Tuesday, September 2, 2008

There’s this Girl In A Coma...

Fernando Romero

n the singularly fluid universe of Girl In A Coma, a world has been forged to fashion a unique sound of modern punk and alternative rock softened with melancholic, swaggering vocals and tightly-fitted with a retro-cool, bad-ass Riot Grrrl! attitude.

Girl In A Coma (GIAC), the all-female band out of San Antonio rocks in the classic guitar-bass-drums paradigm, but still sounds fresh and innovative. Formed eight years ago, the trio comprised of sisters Nina (guitar and vocals) and Phanie Diaz (drums) and Jenn Alva (bass) has awaited the appraisal and recognition of fans and critics alike for almost a decade.

The band’s big break came in 2006 when cable channel Si TV, the first Latino network to broadcast in English, featured them in their documentary series "Jammin." The band was flown to New York to meet their idol, Joan Jett, who surprised them by signing them onto her indie label, Blackheart Records.

"It happened at the right time too. We had always talked about getting signed on the spot, but we never really thought it would actually happen," Jenn, 28, says.

The band released "Both Before I’m Gone" in May 2007. The album debuted on Billboard’s Heatseekers at No. 23. The band has toured with artists including The Pogues, Social Distortion and Morrissey. It was only fitting that GIAC, which borrowed its name from The Smiths’ 1987 single "Girlfriend in a Coma," was asked by "Moz" himself to open up for him in a string of tour dates last Fall and Winter in the United States and Europe.

The band is just now starting to reap the rewards after all those years trying find the right chemistry and gigging wherever and whenever.

While still in middle school, Phanie bonded with classmate Jenn over a magazine cover of Kurt Cobain’s death. Both Phanie and Jenn shared a liking for bands like Nirvana, The Smiths and The Pixies. The pair instantly linked to start bands of their own. One day, at age 12, Nina, a full eight years younger than Jenn and Phanie, played one of the songs she had written for Phanie and Jenn, trying to get their honest opinion on it. The two older band mates had no idea Nina could play guitar, let alone write songs or that she could sing so well.

"I used to watch them a lot and they would inspire me," Nina, 20, says. "I was just writing some songs and wanted to see what they thought about them."

Both Phanie and Jenn were mesmerized by Nina’s voice and songwriting skills that they decided to form a band with her despite the eight year age difference.

"We were both just blown away by her singing," Phanie, 28, says. "But still, I think she has matured. Her voice and her songwriting have definitely grown a lot since."

The decision says a lot about the faith in Nina’s voice and songwriting. Nina has received countless compliments for her warbling melodic voice, rich in alternative rock that is both dreamy and ethereal and coupled with passionate lyrics coded in irony. Nina’s voice has been likened to Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, Björk and yes, even, Morrissey.

GIAC also stands amongst a select few of female rock bands comprised by Latinas. There has not been a representation of Latina rock bands who sing primarily in English. Aside from GIAC, the only other U.S. Latina rock band in the public eye is LA-based Go Betty Go.

The members of GIAC assert they have not encountered any roadblocks for being a Chicana/Latina rock band.

"Our heritage is not a downfall, we see it as a bonus really. We just see it as something that opens up more doors for us," Jenn says. "The fact that we’re Latinas or Chicanas is only beneficial for us. It’s not bad at all. We get to be a part of different circles and concerts. We get the best of every world. We don’t see it as something that is excluding us from anything. We’re very proud of who we are and where we come from."

Hailing from San Antonio, influenced by the Tex-Mex culture, the members of GIAC say they like to think they are opening more doors to other Latina-fronted bands.

"We’re hoping to inspire girls to start bands by showing them, this is how you do it," Phanie says.

Currently on tour, the band will take a break late in the Summer to work on their follow-up album and be back out on the road this Fall with Tegan and Sara. Known for incessant touring, GIAC developed a loyal fan base the classical way; doing it non-stop.

"We preach about touring. We tell all the bands back home to hit the road because it’s the most direct way to develop fan base," Phanie says.

"As long as we can stay on the road and people continue to come to our shows, we’re going to continue to do it," Jenn says.

The women from Girl In A Coma are no girls, they’re definite veterans of rock even for Nina who exudes decades’ worth of experience beyond her 20 years in both her voice and songwriting. They carry a very simple philosophy stemming from their humble and poor beginnings.

"All we said we ever wanted was to make a little money, and be happy. What we’re doing, it’s like a minimum wage salary by rock band standards type of thing, and we’re happy doing it. "Jenn says. ¶

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