If your band is handpicked by Joan Jett to join her label and your all-time hero, Morrissey, invites you to join him on tour, you must be something special. And Texas trio, Girl in a Coma definitely is. Sisters Phanie and Nina Diaz, and pal Jenn Alva have achieved more in less than a decade than most bands could dream of attaining in a lifetime. Named for the Smiths’ song, “Girlfriend in a Coma,” the group has gained critical acclaim and toured the nation both as an opening act and as a headliner. Now the girls are on the road yet again, promoting their new album, Trio B.C., and coming to SF’s Bottom of the Hill on Thursday, June 16. Find out below what lead singer Nina has to say about working with a punk rock queen, returning to SF, and adding a few tattoos along the way.
7x7: Have you been to San Francisco before?
Nina: Yeah, actually a handful of times. The first time we went there, on our first tour when I was…I think I was 16? We toured on our own money and we got by selling merchandise. Our last date was in San Francisco, and we didn’t have enough money to get back home, so Jenn and I and Phanie, we went around with a CD player and we went through the streets and we played it. After people listened to it, we were like, “Do you like it? Do you wanna buy a CD? ‘Cause we’re trying to get home!”
7x7: And did it work?
Nina: Yeah, finally we made it.
7x7: You’re on Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records label. How did you cross paths with her?
Nina: Actually, we were doing this pilot episode for a show called Jammin’, and it was kind of like a documentary following bands trying to make it. At the end, there was supposed to just be a special guest that just comes by and gives you words of wisdom and then leaves, but she ended up liking us!
7x7: That’s amazing – how soon after that did you start working together?
Nina: After the whole business, just a couple of months and then finally, we started recording.
7x7: Had you listened to Joan’s music growing up?
Nina: Yeah, my mom listened to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts a lot, and Phanie listened to The Runaways. They were always around. She’s amazing.
7x7: Joan sings on the Trio B.C. track, “Joannie in the City” – what was it like watching her in the studio?
Nina: She was very professional. She had these little cough drop things she put out, like “if you need some, here you go.” She’s done Broadway and stuff so she has little tricks.
7x7: Does she take on the mentor role with you guys?
Nina: Yeah, she lets us run the show. She tries to make it as smooth as possible whenever she’s in the studio and when she has something to suggest, she puts it in there, and it sounds great.
7x7: What was it like touring with Morrissey and Cyndi Lauper? Had you listened to them a lot growing up?
Nina: Definitely Morrissey – well, everything my sister listened to – she listened to Cyndi Lauper too. Definitely Morrissey is a big influence. I didn’t really get into him until I was about 12 years old, when his lyrics actually started to make sense to me.
7x7: What was it like, not just meeting these major influences, but supporting them on tour?
Nina: With everything we do, when it comes, we just do it, and then afterwards we think about what we’ve just done (laughs). That was our first big tour, and for it to be Morrissey, we were really blessed and very grateful. And his fans were really receptive and they really…they didn’t boo us!
7x7: I saw an interview in which you named Jeff Buckley as an influence, and the band’s name comes from a song from The Smiths – who else has influenced you?
Nina: Um…Aqua. No I’m just kidding. No, Nina Simone. Billie Holliday, Stereolab. Mike Patton from Faith No More and Mr. Bungle. And some random ones.
7x7: Had you done vocal training before joining the band?
Nina: I was in choir in high school and elementary school, but…(laughs).
7x7: You named the CD Trio B.C. for your grandfather’s Tejano band. What are some of the memories you have of him, growing up?
Nina: Well I never heard any of his music, but as he got older, he moved into my parents’ house, and he’d hear us practice and sometimes he’d enjoy it and sometimes he’d tell us to shut up. But towards his last days, he’d constantly talk about being in a band, and playing shows, and meeting girls and having fun and everything.
7x7: Does it ever get tough working alongside your sister?
Nina: It’s like a roller coaster. At the beginning, I was 13, and they were 21, so they basically raised me, because I dropped out of school to go tour and stuff, so they became my parents in a weird way. It was hard to distinguish bandmate/parent/sister. But recently actually, I’ve, I guess grown up a bit, and they’ve settled in their ways. It’s…we have our conversations (laughs).
7x7: You’re all known for loving tattoos – what was your first one?
Nina: The first one was, I was 16, and I got it on my back, on my shoulder. It’s one of those things you should never do, is pick out a flash. It’s a skull with spider webs, butterfly wings, and it has a “13” in it. I thought a “13” would make sense because that’s how old I was when I played my first show. But I remember getting it and having to hide it from my parents and it was right on my shoulder. I forget it’s there sometimes.
7x7: Do you ever add to the collection while you’re in tour?
Nina: We have some random friends in cities that offer to give tattoos, so we try to take them up as much as possible. It’s kind of addictive.
7x7: I had your picture up on my computer, and my coworker said you looked just like [famed tattoo artist and L.A. Ink star] Kat Von D.
Nina: (Laughs) Kat Von D did one of my tattoos, and when we were doing it, we were standing next to each other and people were all, “You look like a mini-Kat Von D!”
See Nina, Jenn, Phanie and all their tattoos when Girl in a Coma rocks Bottom of the Hill on Thursday, July 16. Tickets are only $10 – go to http://www.bottomofthehill.com to get yours now.
Bottom photo credit: Michael Rubenstein