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Lesbian Member Gives Rock Act 'Girl in a Coma' an Edge

All-Girl "Melodic Punk" Group Releases Debut CD on Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records

By Paul E. Pratt
Entertainment Editor

Like many high school loners, Phanie Diaz and out-lesbian Jenn Alva dreamed of starting a rock band. That goal was finally realized when Phanie’s younger sister, Nina, got the courage to share a song she’d recently written. Only 12-years old at the time, the girls were blown away by Nina’s vocal and songwriting skills. Girl in a Coma – their band named after The Smiths’ song “Girlfriend in a Coma” – was born that day.

Seven years later, the trio has traveled the country on the Vans Warped Tour, opening for acts from The Pogues to The Eyeliners. They were recently signed to idol Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records. Their debut CD Both Before I’m Gone is rapidly gaining attention at college and alternative radio.

Describe meeting Joan Jett.
It was a big surprise. It was on a SiTV series. The big climax was going to meet an idol of ours. When she walked into the room, my jaw dropped. I was like, “Oh, shit! It’s Joan Jett!” I was intimidated at first. There was excitement, too, since we didn’t know what was going to happen after that. It was like “She’s here. Now what?”

Obviously it went well. You’re signed to Blackheart Records. Has your relationship with Joan developed?
After we got signed, we went to New York and shot the video for Say.” We hung out at Blackheart. Joan would come in and out during that time. Whenever she would sit next to me, we would talk. I became more comfortable around her. It’s not like “Oh, this is Joan Jett – Joan Jett.” It’s more like, “Joan Jett, our friend.”

Is Joan a very hands-on record executive?
She does have a say in shaping the band and giving her advice on picking songs. She doesn’t like to push you. Like with our album, Joan didn’t push us to sound a certain way. She liked the way we sound, but when she gives advice, we take it. She is pretty hands-on, though, because it’s her label. She’s not a control freak or anything. She’s pretty cool.

Describe your sound.
It’s good music to listen to if you’re having a party, drinking beers and trying to chill out. Some say it’s “melodic punk.” I don’t even know if there is such a thing.

Besides The Smiths, where do you draw inspiration?
I’m personally influenced by Mike Patton, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, a whole bunch of other bands. Joy Division, Radiohead, of course Morrissey, Billie Holiday . . .

Your taste certainly varies. How do those blend into your own sound?
Since I’m the main writer, and I listen to all these different types of music, whatever I’m listening to at the time comes out in the writing. You can kind of tell what I was listening to at the time. The structure of some songs comes out in how I structure some of my songs, the melodies. Whatever I hear seems to flow out through my fingers and my voice.

Are all three group members lesbian?
Actually, Jen, the bass player, is gay. She’s the most open. She is “the gay.” (Both laughing.) No, I’m just kidding. She’s lesbian. Phanee and I are – I don’t know – just ourselves, I guess. Jen is openly-gay. Phanee and I don’t really talk about that stuff.

Does having an out-lesbian member bring the group a different dynamic, “flavor”?
Actually, it turns another head. It’s like, “What?! She’s a female and she’s gay?” That’s hard! It’s hard enough being a female musician. Being a gay, female musician? That’s really extreme! If anything, I think it makes us seem stronger. We don’t care what you have to say. We’re female, whether we like it or not. She’s gay. That’s who she is. We’re not going to hide it. If it helps us out, helps other musicians, other gay female musicians or any gay person in general who’s trying to do what they love without caring what others say, that’s awesome. It just makes us stronger. It helps us make a point, I guess, without trying to make a point.

For Joan Jett’s entire 25-year careers, she’s always been sexually ambiguous. It seems an appropriate fit between you and Blackheart.
Yeah. It’s very comfortable for me.

You’re heading out on tour?
It’s going to last about a month total, I think. We’ll actually be playing some dates with Joan. I’m not really sure of all the dates. It’s funny, really. Of all three band members, I’m always the one with the least information.

What’s it like to be 19 years old and opening for one of your idols? Does all this ever blow your mind?
Oh, yeah! It’s just very exciting. My whole thing has always been if something good is happening, I’m excited, just do it and suck it all in. But I don’t really, really suck it all in until after it’s all over. That’s when I’m like, “Oh, shit! I just opened for Joan Jett!” I reflect after it’s done. I’m really excited for everything that’s happening – and really grateful for it as well.

How are people responding to your music?
Lots of college stations are accepting our album for play. So far, I believe 76 cities are playing our music. We’ve gotten a couple reviews. Apparently people have open arms to the album and music. Overall, it’s pretty good feedback.

Where do you really want to take this?
We just want to live comfortable lives. We want to be able to make a living off of doing what we love. We don’t want big mansions, MTV and all that stuff. If it happens, it happens, but that isn’t what we’re going for really. We just want to be comfortable. You know, be able to eat, sleep in a bed, have a nice little home and comfortably play music.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting that!
(Laughing.) Yeah! We’re just normal and want the basics.