Girl in a Coma’s latest album is all over the map, because that’s where the women have been
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By Becky Carman
Girl in a Coma with Xiu Xiu
If you can count among your fans ’80s icon Joan Jett, alt-rock demigod Morrissey and art rocker Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, then odds are, you’re doing something right. Given how widely a net must be cast to snare such a range of listeners, odds are better that you’re doing several things right.
San Antonio’s Girl in a Coma is comprised of two sisters — guitarist/vocalist Nina Diaz and drummer Phanie Diaz — along with bassist Jenn Alva. Inspired in high school by a mutual love of Nirvana, Phanie and Alva toyed with the idea of forming a band. The plan was put into motion when they heard the powerful vocals of a then-12-year-old Nina, who they immediately recruited.
Cut to 2010. Thus far, the girls have toured with their professed hero, Morrissey, in Europe and the United States, and have had other successful, cross-country trips with The Pogues and Tegan and Sara. Girl in a Coma released both 2007’s “Both Before I’m Gone” and 2009’s “Trio B.C.,” on Jett’s Blackheart Records label, to measurable critical acclaim.
These are notable accomplishments in their own right, but largely, the band’s buzz has been cluttered with subjects far removed from the girls’ music— until now. With the release of “Trio B.C.,” Phanie admitted to seeing a marked step back from the rampant, although positive, labeling of their early days.
“We’ve embraced everything that we are. Jenn and I are open lesbians. We are Latinas, and we are female. We’re happy to talk about it, to do things for it, and to try to show other females that you can be in an all-girl band; it’s OK if this is your sexual preference,” she said. “At the same time, though, that shouldn’t be what we’re all about. It isn’t a gimmick; it shouldn’t be your first focus. We just want to be seen as a rock band, you know? We do rock music, and we try not to wave the flag too much.”
Now more than ever, the music is what deserves the focus. “Trio B.C.” is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, creatively speaking. It’s clear the girls who wrote “Both Before I’m Gone” are now women. Nina has grown into her powerful snarl and tempered it with a Patsy Cline-esque rockabilly twang. The vocals regularly waver between ferocity and sexuality, and often overpower the tasteful accompaniment provided by her bandmates.
On “Trio B.C.,” the girls even take their first foray into Spanish-language music with “Ven Cerca,” originally by Los Spitfires. Genre-wise, the record is all over the map, making clear that the female pioneers of ’90s alt-rock weigh heavily on their minds.
“Right after we released the first record, Nina got heavy into Sonic Youth, and our song ‘Baby Boy’ is purposely influenced by that,” Phanie said. “However, we didn’t go in saying, ‘This is how the record’s going to sound.’ We just knew that we wanted it to be diverse. We can do slower stuff, we can do harder stuff, and we didn’t want to limit ourselves to any specific sound.”
This focus on diversity explains, at least a little, how a group can fit seamlessly into tour packages with Cyndi Lauper, Social Distortion and Australian pop star Sia. Tonight, Girl in a Coma will be at Opolis with experimental rockers Xiu Xiu — perhaps its wackiest stage pairing thus far.
“James has a big adoration for Morrissey,” Phanie said. “He heard about us when we were touring with Morrissey, and we started writing each other. We wanted to do a quick tour together. We don’t necessarily put ourselves in a genre; we just play rock ’n’ roll, and I think Xiu Xiu has a respect for rock ’n’ roll in general. They said, ‘Why not?’ and we said, ‘Let’s do it. It’ll be fun.’”
Brief as it may be, this tour will bring Girl in a Coma to venues noticeably smaller than the amphitheaters of the past, but it’s all the same to them.
“We’ve always done the same thing, whether it’s thousands of people or 100 in one room,” Phanie said. “No matter what, we keep the energy high and show that we love we’re there. We’re there to play, and we’re lucky to be doing this for a living. We’re grateful to be up there.” —Becky Carman