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All-female bands to rock Box Awesome next week
Friday, Oct 24, 2008 - 12:48:59 am CDT

Even though there have been many successful women in pop, the grassroots rock music business remains, in the words of the old James Brown song, “a man’s, man’s world.”

“It’s challenging,” said Von Iva singer Jillian Iva. “People look at you and think ‘Oh, how cute, they’re going to play music.’ Then we get up and kick their faces in. People have expectations, but we’re knocking them over as we go across the country.”

Iva and her bandmates will be at Box Awesome on Wednesday night, the first of two all-female bands to play the venue next week. Girl in a Coma plays Tuesday.

As they tour the country with their brand of The Smiths-meets-the-’50s rock ’n’ roll, the three women in Girl in a Coma are following in the footsteps of the president of their label, Blackheart Records: pioneering female rocker Joan Jett.

“Artists like her showed that women could do this and be good at it,” said drummer Phannie Diaz. “It’s a male-dominated industry. There are so many boys in it that we need artists like her. She opened a lot of doors. We hope we can do the same.”

Here’s a quick look at both bands.

Girl in a Coma

In San Antonio, Texas, high school friends Jenn Alva and Phannie Diaz wanted to put together a band but didn’t do so until Phannie’s little sister Nina played them a song she’d written. Girl in a Coma was formed that night with Nina singing and playing guitar, Alva on bass and Phannie on drums.

Girl in a Coma practiced, wrote songs and toured for five years before landing a record deal. In 2004, they recorded their first demo. Two years later, they were signed to Blackheart Records, and their debut album, “Before I’m Gone,” was released last year.

Nina Diaz has earned the tag “the female Morrissey,” a description of her singing and songwriting style. While The Smiths are an influence on the band, Girl in a Coma often is compared to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Pixies, with a distinctive reference to ’50s rock ’n’ roll in their music.

That combination of sounds is natural, Phannie Diaz said.

“When we get together and write, it’s just what we like,” she said. “There’s no formula. We all listened to different things. There’s enough of an age gap between Nina and I, we listened to different things. I guess it’s the combination of alternative and ’50s music, it’s just that blend. I don’t know if it’s a nostalgic thing we bring up in people. But we have a wide range of fans.”

Girl in a Coma has finished a new album, which is set for release next year.

“I think it came out really great,” Phannie Diaz said. “It’s definitely a lot different. This record, you can hear the ’50s influence, then it goes to a Sonic Youth-influenced song. We’re very happy and excited to get it out there.”

Girl in a Coma was driving across Utah on the way to Los Angeles for its final shows opening for Tegan and Sara before heading back across the country on their own. They’ve come to love being on the road and really like playing smaller venues, such as Box Awesome, Phannie said.

“It (touring ) is our favorite thing to do,” she said. “It’s a better way to connect with an audience these days. There’s so much stuff you can hear on a CD or on the Internet. We believe you need to get out there and let people hear you and see you do it live. Anybody can do anything in the studio. To be a good band, you have to be able to do it live. We have confidence in what we do live. We’re going to go out there and show people.”

The confidence wasn’t always there for the San Antonio girls.

“When we first started, we didn’t know what to expect — how people would treat three females doing it on their own. But the more we go, the tighter we get, the better we get, and we get more confident in what we do. We’re not worried anymore about whether people are going to dig it or not.”

Von Iva

Formed four years ago in San Francisco, Von Iva is a three-woman outfit that delivers a distinctive soul-disco-rock ’n’ roll sound in a live performance that earns raves every time out.

“The live show is definitely something not to be missed,” Iva said. “Obviously, it’s hard to break through for any band. But that’s one thing we’ve always had a step up on. The live show definitely makes people into believers. It’s high energy. It’s different from everything out there. You don’t know what to expect. On some songs, we don’t know what to expect.”

The Von Iva sound is a combination of the influences of its three members. Keyboardist Rebecca Kupersmith was part of the New York noise scene and brings “her love of all things Kylie Minogue” to the band. Iva calls drummer Kelly Harris “the female John Bonham” (Led Zeppelin’s drummer), and Iva adds her Motown-influenced soul vocals to the mix — “not what you’d expect to hear from a skinny white chick.

“You put them together and you get the soul, disco, punk, rock ’n’ roll combination.”

A DIY band to the core, Von Iva has released an EP, a CD and has a new EP set for release Tuesday. They’re also going to turn up as Zooey Deschanel’s band in the soon-to-be-released Jim Carrey movie “Yes Man,” and they’ve contributed a handful of songs to its soundtrack.

But Von Iva’s calling card will always be the live show.

“It’s live dance music,” Iva said. “You don’t see a lot of that anymore. In the lyrics, I try to emphasize that you just have to get up there and do it and enjoy yourself. Whether you’re dancing or striking a yoga pose, I don’t care. By the end of the first song we have people’s attention. During the second song, they’re coming up to the stage and dancing. By the third song we’ve got ’em pretty good.”