Loud Fast Lady with Girl In a Coma
Loud Fast Lady discusses good luck, bad luck, and band tattoos with Girl In a Coma’s Phanie Diaz
By Beverly Bryan
Published: June 5th, 2009 | 7:00am
San Antonio’s Girl In a Coma has crazy luck, and most of it is the good kind. The trio consists of Phanie Diaz on drums, Jenn Alva on bass, and Diaz’s younger sister, Nina (the principal songwriter), on guitar and vocals. Diaz and Alva met in middle school, but Girl In a Coma really began in 2000, when the friends were both 20, and 12-year-old Nina revealed herself as a songwriter with one hellacious voice.
Things took off in 2006 when the band performed on cable TV for Joan Jett and collaborator-producer Kenny Laguna at New York’s Knitting Factory. Jett signed the girls to her label, Blackheart Records, that night. “Ever since we signed, she’s been there for us. She’s been like a big sister. She said we remind her of when she was younger — when she was in the Runaways,” says Diaz from home, where she lives with her girlfriend and bandmates.
Since then, Girl In a Coma had the chance not only to meet Morrissey, but tour the East Coast with him in 2007 and accompany him overseas this year. The group name, which references the Smiths’ song, “Girlfriend In a Coma,” is what originally attracted the author’s attention, and he caught their act at the Viper Room in L.A. Diaz and Alva spent their formative years transfixed by the one-name icon. “We’re not as crazy and fanatical as we were then,” she avers— though anyone who questions her fandom can talk to a sacred heart tattoo on her forearm, which reads: “Viva Hate.”
In 2008, they subsequently hit it off with Margaret Cho on the True Colors Tour and are now working with her on a song for Guitarded, Cho’s album of comedy songs due in 2010. “It’s about Asians being good at math,” Diaz deadpans.
But don’t get a head rush. It isn’t all Southwestern sunshine and rainbows for Girl In a Coma. On March 22 of this year, Nina and Alva were arrested in Houston following an altercation with off-duty police officers who were working security at Chances nightclub. “It was a bad situation. It’s been a pain in the ass,” Diaz says. For legal reasons, she can’t say much more, but she assures that when she can, “the world is going to know about it.”
Now their van has broken down two weeks before a national tour, but Diaz is remarkably calm. After nine years together, Girl In a Coma has learned to weather life’s extremes. It helps that they’ve always come home to San Antonio. Diaz thinks they always will.
The sound on Trio B.C. (Blackheart Records), Girl In a Coma's new sophomore album, blends Spanish-style guitars into the band’s lush, melodic punk and reflects that connection to home more than ever. “Ven Cerca,” the swelling final track, is a revamped Mexican pop song from the ‘60s and the band’s firstSpanish-language recording. The album, which follows their 2007 debut, Both Before I’m Gone, is named for Diaz’s late grandfather’s Tejano band. “[Nina] and I used to sit with him and he’d make up songs on the spot,” she recalls. Near the end of his life, he told them, “The best times in my life were when I was playing in the band.”
There’s a splash of famous Texans such as Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly on Trio B.C., too. That’s another influence Diaz pins on a family member. “It’s our mom’s fault. I think it’s been embedded in our brains,” she says affectionately of Mama Diaz’s old-school taste.
One reason they’ve embraced their roots on Trio B.C. is the way their roots have embraced them. “We have a lot to represent in this band,” Diaz says. San Antonians and the Latino community have come out strongly in support of Girl In a Coma. They also have support coming from the queer community (Alva andPhanie are openly gay) and from other hardcore Morrissey fans who discovered them through his grapevine. Some fans are permanently devoted, sending snapshots of their own Girl In a Coma tattoos to prove it. There’s an album of them up on the band’s MySpace page. All three members have Girl In a Coma tattoos themselves. Diaz also has the band’s initials across her knuckles. “We’re in it for the life,” she boasts.
Add to all this the fact that label head and mentor Jett, alongside Laguna, produced the tracks “Vino” and “Joannie In the City” (a tribute to Jett, of course) — with the subject herself adding backing vocals to the namesake song — and Girl In a Coma wakes up to a pretty charmed situation.
One could say they’re fairly lucky to have found love in so many places, but ultimately, Diaz doesn’t believe in luck. Not exactly. “We believe that everything happens for a reason. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s all leading you toward something, and you have to learn from it.” With that outlook, perhaps the members of Girl In a Coma create their own luck.
They found a new van in plenty of time. “It’s a 2001 Ford conversion with low miles, so we are happy,” says Diaz in an email update. They call it “The Bullet.”