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IN CONCERT: Three women in Coma rise - A newfound complexity is apparent on three-piece band's latest album
Ted Mills, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
June 8, 2007 8:55 AM

With a name like Girl in a Coma, music fans will be forgiven for thinking this three-piece all-female outfit sounds like a Morrissey/Smiths tribute band. After all, their name comes from The Smiths' 1987 single. But have one listen to "Clumsy Sky," the first single off the band's debut album, and one hears an alternate world in which Patsy Cline was born decades
later and started a punk band.

"That's funny," lead singer Nina Diaz says when the Cline comparison comes up. "The first song I ever sang with my mom was 'Crazy.' But really, I'm influenced by whatever I'm listening to at the time."

Which is true for the whole band. The members of the San Antonio-based Girl in a Coma have spent their formative years absorbing decades of musical influences: The Smiths, Joy Division, The Ramones and Jeff Buckley all share CD shelf space.

"We still get a lot of Morrissey fans turning up," the band's drummer, Phanie D, says. "People come thinking we'll do Smiths songs, but then they stay anyway."

After seven years, the band got its break through Joan Jett, the leather-clad 1980s rocker who has influenced countless bands with her independent vision and attitude.

The band -- sisters Nina and Phanie D and childhood friend Jenn Alva -- took part in a TV show that initially meant to follow a number of Latino bands. As a surprise, the producers got Joan Jett and her longtime producing partner, Kenny Laguna, to watch the band and offer advice. Instead, Jett and Laguna signed Girl in a Coma on the spot to Blackheart Records.
"Joan is a role model for us and like a big sister," says Alva, who plays bass. "I think she sees an innocence in us, like when she was in the Runaways." The album and the increased touring are a nice payoff for a band that started in high school, where Alva and Phanie met in art class.

"Phanie asked me if I could play an instrument, and I lied and said I could play bass." Jenn says, laughing. Phanie says she wasn't planning to become the drummer, but, well, nobody else appeared to fill the position. With Nina on vocals, Girl in a Coma set out to conquer
a little corner of their hometown. San Antonio, with its Tex-Mex culture, was more of a metal town, but the band soon joined the city's nascent indie and ska-punk scene. Nina's voice continued to improve, as did her guitar playing.

Now the new album, "Both Before I'm Gone," features songs from that seven-year period, although as the band has matured, the arrangements have become more complex, with keyboards added on some tracks and Alva and Phanie adding harmonies. The harmonies give an edge to the lyrics, especially on the ballads. Nina is circumspect in talking about her lyrics, which deal with matters of the heart. " 'Clumsy Sky' is about . . . something I went through, a state I was in," she says, choosing her words with care. "That song just came out of me, fast. If I have to push 'em out, then they might not be worth it."