nina Diaz (drums and lead vocals, respectively) -– are steadfastly making a name for themselves in an otherwise male-dominated genre. Their sound is wide-ranging in style and delivery, from fast-driving anthems to tearful melodic memoirs of heartache.

They have been compared to the likes of legendary acts such as The Smiths, The Pixies, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and even called a “Latina reincarnation of ‘The Smiths,’” according to Austin Vida Magazine. Lead singer Nina Diaz’s voice is one that bellows adrenaline and sheer pain and, in some cases, is haunting and timeless. Her sound has been compared to that of Patsy Cline and English singer Morrissey.

The band started making headway in 2004. But since they started touring cross-country, the girls have garnered the attention of mega-stars in the music industry such as Jane’s Addiction guitarist and one-time Red Hot Chili Peppers member Dave Navarro, Morrissey and Joan Jett.

The band’s name stems from a song by The Smiths called "Girlfriend in a Coma," Nina says.

“My Mom was a bit skeptical of the name at the time. She asked, ‘[what if] there is a girl actually in a coma, or what if one of y'all is in a coma?’” Nina says.

The origins of the band can be traced back to when Phanie and Jenn were friends in high school. The two did not tend to follow the crowd and spent most of their free time listening to punk albums in Phanie’s room, singing and playing along with them. It was here where the two went over ideas and collaborated on the band that they wanted to form.

“For some strange reason,” Jenn observed, “we didn’t get along with anyone.”

Nina auditioned for the duo when she was in her adolescent years and at first was written off by the two. So she spent time learning the guitar and honing her singing voice, eventually winning their approval and forming the group.

“I remember the girls making fun of me a lot when I was little,” Nina says. “When I got to the age where I could talk to them, it was now the younger sibling teaching the older sibling.”

Making connections

As the girls started performing gigs together as a group, they got better at commanding the stage. Soon after, the girls hit the road in the summer of 2004 in an old van. They toured the South, Southwest and Midwest, and a steady fan base soon followed.

They garnered the attention of many, but it was one manager who passed along a homemade demo tape to Boz Boorer, musical director for Morrissey.

Morrissey was blown away with the girls' sound. Soon thereafter the girls found themselves on a plane bound for London just after Christmas. Nina, 16 at the time, recalls how excited they were.

“It was our first time on a plane for the three of us. When we landed, Boz was waiting for us in a car and yelled at us, ‘get in!’ So we got in and went straight to the studio. We were there for only four days,” says Nina. The result of the trip was a recording of a demo produced by Boorer.

From there, Girl In A Coma went on to open for many acts across the country, including Morrissey, and tagged along on the Vans Warped Tour, steadily building their fan base.

In 2006, the girls found themselves in New York City for a gig. Joan Jett of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (responsible for the song "I Love Rock and Roll") was so impressed with them that she signed them to her label within minutes of their show. Soon after, they released their first studio album, titled "Both Before I’m Gone," in 2007.

They soon found themselves opening up for legendary punk band Social Distortion and were asked to join Cyndi Lauper on her True Colors Tour.

Next came the critically acclaimed follow-up album "Trio B.C.," which is named after Phanie and Nina’s grandfather’s Tejano band from the '50s. B.C. is an homage to their grandfathers love of music and memories of playing in their garage for the girls and whoever would listen.

The album contains tracks produced by Greg Collins, who has produced for U2 and Gwen Stefani, with background vocals and guitar riffs from Joan Jett herself on two other tracks.

San Antonio roots

Despite all the girls’ successes, Nina is quick to point out that they have not forgotten where they are from. In fact, Nina remembers playing a Holmes High School Band Jam for free way “back in the day.”

“I remember my guitar string broke twice before the show. There were 20 kids at the gig at the time,” she says.

She adds that her family here in San Antonio serves as a source of strength as as the group pursues a career that most in the business would envy. This support comes in handy on tour. Nina recalled a moment when she was on the phone with her mother late at night somewhere on the road. Nina’s mother had asked if her little girl could see the moon in the sky from her window.

“She said, 'I can see the moon too. We’re looking at it together.'”

Within seconds, Nina was in tears.

Nina says some of her family members were wary of her ambitions at the inception of the band.

“My dad at the time wanted me to be a nurse. He wanted me to go to school and be something," she says. "[But] my mother and my step-dad are very supportive. When I started touring, my mother turned to Phanie and pretty much told her, ‘OK, she is in your hands. Take care of her.’”

She says her family now knows that GIAC’s success is real, and they are not taking this lightly nor for granted.

“They trust me. They know that I am not doing this for kicks. I am doing this for the love of it and making a career out of it so I can help not only myself but help them as well," she says.

New album released

The trio’s latest release, "Advetures in Coverland," came out late last month. It's a collection of some of the group’s favorite songs from acts that shaped their sound and swagger. One would think songs from alternative and punk staples such as The Clash or The Ramones would come to mind, yet "Coverland" is far more than that.

Selena’s “Si Una Ves,” Ritchie Valens' “Come On Let’s Go” and Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” are some of the gems that await on the album.

“We’ve always wanted to do a Selena cover," Nina says. "The idea for doing these cover songs was to show our influences for Trio B.C. Growing up in San Antonio, Selena is a huge part of your life even though she was from Corpus."

Some of the other artists included in the album are Velvet Underground, Joy Division and a stirring rendition of David Bowie's “As The World Falls Down.”

Nina says there is plenty more on the way from Girl In A Coma, and the band will be a regular entry on the list of things San Antonio can be proud of for a long, long time.

Girl In A Coma will be having a San Antonio album realease party this Friday, May 28, at Josabi’s in Helotes. If you can’t make it to the show, be sure to catch Nina Diaz performing a solo acoustic set live on "Great Day SA" on KENS 5 this Wednesday, May 26, at 9 a.m.

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