Onstage at the South By Southwest festival in Austin last month, Girl in a Coma played to a packed house at a club on Sixth Street with a special guest, Cherie Currie, co-founder with Joan Jett of the iconic late seventies all-female band, The Runaways. Girl in a Coma’s bassist Jenn Alva says it was a real “rock star” moment for her.
“I guess we really never think about ‘Oh, we’re so cool,’ but when we were the backup band for her, we just felt like, ‘YEAH!,” says Alva.
Drummer Phanie Diaz, laughing, pipes in, “Yeah, Jenn’s lips naturally snarled!”
The members of Girl in a Coma – sisters Nina and Phanie Diaz, and friend Jenn Alva, have name-checked Morrissey, Elvis, and Joan Jett in the past as artists that have shaped the power-punk trio’s sound. Jett signed Girl in a Coma to her Blackheart Records label a few years ago, and appeared as a guest artist on last year’s album, "Trio B.C." You can hear those influences – and more – in Girl in a Coma’s music. This month, they’re releasing three EPs of cover songs to pay tribute to their favorite groups from the past.
“I think a lot of the younger generation, they don’t know a lot of these bands,” says Phanie Diaz. “You know, they’re quick to just want to hear what’s on TV now, so we thought this was just a great way to [explain why] we do a lot of the stuff that we do.”
The EP series is called "Adventures in Coverland." Seven songs are included, spanning the fifties to the eighties, with country, pop, rock, and even Tejano represented. Girl in a Coma performed their first song in Spanish on "Trio B.C." Now they’re covering that most revered of South Texas icons, Selena. Bassist Jenn Alva says Selena’s "Amor Prohibido" was the CD to have when she was growing up.
“If you didn’t have it, you were a nerd,” Phanie Diaz adds.
Jenn continues, “There’s so many similarities with Selena and us, and [singer] Nina [Diaz] and Selena, that we knew that we had to do [a Selena song], and ‘Si una vez’ was the one song that when we heard it, we thought, it already has this growl to it, this rock ‘n’ roll secret edge. So all we had to do was rough it up a little bit and make it ours… a little punky.”
While “Si Una Vez” may be the song that resonates best with South Texas, guitarist and vocalist Nina Diaz may be closest to George Harrison’s classic Beatles song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Diaz has the song title tattooed on her arm, and her sister Phanie says it’s one of the songs their mother used to play for them.
Though The Runaways aren’t represented on "Adventures in Coverland," Girl in a Coma is a obviously a musical descendent of that group. And Cherie Currie’s appearance onstage with Girl in a Coma last month coincided with the Austin premiere of "The Runaways," a film about the group. Thirty years later, Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alva say it’s still a struggle for an all-girl rock band.
“It’s a little easier, but we’ll still get stuff for being all girls, and stereotyping,” says Phanie Diaz. She added that promoters and techies they meet on the road still make comments that insinuate the group doesn’t know how to handle themselves or the equipment.
“The other day, we played a show in the Valley,” says Alva, “and this promoter thought we were dumb or something. Business is business, we’re smart girls. We’ve been touring a lot.”
Phanie Diaz says there is still a double standard when it comes to appearances, too. “We don’t have, like, model bodies,” she says, “but they still want to point out how you look, and ‘you have to look this way as a female,’ versus guys. It still happens.”
But Jenn Alva says there’s hope for the future. They want young girls to know that they can rock as well as the guys:
“The more girl groups that can pop up now, the better. The music industry’s all weird anyway right now… we might as well creep in, and take it over. That’d be really cool.”
Girl in a Coma’s "Adventures in Coverland" EPs are available now at independent record stores and online. The group is now on tour, and returns to Texas in late May with shows in Houston on May 15, in Austin May 22, and in Helotes on May 28. You can find more information about the group and their touring schedule online at girlinacoma.com.
Hear the full interview with Girl in a Coma: