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Girl in a Coma continues maturing on fourth CD


Monday, October 24, 2011

Girl in a Coma is not a garage band. Girl in a Coma is a living room, or maybe a dining room, band.

The trio - sisters Nina Diaz (guitar, vocals, lyrics) and Phanie Diaz (drums) and childhood friend Jenn Alva (bass) - has pretty much been living on the road for a few years, touring hard with a sound that's part alt-rock, part punk, part straight-up rock 'n' roll. That sound occasionally has a distinctive San Antonio accent.

When Girl in a Coma is off the road, headquarters is in the Dellview neighborhood at the Diaz sisters' mom's house.

"This is home," Nina said, gesturing toward band gear dominating one room.

The band won't be home long. Its fourth CD, Exits & All the Rest, comes out Nov. 1 on Joan Jett's Blackheart Records label. Girl in a Coma will celebrate with a short string of Texas gigs: Friday night at the Mohawk in Austin, a free 7 p.m. concert Saturday in San Antonio at the Pearl Amphitheater with Piñata Protest, a Sunday gig at Fitzgerald's in Houston opening for Concrete Blonde, a Nov. 4 stop at the Prophet Bar in Dallas and a return trip to Houston on Nov. 5 for an in-store appearance at Cactus Records. Then the band takes off on a long-haul national tour.

"We wanted to do something different with this record," Phanie said. "We knew we wanted to record in analog, and we wanted to capture us as live as possible."

The result is a big, energetic sound. It's the sound of a band that has honed its rock 'n' roll with 10 years of togetherness, rehearsals and gigs, and trusting its collective instincts. That includes trusting its youngest member, Nina, to write just the right lyrics, just as she's been doing since she was 13.

"All the songs are pretty much new," Nina said. "The oldest is about a year old."

"She was writing them on the road, and then we came home and recorded them," Phanie said.

Smart, the first single from the CD, was not initially embraced by the band.

"As long as the song is, is as long as it took me to write it," Nina said. "It felt like a cheesy song."

"It had the word sunshine in it," Alva said.

"Sunshine freaked them out," Nina said. "As soon as I changed 'sunshine' to something depressing, they liked it."

Girl in a Coma songs always start with Nina.

"She'll give us CDs of what she's written, and we'll practice at home, and then we'll get together and work on the songs," Phanie said. "It's been like that since we started."

"Usually they can't understand what I'm singing," Nina added.

Girl in a Coma has toured with acts including Sia, Tegan and Sara, Morrissey and, most recently, the Go-Gos. The band's name is a nod to Girlfriend in a Coma, a song by Morrissey's former band, the Smiths.

"Every band we tour with, every band we play with, we take something away from the experience, whether it's good or bad," Alva said. "Touring with the Go-Gos was a good experience."

"It was good to talk with them and with their fans who stayed around and supported them through the years," Phanie said. "We hope we still have that bond and that chemistry when we've been together as long as they have. With some other bands, and we won't name names, we've learned what not to do."

Since Girl in a Coma started getting noticed via its music and hard-to-top work ethic, the band has been heralded as representative of an all-female band, as a Latina band and, with Phanie and Jenn, standard bearers for lesbian rockers.

"I don't think we really thought about all that," Alva said.

"We didn't realize what we were doing," Phanie said. "It's kind of cool when people come up to us and say we've inspired them. Being women, we get picked on for our looks, for the way we dress. We love music. We love what we do. If we allow all the other stuff to go to our heads, we'd go crazy. But if we can inspire someone, that's a bonus."

Girl in a Coma makes good records, whether playing Nina's originals or songs written by others. The 2010 release Adventures in Coverland featured the trio doing songs by Selena, Joy Division, George Harrison, Patsy Cline and more.

"Adventures in Coverland really helped us a lot," Nina said. "Learning a cover is like learning a mathematical problem. When I do a cover, I'm not exactly playing the same chords as the original, but I like to learn covers just for fun and to see how people put together songs. Anything we listen to influences us. The only thing I try to do is write a song as good as Jeff Buckley."

As good as Girl in a Coma has become in the studio, onstage is where the band cuts loose and connects with its legion of fans.

"Live is where we make a living," Phanie said. "Any band can make a record with a lot of tricks and gimmicks. But the best way to prove yourself is by doing it."

"For me, it's 50-50," Nina said. "I love to learn new little things to use in the studio. I want to be a producer. I'm starting to learn Pro-Tools. When you perform live, you get different vibes. And it's good to play songs live before you record."

"I love to play live," Alva said. "Different crowds have different energies. When you're traveling, there's not a lot of sleep, but that 45 minutes onstage makes the traveling worth it.

"Recording this last album was tough. I lost my mom. We had her rosary, then her funeral, and the next day I was in the studio recording bass lines. It was weird. That's how I came up with the title Exits & All the Rest. That main exit is what it's all about. Everything else, don't stress about."