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Girl in a Coma
By Arlan Hamilton
Aug 17, 2007


I find the band Girl in a Coma fascinating for several reasons: First -- lead singer/guitarist Nina Diaz has a voice that’s so powerful and seasoned, sometimes it’s easy to forget she’s only 19-years-old. Second -- bassist Jenn Alva is an out and proud lesbian. And third -- Phanie Diaz has a name that reads like “fanny” but sounds like “fawn-ie.” To say the ladies are charming is an understatement -- they have beauty, brains and all the gumption one would expect from a sassy Texas trio. Still, it’s their music -- loud and clear alternative rock that has been compared to The Smiths, The Pixies, and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs -- that takes center stage.

Formed seven years ago on a bunk bed in San Antonio, sisters Nina and Phanie and best friend Jenn make up the trio. Nina’s voice has been compared to Morrissey’s more times than the band can count and the ladies are enjoying a surge of attention and critical acclaim after being signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart record label.

Relentless touring and hundreds of shows (including a recent stint on the Warped Tour) have helped the band gain a loyal following, one sweat-drenched fan at a time. With an electric live show, sweeping vocals that haunt long after each song is over, and lyrics like “tattooed lovers they don't like to reminisce/who knows what name they're screaming now/so I'm saving all my secrets for a deaf man,“ it’s okay to believe the hype.

I spoke with Jenn while they were relaxing before hitting the road for an extensive US tour. If you happen to catch a show, make sure to put on your best 12-hour eyeliner and prepare for plenty of open-mouth girl-on-girl kisses from the audience as you enter what I like to call, “the happiest place on earth.”

Arlan Hamilton: I saw you guys at PRIDE in LA. I remember I stopped to watch you because they said you were from San Antonio and I’m from Dallas, so I wanted to check you guys out.

Jenn Alva: Texas! Yes.

AH:So you were at PRIDE. Are the three of you openly gay?

JA:No, it’s just me.

AH:Do you hate that the first thing I asked you is that?

JA:(Laughs) No, I don’t care!

AH:Well I’m what some might call “extremely gay” myself…

JA:Yeah, it’s totally not a big deal, ya know. I’m very proud. But when it comes to Girl in a Coma, we try not to get ourselves categorized too much. Even with being an all-girl band. If we inspire female musicians, that’s great. But we’re really just musicians. That’s what we’re trying to be known for. But yeah, I’m really proud.

AH:Is there anyone that you’re dying to tour with, that you haven’t had a chance to yet?

JA:Well, besides Morrissey (laughs), I guess the Gossip would be great. We’re buddies with their guitar player. So it would be nice to hang out with them. Boyskout are our buddies, and I think we’re going to hit up some shows with them in October.

AH:Oh, that’d be great! That’d be awesome.

JA:I know that the Smashing Pumpkins are back on tour. That’d be awesome.

AH:So the dream gig would be something like that?

JA:Yeah, and Morrissey, just to get it out of the way. ‘Cause I heard his opening act was not very good, and has been getting a lot of complaints. We should open for them. That’d be a good time. Their guitar player is our buddy. And he’s been a total sweetheart to us.

AH:So you think (touring with Morrissey) is something that could actually happen?

JA:Yeah I think so. Our buddy handed Morrissey our CD and Morrissey really liked it. He’s been playing it at his concerts before each show in the venues.

AH:Wow. That’s great. So if you had anyone else that you could pass your CD off to…any celebrity, or anyone just so you could know that they’ve heard it and had it in their collection, who would it be?

JA:That’s a great question. The other day I was just thinking about that! David Johansen from New York Dolls. That’d be cool. Maybe Natasha Lyonne.

AH:Oh yeah, that might actually help her. She needs help right now, doesn’t she?

JA:(Laughs) Yeah, I think so. Oh! I got it. I’m going to see Rufus Wainwright this weekend and he’s my favorite. I can’t believe I had a brain fart and forgot. I want to get there early so I can give him our CD. Originally I wanted to give him a shirt that says, “Rufus in a Coma.” I didn’t have time to do that, but I’m so excited to be seeing him.

AH:I guess you guys wouldn’t have a lot of time to check out other bands while you’re on the road, since you have such heavy schedules, right?

JA:Well actually Phanie’s the one that researches everything and then she passes it on to us. She’ll be like, "Check out 'Robots in Disguise' I think you’ll like them. And Lady Hawk…shes so great." She’s the one who has time to do that, and she’ll tell Nina and I. We’ll be like, "You’re right! It’s our new favorite song." She’s the one who keeps us up with the times.

AH:And Nina and Phanie are sisters right?

JA:Yes…

AH:I noticed that you tend to take on the leadership role when you guys are promoting or talking about the band. Does that just happen naturally or do you do it on purpose to sort of balance everything, or is it even a conscious decision?

JA:It’s cause I’m an Aries. (Laughs)

AH:(Laughs) Ok.

JA:I’m really bossy and they’re both really laid back, so I just do it.

AH:And do you guys protect Nina on the road since she’s so much younger?

JA:We used to. I mean, god, we were touring when she was 16-years-old. So we’d watch everything she did and who she was talking to. We’d get labeled her cock-blockers, you know what I mean? But we were just taking care of her. I mean she was just a little girl, and she’s so mature and has such a mature voice. And people—guys—would get the wrong idea, ya know. It was like, "Naw dude, chill out, she’s only 16!" But now we’re all best friends and we all do whatever we want. It’s really nice and it’s a relief. We don’t have to be the parents anymore.

AH:Would you say that this year has been the year where things are turning a corner for you or has it been sort of steady for you guys over the past six years?

JA:Yeah, this year has been our year. As far as getting signed, doing some TV shows, interviews…this is a great year. And I feel like it’s just the beginning. I feel excited to think what’s going to happen next year. Is it going to die down? Is it going to get bigger? It’s just exciting. And we’re having a blast doing it.

AH:What are you guys traveling in? Are you doin’ the van thing?

JA:Yeah we’re in our van and we call it “Cobra Commander.” (Laughs) This morning we walked out and the side window was totally broken! And all my bass guitars were in there because I’m kind of moving from house to house. So all of my stuff was in there and they just broke the window. We later figured out that next door there are landscapers…and we’re hoping a rock just got chucked at it. The van is actually our #1 home.

AH:I noticed that you guys have some really, hardcore loyal fans that seem like they’ve been with you guys for years now.

JA:Absolutely. Some of them have been to our very first show, you know? All we ever wanted was a loyal fan base. It’s kind of like Tiger Army has that fan base and they’re not on television or anything. It’s not like their music is being fed to the kids. You just like them and fall in love with them. We think that’s great.

AH:We were talking about Nina and her mature voice. Are you excited to see what sort of musician and songwriter she becomes as she gets older? Are you guys in awe of her or do you still joke around with her and keep her in her place? 'Cause it seems like she’s something of a prodigy.

JA:I agree. You know I’ve been in their family for years. I’ve always been like the "Kimmy Gibbler" of their family, showin’ up all the time. At the beginning with Nina, we were like, wow this is amazing. And we realize she’s great. But we’re all just goofballs. Sometimes if we listen to ourselves—like if we have music on shuffle and one of our songs comes on, we’re like, man she’s a great lyricist and a great vocalist. I feel honored to be in the band with her and at the same time, we’re all best friends.

AH:And I’m sure they feel honored to be in the band with you too!

JA:Yeah.

AH:You guys are fortunate to have all found each other.

JA:Exactly. The way things work out—I think at one point (before the band formed) I was going to be moving to Denver with my parents (laughs) and I’m so grateful that didn’t happen!

AH:Whose idea was it for you to guys have your video for “Road to Home” star (famous transvestite) Amanda Lepore?

JA:When we started the video, we told one of the heads of the record label that we a really, really pretty transgender…girl. So the next day she called us and told us she got Amanda Lapore. We were like, “Are you serious??” It was just one of those things. It was perfect timing. She learned all of the lyrics to the song and actually became a fan of the band. And just talking to her—some people might think, "Oh god, plastic surgery,” whatever…I just think she’s so beautiful. She’s very sweet and has this soft voice. She’s perfect.

AH:Yeah I think that was a very interesting, creative, and daring way to do the video, especially since for a lot of people, it’s the first time they’ll be seeing the band.

So how was Warped Tour?

JA:Warped Tour was alright. We were touring with the Dollyrots on a couple of the dates and they’re our label mates. They saw our frustration in the beginning. Kelly (of the Dollyrots) said, “Think about it like this girls: a lot of these kids don’t even get to go to all-ages shows, because their parents are so strict. So this is one of the only things they’re able to come to.” And I thought that was such a great way of looking at it. The next day we rocked out and did our best. It’s a good opportunity and there are a lot of great people who work for Warped Tour. They live and breathe it. That’s really interesting to me.

AH:And what was the reaction from people who were seeing you for the first time?

JA:It was pretty good, depending on the time slot, and depending on who we were competing with. We had great crowds and they bought CDs and asked us questions. I think if we could, we’d probably do it again, but with a different attitude.

AH:We were talking about Natasha Lyonne earlier, and I read somewhere that you like the movie Freeway 2 I’m going to have to talk to you about that.

JA:Yeah, it’s one of our favorites!

AH:Is it cause of the vomiting, or the hot lesbian shower scene, or?

JA:(Laughs) It’s the one liners, man. Our humor is really silly, and when we pay attention to it, those one-liners crack us up.

AH:I was just so disturbed by the movie. But maybe I’ll give it another chance.

JA:Did you say you were “disturbed” by it? It’s a dark comedy. And it’s silly.

AH:Yeah it takes a lot to disturb me. Maybe I need to see it again now that I’m older.

JA:Yeah, totally. And be in a really goofy mood when you watch it.

AH:Oh I can do that!

JA:(Laughs)

AH:You guys saw a ghost recently, right?

JA:Yeah we stayed in this old hotel—not a fancy one. Just old. And they put us in a room where a little girl fell out of a window and died. It’s a corner room on the fourth floor. They didn’t tell us it was haunted until we got to the show. Nina was really, really sick that day too. She was throwing up everywhere, she was so sick. So she went back to the room early, but we didn’t tell her that there was a ghost.

AH:(Laughs)

JA:(Laughs) She was in the shower and she swears she saw a ghost really quick. And then she layed down and watched a scary movie. This was before she knew it was haunted. We were like, "Yeah, that’s the haunted room." And Nina was like, "Are you fucking kidding!?” But yeah, Phanie and I have seen lots of ghosts, starting when we were like 14.

AH:Are you sure you guys just weren’t drunk?

JA:(Laughs) No! We were 14!

AH:Well you never know. I don’t think I’d ever stay at a hotel that I knew was haunted. Maybe one day I’ll stay at a hotel that’s haunted, while watching Freeway 2.

JA:Then you really won’t like Freeway 2. (Laughs)

AH:I know! Speaking of superstition, do you guys have any rituals that you do before you perform?

JA:If we’re doing a big show, we’ll go ahead and do the circle thing and say a quick prayer. Then we’ll start singing the “Tiny Dancer” song from Almost Famous. But those are the really big shows when we’re trying to be silly to break the nerves, ya know?

AH:What’s the biggest show you guys have done?

JA:We opened for The Pogues in front of about 2,500 people. It was really nice. We did two nights back to back. The first night, of course we were just so scared. I called my girlfriend back at home and asked her to tell me something nice, something happy. We went on and it was a good show. And then the second night, it was like we were addicted already. The second night we were better. I wish my parents were there to watch us play and see the crowd and everything.

AH:How do your parents feel about everything? Do they understand what’s happening and that you have all these fans?

JA:Well my parents are older. My mom had me at 42 so she’s like 69 or something like that. They’re both ill and so that drives me crazy, being on the road. They’re in a nursing home. It drives me crazy. And my siblings suck. (Laughs)

AH:(Laughs) Ok…

JA:Well, yeah, they don’t call me to tell me how mom and dad are. They probably called me once while we were on a two month tour. They’re older and have their own boring lives…

AH:Yeah they don’t understand what it’s like to be a rock star. Only a few of us do.

JA:(Laughs) It’s a different life with great adventures. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

AH:You guys have probably been asked the same questions over and over in interviews. Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to talk about in an interview, but no one’s ever touched on it?

JA:Yeah, just about me. (Laughs)

AH:(Laughs) Ok, lie back on the couch and we’ll talk.

JA:If you get us all together in we’re in talking mode, we talk about politics and being vegetarians, and just the things on our minds. We have a lot of respect for a lot of cultures. Once you travel and meet different people, you start understanding more.

AH:Are there any other countries that you’re hoping to hit up?

JA:I can’t wait to do Japan! They adore music there and they don’t take good music for granted. And of course Europe…we want to conquer it. It’s not even that big. We could totally do it. (Laughs)

AH:You could be huge in Belgium. If you’re huge in Belgium, you could walk the streets and everyone would know you. It’s like four miles long.

JA:(Laughs)

AH:Nobody takes my advice. Nobody tries to make it big in Belgium. It’s perfect. You start there and then the world domination begins.

JA:We’ll totally take your advice. And then we’ll never come back to San Antonio again.

AH:But then you’d miss out on Sea World.

JA:No, we love San Antonio.

AH:And there’s nothing that compares to Texas when it comes to Mexican food.

JA:I like Mexican food, obviously. (Laughs)

AH:If I could live in Mexican food, I would. It would be quite messy, but I would do it. I love it that much. It’s a beautiful thing.

JA:(Laughs)

AH:…I’m actually sitting a few feet away from a restaurant that only serves grilled cheese sandwhiches.

JA:…Wow!

AH:They’re open from 8 am - 3 pm, and I can’t understand that. Who gets a grilled cheese sandwich at nine in the morning?

JA:I could probably go for a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast.

AH:I’m absolutely fascinated by the whole thing. I took my roommate by it finally because I wanted to give it a chance. And it was closed at 4:30! Like, "Oh. Our work is done here. Let’s close shop.” What? It blows my mind.

JA:(Laughs)

AH:I’m sorry. I get emotional about cheese. I just wonder if they’re back there with irons doing it old school, or if there is a gourmet banquet and chefs flown in from all over the world working with the finest cheeses…

JA:Now I’m curious. I wanna go there.

AH:When you guys do your LA show, we’ll stop by the place. We’ll figure it out.

JA:I love grilled cheese…and pickles.

AH:Well maybe it’s a ‘bring your own pickle’ situation. We’ll have to see.

JA:Can’t wait!