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Girl in a Coma: it's serious
With help from Morrissey and Joan Jett, this Texas trio is ready to blow up
By Scott Thill

Some bands just have the goods, and you can add the Texas-based, all-female power trio Girl in a Coma to the list. Best friends Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alva grew up together in San Antonio, Texas, jumping from band to band before realizing that Phanie's kid sister Nina had pipes to spare. Before they knew it, Nina was on guitar and vocals (at the tender age of 12), Stephanie was on the drums and Jenn was on the bass.

After honing their craft for a few years, Girl in a Coma wowed both Morrissey and Joan Jett: The former invited the trio to London to record their demo, and the latter asked to sign them to her own label, Blackheart Records—on television, no less. Can you say charmed life?

Since then, Girl in a Coma have wowed everyone else with their spirited mix of punk, power-pop and meat ‘n’ potatoes rock. Their 2007 debut "Both Before I'm Gone" landed the band opening stints for Frank Black, Tegan and Sara, Social Distortion and more, and their latest effort "Trio B.C." (out June 2 on Blackheart Records) is bound for glory.

We caught up with bassist Jenn Alva by phone before the band’s mammoth summer tour (and we do mean mammoth—the trio is playing 45 dates in 30 states in just two months) to discuss the band's Tejano family history, the challenges of having an underage singer and the benefits of having a female rock legend looking out for you.

I read that your new disc was named after Nina and Phanie's grandfather's Tejano band.
Right. Grandpa played music a lot around Stephanie, who's older than Nina. But we were all inspired by his guitar playing and the way he enjoyed music. He would just sit down and analyze songs. Before he passed, all he talked about was how great it was to be in a band. It was the best time of his life. So he really influenced our passion for music. One day, we were looking at a picture of him on top of the drum kit, and said, "Let's name our album after his band."

How about your excellent band name? What's its genesis?
We went through a lot of Smiths songs to start with, because we wanted to take a phrase from them. "Girlfriend in a Coma" wasn't necessarily our favorite, but since we were originally the Ordinary Girls, we went with it. We didn't want to bite the title too much, but we might as well have. [Laughs]

To go from that to opening for Morrissey on your debut tour must have been a trip.
It was mind-blowing, and I'm glad that we did that first. We would just play, then stay in our dressing room, and try to do a good job. It was like boot camp. When we toured with Tegan and Sara, they wanted to hang out more, which was cool. Which is not to say that Morrissey isn't down-to-earth. But he's Morrissey, you know?

And then there's Joan Jett, who signed your band and is the subject of your new song, "Joanie in the City."
Originally, when Nina wrote that, it was called "Johnny in the City." But it sounded like something Joan would write, so we just made it about her. And when Joan worked with Nina in the studio, we asked her to play guitar and sing backup on it, and she said sure. It's not one of the first tunes we thought people would like, but it's definitely for Joan.

What are your thoughts on the way she has helped diversify what used to be a mostly male rock landscape?
She has definitely paved the way for a lot of female musicians. She's kind of the first person you think about, when you think about it. And when she was younger, she probably didn't know she was making history. Shortly after we were signed by her label, we were doing interviews with her at South by Southwest, and it was intimidating. We're throwing out dumb and short answers to all the questions, and she'd come along with long, elaborate answers. So we're fortunate. We always wanted to be on a label that was like family, and they are very kind and understanding. We like to make them happy, like "Oh, look what I did!"

Nina joined the band when she was only 12. Was that complicated?
It was, especially when it came to getting her into shows or dealing with school. Eventually, Nina and Stephanie's mom just said, "Go ahead and take her, she's dropping out." So she got her GED, and we pretty much raised her ourselves after that. But she's fine; she doesn't have any major scars or anything. [Laughs] Now it’s a lot easier. Now she gets after Stephanie and I. The tables have turned.

"Trio B.C." features "Ven Cerca," which is Girl in a Coma's first tune sung wholly in Spanish. Have you given any thought to doing a whole album in Spanish?
Definitely—that would be amazing. That tune is actually a cover. A couple years back, we were assigned to do covers of '50s and '60s Spanish songs for a Latin event in Los Angeles, and that was one of them. It's by Los Spitfires, and it's really different and sexual, especially for 1961. But Nina changed it into this Nirvana-like tune, and it turned out great. We always end our shows with it. But an all-Spanish album is definitely one of our goals, although not all of us are fluent enough yet. We need to study up on our Rosetta Stone!

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