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Strange ways, here we come

by JEFF INMAN
LET'S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY: Phanie Diaz likes Morrissey. In fact, everyone in Girl in a Coma likes him. Huge fans. Otherwise, the band wouldn't have opted for the thinly veiled reference to The Smiths classic "Girlfriend in a Coma" as its moniker. But that does not mean the San Antonio trio is trying to be like him, act like him, sound like him. "There's just no way," Diaz says bluntly.

And to be honest, the band would like to get over this whole Morrissey thing rather quickly. The comparisons, which Diaz calls inexplicable. The labeling of frontwoman Nina Alva as the female version of good Steven Patrick. The whole bit the group is just trying to capitalize on someone else's legacy. It's all nonsense.

"I just don't get it, to be honest," Diaz says. "That's just not what we're trying to be."

Which is obvious the instant you put in Both Before I'm Gone, the trio's debut. Yeah, there are the moments. The brief hint in Alva's phrasing in "Road to Home." The swooning melody of "Their Cell." The lovelorn wailing on "Simple Man," the six-minute acoustic disc closer. They're clues to what dominated Girl in a Coma's iPod playlists.

But then comes a song like "Sybil Vane Was Ill," which snarls and snakes its way to a pumped-up chorus. Or "In the Background," with its chipper hand-claps and Alva's warbling Corin Tucker impersonation. Or "Say," the album's standout track. Slicing guitars. Pulse-racing beats. A hint of new wave and general panic. There's even a bit of biting irony when Alva howls, "Tonight everyone will quote me on this line," her voice crammed with contempt while she gives you a knowing wink. It's like she's making you a part of the club -- you know better, but those bastards outside the door are delusional.

And that's what has been drawing fans to Girl in a Coma for the last three years: the group's ability to make you feel like you're with them against the world. It's in every song, in every note. The band demands a connection. There's no asking; it just happens. Like it did to Joan Jett. The band was filming a show for "Jammin,'" a show on SiTV that followed up-and-coming Latino bands. "Meeting her was supposed to be a surprise at the end," Diaz says. Jett saw the band play for 15 minutes. Talked to them for a little less than that. To the surprise of the band -- and the show's producers -- she signed Girl to her Blackhearts imprint on the spot.

And while there was no record deal last night, the group's gig had the same vibe. The band played a sports bar in Laredo, Texas. "There was a basketball game on the TV. Almost everyone was watching. Definitely not our crowd," she says. Except that it was -- in a small way. There were a few kids camped out in front of the stage. They'd all written the band, asking if Girl would make the drive just to play for them. Those kids: definitely in. The basketball junkies: delusional.

Part of that appeal might come down to Girl's attitude. "Look, we don't really want to change the world," Diaz says. "Yeah, we're an all-girl band. But we're not doing this for politics or anything. We don't want to be that. We just want to play. And if you like it, cool; we'll keep playing for days."

Which seems to be what's happening. Both Before I Go came out a couple weeks ago. Reviews have been positive. There's already some radio play. The band is booked for months to come. "I just really trying to enjoy all this right now," Diaz says. "It's what we've been hoping for, even if [we] keep getting the Morrissey thing."