Coming Out of the Coma
BY Graham Kolbeins
June 10 2009 12:00 AM ET
The statistical probability of a Latino, queer, all-girl punk group rising to fame out of San Antonio (home of the Alamo) has to be pretty slim -- but Girl in a Coma has beat the odds. Bassist Jenn Alva and drummer Phanie Diaz became inseparable friends in high school, bonding over their mutual appreciation of the Riot Grrrl movement, Nirvana, and the Smiths (the band's name is a nod to the classic Smiths song "Girlfriend in a Coma"). The band really came together, however, after the discovery that Phanie's precocious 12-year-old sister, Nina, was in possession of a monstrously powerful, deeply emotional voice and a natural gift for songwriting.
By the time Nina was 16, the band had honed its sound through relentless practice and endless touring, and movers and shakers were starting to take note. Boz Boorer, Morrissey's musical director, flew the girls to London to record a demo. Rock goddess Joan Jett signed the band to her label, Blackheart Records, after seeing one performance, and she became the group's personal mentor. Tegan and Sara, Frank Black, and even Morrissey himself were asking Girl in a Coma to open for them. Soon enough, the group was headlining shows and attracting a huge following with an acclaimed debut album, 2007's Both Before I'm Gone, a.k.a. BBIG.
Girl in a Coma's appeal crosses genre boundaries as well as those of race, gender, and sexuality (Jenn and Phanie are lesbians). You're as likely to find the band playing the Warped Tour as the True Colors Tour or the American Latino TV Awards. Its fans are equal parts Björk lovers and Social Distortion devotees. So while the girls choose not to pigeonhole themselves in any one group, they also refuse to shy away from the matter of their personal identities. Whether it's singing about the male-dominated music industry or featuring the glamorous transgender performance artist Amanda Lepore in a music video, Girl in a Coma refuses to ask for your approval or try to fit a familiar mold. And isn't that the true spirit of punk?
With their sophomore release, Trio B.C., the girls have expanded their sound into new territories with production help from Joan Jett, and they've recorded their first Spanish-language tune, a cover of the '50s rock 'n' roll hit "Ven Cerca." Nina, Jenn, and Phanie took time out of their busy touring schedule to fill us in on the Girl in a Coma songwriting process, paranormal activity, and being openly gay in a traditional Mexican-American family.
Advocate.com:What's different about your second record? How have your experiences recording and touring for Both Before I'm Gone changed your approach on Trio B.C. ?Phanie: This time around we had a different approach to composing the album. Both Before I'm Gone was seven years in the making. This album was written while we were on the road touring for BBIG. All the songs were being written in the back of the van by Nina. We got home and got together and composed the music out in a few months and went straight into the studio. We definitely have matured for this record and have become stronger musicians. This time around Jenn and I are singing more live and Nina has gone pedal crazy. We're experimenting with more sounds.
I read that Trio B.C. was recorded on a Texan peacock farm -- how did that come about, and would you say there's a subtle avian influence on the new album?Phanie: Actually, it was a Texan pecan farm. Peacock farm would have been fun too. It was very Western. When we got there, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had just left. Mudvayne were our neighbors on the ranch. That was interesting. We stayed on the ranch and walked across the road to the studio. Great vibes there. Our producer Gabe Gonzales used to work there, and he and our producer from Both Before I'm Gone suggested it. We ended up loving it.