On their incendiary first album, Girl in a Coma shun uniformity and add some depth to punk—and, yes, they're serious.
By Jason Lamphier
In this month's issue
of Out, we chat with San Antonio–based twank-punk trio
Girl in a Coma about their debut album, Both Before I'm Gone,
and new video, "Road to Home," starring Manhattan's transgender
gadabout Amanda Lepore. Made up of front woman Nina Diaz,
Both Before I’m Gone is a curious title for an album. What’s its significance?
Nina: I got the idea for Both Before I’m Gone from a James Dean quote. He said, “Being an actor is hard. Being a man is even harder. I hope to be both before I’m done.” I changed it to Both Before I’m Gone.
So it was similar to what you did with the band name, which references the Smiths song “Girlfriend in a Coma.” These are shout-outs to the iconic figures in your lives?
Nina, you do most of the songwriting. Your lyrics address everything from nostalgia to moving on to vengeance. Where were you mentally when you were penning these songs?
Nina: I guess I was mentally all over the place. I’ve been writing these songs since I was 13 years old, growing up throughout the years and reading a lot of books, just experiencing life.
So you’ve had literary influences as well?
Nina: Yeah, I like to read Oscar Wilde and Sylvia Plath. They’re my favorite writers.
“Sybil Vane Is Ill” is about the character from The Picture of Dorian Grey. Why did you write about this literary figure?
Nina: I was really interested in her sadness. There’s this line in the story, “Sybil Vane must be ill,” which I thought was really cool, so I decided to write about her life.
“Road to Home” is beautifully cryptic and unsettling. What was the concept behind this song?
Nina: It’s about an outsider trying to find somewhere to fit in. Along the way he meets people. In the video this guy is looking at Amanda Lepore. He’s having troubles in his life, and he’s very intrigued by her. He discovers that he wants to be a transvestite—that’s where he belongs. That’s why at the end he becomes one. The song is basically about finding yourself and being happy with who you are.
Phanie: Yeah, we chose Amanda Lepore because we wanted someone really pretty. The video was shot in New York City at a burlesque bar called the Slipper Room.
And in the video the band is sitting in the audience?
Phanie: Yeah, I’m playing the bartender, Jenn is supposed to be a bouncer, and Nina is a regular who’s been there so many times she knows the words.
You’re a new band trying to market yourselves, but you chose to remain in the background of the video for “Road to Home,” and you didn’t pose for the cover of the album.
Phanie: We didn’t really plan not to be on the cover. A lot of videos look the same, and we wanted to have a storyline with ours, not just play and sing into the camera.
Jenn: I think on “Road to Home” we had such strong characters that it wasn’t necessary for us to be in it. It came together so well with Amanda.
Jenn, would you say it’s becoming easier for openly gay artists to be seen and heard in music?
Jenn: It’s taken a step up, but I don’t necessarily think it’s that easy just yet. It will take a long time for it to be totally accepted, but Rufus Wainwright is a great example. If people listen to his lyrics, they know he’s gay, but you can just fall in love with that voice. It’s good there are artists out there like that. As for me and the girls, we take one thing at a time. We’re just a band, and we try not to be pigeonholed.
Do you think it’s easier for punk artists to be openly queer?
Jenn: Yeah. Punk rock is a state of mind. You’re always the outcast and you clinch onto whoever else is supposedly the outcast. I think it’s more accepted.
Is punk music a good vehicle for outcasts who are looking for a connection?
Jenn: Yes, if it’s done right—for people who don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks.
What’s a typical Girl in a Coma performance like?
Phanie: A couple of beers (laughs). It’s a lot of energy. We look to Nina for a lot of it. She gets really into it, so she gets us hyped up to play. And the audience is important, of course. If they’re giving it back to us, it makes us work even harder.
Boz Boorer, the guitarist and musical director for Morrissey, produced a demo for you in 2005.
Phanie: We had a manager who happened to know Boz. He passed a demo we had made to him, and Boz liked it. He invited us to England to work with him. It was a blast.
Jenn: It was an honor, but we wanted to keep our cool because we wanted to maintain a friendship with him. We were trying to keep calm, especially when the platinum and gold albums were on the walls.
When you were in New York, you had your first encounter with Joan Jett, and she signed you on her label.
Phanie: We did that television show for CTV, so that was the surprise moment of the show. We had no idea we were going to meet her that day. It was hard to play for her on the spot, but she’s awesome. She was supposed to just come give us advice, but she and Kenny Laguna later decided to bring us aboard the label.
What do you think about the punk scene now?
Jenn: I think all music is suffering in a sense. Punk rock goes through a roller coaster—it’s in, and then all of a sudden it’s underground again.
Phanie: Right now there are a lot of these emo bands, a lot of bands that have the same formula. It’s the same sound to me. I’m not too pleased with what’s out on the market and what’s being played on TV. It’s not real—it seems fabricated.
Jenn: Punk is fashion right now, but punk is not about the fashion. It’s a state of mind. It’s more in the attitude and the way you decide to do things. It’s being who you are.
Do you have a genuine punk scene in San Antonio?
Phanie: Not really. It has the reputation of being a metal town, but there are a lot of good indie bands coming out.
Your music is raw and fierce, but, Jenn, when you’re not playing you listen to Rufus Wainwright and Morrissey.
Jenn: I think it’s because the girls and I go through different phases. If you look at our music collection, its ’80s, it’s old western music, it’s punk. That’s what works in our band—that we’re into different stuff.
So you’re touring nationally this spring?
Phanie: Yeah, it started May 10 in Austin, Texas. Then we’ll be back in July to do a couple of dates with the Warped Tour. We trying to latch on and be tour support for bigger bands to gain a following everywhere.
I read that you hung out with Braice Paine of the Gossip in Austin last year and bonded over your love for the film Freeway 2 [with Natasha Lyonne].
Jenn: Yeah, it’s actually better than the first one. It’s full of one-liners that we always catch ourselves quoting. It’s so funny that you mention that. I was trying to design a T-shirt and find something that the girls and I all agree on. So I made a shirt with Natasha Lyonne with the guns from the end of the movie. We’re all about random comedies.