a Coma: An Interview with Jenn Alva
By Kate Heath
When Joan Jett wants to sign your band on first listen to her label, you know you’ve got something good. Such was the case for Girl in a Coma, the Morrissey-idolizing San Antonio trio made up of sisters Nina Diaz (lead vocals, guitars), Phanie Diaz (drums), and their friend, Jenn Alva (bass, vocals). These riot girls are now set to release a three volume EP entitled Adventures in Coverland, a digital follow-up to their 2009 sophomore album, Trio B.C., featuring covers ranging from the Velvet Underground to Richie Valens to David Bowie. Below, Alva chats with myMag about her Elvis epiphany, transgender legend Amanda Lepore and her love of peanut butter.
Check Adventures in Coverland, which will be released in three successive weeks in April, beginning on April 13, 2010.
Former Runaway Joan Jett
cherry picked you for her label, Blackheart Records. What was that
Did she give you any life
You just got back from
performing at SXSW where you played “Cherry Bomb” with
Cherie Currie on vocals. What was that experience like for you?
Have the Runaways impacted
you as a musician and as a band?
Your band name, Girl in
a Coma, is a reference to The Smiths’ song “Girlfriend
in a Coma.” Since then, Morrissey has called upon you guys to
play on a few of his tours. Were you nervous at all when you first
It was like these baby steps of getting to Morrissey. We had a manager who knew Bozz [Booer], his guitar player. We met Bozz and we became great friends with him. After that, it was kind of like Bozz was so incredible maybe we shouldn’t meet Morrissey, because what if he’s mean and what if he ruins it?
We were on tour in New York stressing out with all this craziness when we got a call. They said, ‘Would you like to open up for Morrissey?’ And we said, ‘Of course!’ What happened from there wasn’t like, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen when we meet him?’ That just went out the door. It was just like, ‘Oh OK, it’s time to work. Let’s see how many of his fans could be our fans.”
When we did see him, he was pretty good about giving us some time. We just left it at that, we really didn’t want to bother him. We really didn’t want to talk to him. He makes us very nervous. We then went overseas with him, and at the last show in Paris he came in our dressing room and gave us a bottle of champagne and talked about music. That was incredible.
Who were some of the other
artists that inspired you when you were growing up before you guys
formed the band?
You will be releasing a
three volume EP in April called Adventures in Coverland, which feature
cover songs that range from “Si Una Vez” by Selena and
“As The World Falls Down” by David Bowie to “Walkin’
After Midnight” by Patsy Cline and “Femme Fatale”
by The Velvet Underground. What inspired this collection?
Was there a particular
song on these EPs that you really enjoyed playing?
Can fans expect any new
music videos from you for the songs on the EPs?
One of the coolest videos
your band’s made is “Road to Home” from your 2007
album Both Before I’m Gone, which features legendary transgender
performer Amanda Lepore. What was it like working with her, and why
did you think she’d be a good fit for this song?
We just thought it was so cool. So we’re all waiting for her to get there, and she gets there and is just a sweetheart. She has a very soft voice and is just professional. She got up there, did it, talked to us for a little while, and we’ve kept in touch after that. It was pretty incredible. I love that video. I think it’s a great first video.
Why do you think Nina wanted
her to sing that song in particular?
You’re openly out
in the gay community. If you don’t mind, I would really love
for you to share your coming out story with our members. We have many
young teens and adults on our site who often write in about how to
come out because they’re still struggling with their sexual
identity. I think your personal story is really inspiring.
Eventually, it was getting to be like, When am I going to tell her? When am I going to tell her? So I had a dream of my grandmother who had passed in ‘97. In the dream, my grandmother said, ‘Go ahead and tell her. She’s going to love you anyway.’ So when I woke up and said that I’m going to tell her on my 19th birthday, which was a few days away. What happened was that I chickened out and I just enjoyed my birthday.
Two days later my mom was lying on her bed and I lied next to her and sighed. She said, ‘What’s the matter? Do you have something that you want to tell me?’ She already knew it was coming. It took me awhile to tell her, and I didn’t tell her I was a lesbian. I just said, ‘I think I like girls, but I like boys too,” which is not true. [Laughs.] She’s said, ‘That’s no problem. I love you, I’m always going to love you.’ It was really good. My mom’s an older woman, she had me at 42. She took it really well. She told my dad for me and we talked.
The only thing that sucked was that they were so weird with it after that. Whenever I would do something wrong, they would just shake their head and say, ‘We don’t even know what you are,’ and it would really hurt me.
It’s kind of funny now. I remember walking into the living room and Ellen was on TV and my mom was like, ‘I just don’t like that woman.’ I went to my room and was just like weird. All it took was the first girlfriend who was luckily really sweet and very polite to my mom. That helped. Then it just kind of got normal. Ellen is her favorite television show now. She doesn’t miss it, she adores Ellen.
So that’s how I came out. It was tough for awhile, but it was something that I felt had to be done. You really have to test the waters. You really have to throw these small things out there like, ‘Oh, what if I was with a girl?’ and see how they react. Of course, they might be ignorant at first. But if they love you, they’re going to have to accept you.
It seems like both Adventures
in Coverland and your last album, Trio B.C., which was inspired by
Nina and Phanie’s grandfather, a drummer whose 1950s Tejano
band, are a return to roots for you guys in terms of inspiration.
Would you say that’s true?
After we did that, we kept a couple to play live for fun. The one we really liked was “Ven Cerca,” so we put it on the album. People would freak when they heard it. They wouldn’t care that it was in Spanish because it’s such a passionate song the way we do it.
During the time we were writing the album, the girls also lost their grandfather and that really affected them a lot. Before he passed he didn’t remember many things, but one of the only things he would remember in his life were being in a band. He talked about that a lot. It would wear them out, you know. He was kind of reliving it before he passed. That’s how that came about. When Nina did “Ven Cerca,” that’s how we knew we wanted to do a Selena for the EPs because that’s a big one. That’s a hard song, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. She’s working on learning the language, but for now she’s trying to knock out these songs, kind of the way Selena did.
As for my family, there weren’t many musicians. My father adored Elvis, it’s ridiculous. He even said that he was Elvis and that he faked his death when I was little. I hated Elvis for a long time and then all of a sudden around the age of 22 I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love Elvis!’ I’m worse than my father. My room is an Elvis room, I have everything Elvis. I even have stuff packed away in boxes. Fans give me Elvis toys because they find out I’m obsessed with him.
Family seems to play a
very important role in your band. Nina and Phanie are sisters and
I can only imagine that you feel like you’re one of theirs as
well. How did you come together as a band, and how does your close
relationship keep the band strong or can it sometimes put you at odds?
Are there any “must
have” items you always bring on the road with you?
As for music, it’s between Phanie’s iPod and mine. What we listen to a lot is, of course, the Smiths and Morrissey. [Phanie’s] a big riot grrrl fan, so there will be a lot of Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear. Then mine is more like, well, not wimpy, but sensitive. [Laughs.] Like, I love Rufus Wainwright, but I also love a lot of rockabilly, so Elvis, of course.