Waking Life | Out Magazine

Waking Life

Waking Life

Last year Out chatted with San Antoniobased twank-punk trio Girl in a Coma about their debut album, Both Before I'm Gone, and their video for "Road to Home," starring Manhattan's famous transgender gadabout Amanda Lepore. Made up of front woman Nina Diaz, her sister Phanie Diaz (on drums), and queer bassist Jenn Alva, the band is heating up the States in 2008: They've already hit number one on mtvU's The Freshman with their video for "Say," and now the group will be appearing on TLC's LA Ink and Dave Navarro's Internet show, Spread, airing March 6 on maniaTV. Oh, and did we mention they just finished touring Europe with their idol Morrissey?

Out: Both Before Im Gone is a curious title for an album. Whats its significance?
Nina Diaz: I got the idea for Both Before Im Gone from a James Dean quote. He said, Being an actor is hard. Being a man is even harder. I hope to be both before Im done. I changed it to Both Before Im Gone.

So it was similar to what you did with the band name, which references the Smiths song Girlfriend in a Coma. These are shout-outs to the iconic figures in your lives?
Right.

Nina, you do most of the songwriting. Your lyrics address everything from nostalgia to moving on to vengeance. Where were you mentally when you were penning these songs?
I guess I was mentally all over the place. Ive been writing these songs since I was 13 years old, growing up throughout the years and reading a lot of books, just experiencing life.

So youve had literary influences as well?
Yeah, I like to read Oscar Wilde and Sylvia Plath. Theyre my favorite writers.

Sybil Vane Is Ill is about the character from The Picture of Dorian Grey. Why did you write about her?
I was really interested in her sadness. Theres this line in the story, Sybil Vane must be ill, which I thought was really cool, so I decided to write about her life.

Road to Home is beautifully cryptic and unsettling. What was the concept behind this song?
Nina: Its about an outsider trying to find somewhere to fit in. Along the way he meets people. In the video this guy is looking at Amanda Lepore. Hes having troubles in his life, and hes very intrigued by her. He discovers that he wants to be a transvestite -- thats where he belongs. Thats why at the end he becomes one. The song is basically about finding yourself and being happy with who you are.
Phanie Diaz: Yeah, we chose Amanda Lepore because we wanted someone really pretty. The video was shot in New York City at a burlesque bar called the Slipper Room.

And in the video the band is sitting in the audience?
Phanie: Yeah, Im playing the bartender, Jenn is supposed to be a bouncer, and Nina is a regular whos been there so many times she knows the words.

Youre a new band trying to market yourselves, but you chose to remain in the background of the video for Road to Home, and you didnt pose for the cover of the album.
Phanie: We didnt really plan not to be on the cover. A lot of videos look the same, and we wanted to have a storyline with ours, not just play and sing into the camera.
Jenn Alva: I think on Road to Home we had such strong characters that it wasnt necessary for us to be in it. It came together so well with Amanda.

Jenn, would you say its becoming easier for openly gay artists to be seen and heard in music?
Jenn: Its taken a step up, but I dont necessarily think its that easy just yet. It will take a long time for it to be totally accepted, but Rufus Wainwright is a great example. If people listen to his lyrics, they know hes gay, but you can just fall in love with that voice. Its good there are artists out there like that. As for me and the girls, we take one thing at a time. Were just a band, and we try not to be pigeonholed.

Do you think its easier for punk artists to be openly queer?
Jenn: Yeah. Punk rock is a state of mind. Youre always the outcast and you clinch onto whoever else is supposedly the outcast. I think its more accepted.

Is punk music a good vehicle for outcasts who are looking for a connection?
Jenn: Yes, if its done rightfor people who dont give a fuck what anybody thinks.

Whats a typical Girl in a Coma performance like?
Phanie: A couple of beers. [Laughs.] Its a lot of energy. We look to Nina for a lot of it. She gets really into it, so she gets us hyped up to play. And the audience is important, of course. If theyre giving it back to us, it makes us work even harder.

Boz Boorer, the guitarist and musical director for Morrissey, produced a demo for you in 2005.
Phanie: We had a manager who happened to know Boz. He passed a demo we had made to him, and Boz liked it. He invited us to England to work with him. It was a blast.
Jenn: It was an honor, but we wanted to keep our cool because we wanted to maintain a friendship with him. We were trying to keep calm, especially when the platinum and gold albums were on the walls.

When you were in New York, you had your first encounter with Joan Jett, and she signed you on her label.
Phanie: We did that television show for S TV, so that was the surprise moment of the show. We had no idea we were going to meet her that day. It was hard to play for her on the spot, but shes awesome. She was supposed to just come give us advice, but she and Kenny Laguna later decided to bring us aboard the label.

What do you think about the punk scene now?
Jenn: I think all music is suffering in a sense. Punk rock goes through a roller coaster -- its in, and then all of a sudden its underground again.
Phanie: Right now there are a lot of these emo bands, a lot of bands that have the same formula. Its the same sound to me. Im not too pleased with whats out on the market and whats being played on TV. Its not real -- it seems fabricated.
Jenn: Punk is fashion right now, but punk is not about the fashion. Its a state of mind. Its more in the attitude and the way you decide to do things. Its being who you are.

Do you have a genuine punk scene in San Antonio?
Phanie: Not really. It has the reputation of being a metal town, but there are a lot of good indie bands coming out.

Your music is raw and fierce, but, Jenn, when youre not playing you listen to Rufus Wainwright and Morrissey.
Jenn: I think its because the girls and I go through different phases. If you look at our music collection, its 80s, its old western music, its punk. Thats what works in our band -- that were into different stuff.

I read that you hung out with Braice Paine of the Gossip in Austin last year and bonded over your love for the film Freeway 2 [with Natasha Lyonne].
Jenn: Yeah, its actually better than the first one. Its full of one-liners that we always catch ourselves quoting. Its so funny that you mention that. I was trying to design a T-shirt and find something that the girls and I all agree on. So I made a shirt with Natasha Lyonne with the guns from the end of the movie. Were all about random comedies.

Check out the videos for "Say" and "Road to Home".

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