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Wide awake
'Girl in a Coma' rocks hard with own sound while paying homage to the Smiths

By DYANA BAGBY
May. 04, 2007

STRETCHED OUT ON A COUCH DURING A RECENT morning in San Antonio, Texas, watching music videos, Jenn Alva, bass player for Girl in a Coma, was catching some down time at her girlfriend’s house between tour dates.

The band also features sisters Phanie D on drums and lead singer Nina Diaz, and the trio had been narrowly focused as the May 1 release of their new CD approached.

“All our friends must be so sick of us, because Phanie and I have been so one-dimensional," Alva says in her husky voice. "We’re all about music, music, the band, the band’s doing this.

“So we all split for awhile. We’re hanging out with friends and just being our old selves and not so much the band.”

But the break didn’t last long. The band is currently playing Texas venues (they hail from San Antonio) and soon hits the Midwest and West Coast to promote the release of “Both Before I’m Gone.”

The album’s name is derived from James Dean’s renowned quote, “Being a good actor isn't easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I'm done.”

Girl in a Coma also plays the summer Warped Tour, set to hit Atlanta July 18. Before that, they play the Los Angeles Pride Festival June 10 with none other than their boss, Joan Jett.

SIGNED TO JETT’S BLACKHEARTS records

in 2006, Girl in a Coma is enjoying rising success in the rock arena, playing Texas’ famous South by Southwest Festival, headlining numerous gigs and opening for such bands as the Pogues, Frank Black & the Catholics, the Epoxies and the Smoking Popes.

Jett’s label is the best thing to happen to the band, but being on stage beats the business side of the industry any day, Alva says.

“It’s the best thing in the whole world,” she says. “It’s better than sex, better than anything. It’s the energy, the vibe, playing with your friends, smiles all around.”

And definitely the members of Girl in a Coma are friends — and family.

Diaz and Phanie D are quite literally sisters, and Alva started hanging out with Phanie when they were 13 — about 15 years ago — and became best friends, which they still are today.

Watching videos and going to concerts as teens sealed their fate to start a band. A White Zombie concert in particular pushed Phanie D and Alva to pursue rock and roll as a living.

“The opening act was Babes in Toyland," Alva recalls. "We were so excited because we had just bought that CD, when people still bought CDs, and we were playing it all the time.”

But after only six songs, Babes in Toyland left the stage angry because a man sexually groped a woman who was crowd surfing.

“They said, ‘Fuck y’all, were done playing,’” Alva says. “And we were like, 'This is cool, this is empowering.'”

ALVA AND PHANIE D PLAYED together for several years before they were surprised by Diaz, who wowed them with a song she wrote and sang in 2000 when she was just 12. Nina also played the guitar better than her sister, so Phanie learned to play drums and allowed her sister to take front-and-center with their band, named after the song “Girlfriend in a Coma” by the Smiths.

The band went on its first tour in 2004 and captured the attention of tour managers and independent labels. In 2005, they traveled to England and recorded their first demo with Boz Boorer, the musical director for the Smiths' Morrissey.

“We are such big Morrissey and Smiths fans,” Alva says, adding that she has three Smiths tattoos and Phanie D has two.

An even stronger tribute to their favorite band is that Nina’s haunting voice earned her the comparison as the “female version of Morrissey.” She’s also been compared to country crooner Patsy Cline with an expressive voice that is mature beyond her years.

WHILE FILMING A DOCUMENTARY in 2006 for a Latino TV station, Girl in a Coma met Joan Jett, who was serving as a consultant for the film. Blown away by their music, Jett immediately signed them to her label.

“The girls and I have been working on this album like six years. Some of the songs are old, some are fairly new,” Alva says. “It’s a mix of melodic, some of it very punky. It’s got a lot of variety in it. It ties it all together with a beautiful voice.”

The album ranges from faster tracks like “Say” and “Clumsy Sky” to “Road to Home,” an eerie, beautiful ballad that pays tribute to many years on the road.

Their mentor and childhood idol won't speak publicly about her sexual orientation, but Alva has no qualms saying she is gay.

“We talked about it [being out] with our publicist and myself, and it kind of goes with that question of, ‘How is it like to be an all girl band?’

“When I think of Bjork, I don’t think of her as female. I think of her as a great musician,” she adds.

“I haven’t had any problems [being openly gay], and if I did, I’m pretty aggressive. Since high school, I’ve breezed through with my personality and hope people can do this with our band.”