Interview: Nina Diaz of Girl in a Coma

This week I had the pleasure of chatting with Nina Diaz, guitarist/vocalist for San Antonio based three-piece band Girl in a Coma. Nina shared some insights on Girl in a Coma’s label, Blackheart Records, recording to tape, touring with like-minded musicians, and a healthy fascination with vinyl, cassettes, up-and-coming new bands and thrift store clothes.

TST: Okay, so I was looking around on your site and I see that you’ve recently had the 10-year anniversary of your first show.

Nina Diaz: Yeeeah [enthusiastically].

TST: How’d that go?

ND: It was great. We had it here in San Antonia at the Waterloo Center downtown and we played outside in the outside theatre. And there were probably about 1,000 people there, I’m thinking. So it was great; there were all kinds of people that came out. And then, at the inside theatre, we also showed this episode that we did for the show called Jamming when I was 17, about seven years ago. So we showed it in the theatre. It was the pilot episode for Jamming. And doing that show is actually how we met Joan Jett, and that’s how we got signed to Blackheart [Records].

TST: Interesting. Well you killed one of my other questions, so that’s good.

ND: [laughing] Yeah. And she actually came out to the San Antonio gig as well – Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna – they came out to our 10-year anniversary. That was really sweet of them.

TST: Are they really hands-on with the label? How do you feel about Blackheart?

ND: Blackheart has been the best label for us, especially for our first label. I mean, I don’t know what the future holds – hopefully what’s going to happen is everything that’s meant to happen. But for being with Blackheart now, they’ve been hands-on as so much as not being so hands-on. Like, we have creative freedom. And they help us with tour support, which a lot of labels don’t help with stuff like that. Like, they help with our merchandise. And every time we go to New York they’re there to support us. I even had a solo gig out there recently and some of the Blackheart people came out to support. So, you know, they’re just very supportive.

TST: That’s great to hear, because I’m a fan of the label and I like their style. I like labels that are that size and that have clout from experience – just the musicianship. So I’m glad to hear that. Now, what I really wanted to ask you about the 10-year anniversary… and it’s been the three of you the whole time, right?

ND: Yeah.

TST: Well, you know that’s rare. I think it’s really rare for bands to have kept original members, especially when they start out really young. So I wanted to get your perspective on that – how it was growing up and growing your band up at the same time – because there are very few people who have that experience.

ND: Yeah, I know. We see bands that have a couple of members one week and then the next week something didn’t work out… somebody had a job so they couldn’t afford to commit their whole life to the band. We see that all the time, and I think what helps with us is, for one, Phanie, the drummer, is my sister and Jenn, the bass player, is like my sister. She’s known me since I was four years old. So we have that connection already. From the get go, it didn’t matter that there was an age gap and everything; we just knew that this is what we wanted to do. Like, they’ve always wanted to do it. They took a break for a while and then, when they were forming a band again (I started playing guitar when I was 13), it just happened that I fit the mold of what they were looking for, and of what we were all looking for.

TST: Uh huh…

ND: I mean, it happened to be me, but it’s like being in a marriage, being with somebody so long. It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had, actually. And there’s lots of fights, but you have to learn to compromise. And they’ve grown up – all of us have grown up – I’ve literally grown up, being 13 and now I’m 24. Playing shows and being in the scene and doing all these things, you grow up a lot faster, and all those things have just bettered me.

TST: Sure.

ND: I think what keeps us together is communication. Whenever we see one of us falling off the cliff somewhere, we try to pull each other up. So we always just check in on each other rather than hang out on the ledge, you know.

TST: That’s very optimistic. I think people look at young bands and they don’t understand that it’s the same, I guess, but different. But regardless, I think you have a unique life experience.

ND: Yeah, you know, we’ve done the whole, typical ‘drugs, drinking,’ all that crap. But we’ve survived it, and we’re pretty healthy now. And we know what we have, and we don’t want to fuck it up by dying or doing something stupid. And we want to be a good, positive influence, especially on the younger generations of kids that are trying to play – a lot of the younger generation of females. Being all girls is closer to inspiring a lot of females. So we want to be a positive influence, and we don’t want to bullshit anybody with anything that we’re doing. We just want to be as real as possible.

TST: Do you guys have a really regimented routine, or how do you take your time off? Do you have to ever completely walk away from music?

ND: Um, I don’t think that’s possible [thinking about that]. I mean, I know some people who are like, ‘I don’t even want to look at my guitar when I’m home.’ But when I get home – I live with my mom – Phanie comes over and, you know, we all do different things to get our minds off of ‘this is our job.’ But I still write; I play my guitar every day and still work on songs that don’t necessarily have to become Girl in a Coma songs, but I’m just writing to write. And then I show the girls some stuff, and we just start working up stuff for the future. Personally, lately what I’ve been doing is, I like to take trips. Like I just went to New York – just to go and see different things and be there by myself without the girl. Kind of just taking little adventures, and then coming back and taking that knowledge to music, for the good of the band… and for the good of me, as a person. But, yeah, we try to keep it chill. We go to see shows and hang out with our friends and family until we’re off again.

TST: Nice. So, you’re a big proponent of vinyl, aren’t you? I’ve read a couple of your interviews, where you’re saying that you think vinyl is going to come back around in a big way.

ND: Yeaaah! And I think it still is. I mean, it’s cool whenever we tour with a band and they sell vinyl. But what I’ve found recently is that people are starting to make cassette tapes again, too, which is cool. I’m sure it’s pretty hard to get a good cassette player nowadays, but some of those players you can buy where they sell vinyl, they also have a cassette player, all in one. But I’m a huge – all of us – collect vinyl. Whenever we’re out on the road, we always come back with boxes of vinyls. And we have to make sure to have space for the vinyls, because we know! It’s the same thing with clothes. We don’t pack as much when we leave because we know we’re going to fill it up with thrift store clothes eventually.

TST: That’s awesome. Did Girl in a Coma do their first demo on vinyl? Is that a true fact?

ND: [a slight pause] Oh yeah, we did! It was with this small company that was starting out in Austin. I’m actually not sure if they’re still doing it. But they were some friends of ours that were like, ‘Hey, we’ll record you guys.’ And it ended up on white vinyl; they were little 45s with our cover of The Smith’s “Please, Please, Please” on one side and another song on the other side called “Both Before I’m Gone.” And that’s actually the name of our first CD.

TST: Is there any way to ever find that? Or did they get rid of the whole run?

ND: I think it is possible to find it. I think the guys that made the recording – we actually ran into them whenever we did a festival in Austin recently. And they were there at a booth and they had them. They were like, ‘Hey, we have them if you want to get them.’ I guess we just got caught up in things. They still make them, I think. I think they still have them there in Austin. Yeah.

TST: Alright, that’s good to know. There are so many cool things tucked away in Austin, ha. Okay, let’s switch gears. I want to know some of your favorite bands, that you’ve toured with. I know that you toured with the Coathangers last year, and they’re friends of ours and they’re fucking awesome.

ND: Oh man, yeah, they’re such sweet girls, and they’re a lot of fun, too. You know, what we find a lot with other girl musicians is that sometimes they can be a little bitchy, a little bit like ‘competition.’ Unfortunately, you get that a lot. And it’s rare when I see female musicians doing it, and doing it well. And so, when we got with the Coathangers, after the first couple of days of playing gigs, right away we just clicked and, seeing each other perform, we just fed off of each other. It’s still a great friendship that we have.

TST: What other bands have you toured with lately that you’re just really into?

ND: Agent Ribbons. They’re originally from Sacramento and are now living in Austin, and it’s two girls. They’re awesome; she’s such a great lyricist. You should check them out; you’ll love them. When she sings, it just seems like it so naturally comes out of her and I’m so jealous, but in a good way.

TST: I’ll check it out.

ND: Oh, Black Box Revelation, who we’re actually going to be touring with again. They’re on the east coast tour that we’re going to doing starting July 7 through August. We did a tour with them two tours ago – they’re from Belgium and they’re really awesome, funny guys. And they actually played David Letterman recently, so things must be really good for them.

TST: I didn’t know that, but I do like their music.

ND: Yeah, they’re great. Off the top of my head, those are the main ones that I’ve really enjoyed, just as far as company. Obviously, doing the bigger tours it was awesome to be able to, you know, open up for Morrissey, and Tegan and Sara were great. I would love to play with Morrissey again some day, especially overseas.

TST: Nina, do you get star stuck? I know that you’ve met a lot of celebrities. Are you numb to it, or does it depend on who it is or do you care? Or is it just ‘people are people?’

ND: I think it’s more of that people are just people. When you meet somebody, no matter who they are, it depends on their attitude as well. If they’re like a famous person who thinks that their shit doesn’t stink, they’ve never done shit and they don’t have problems, whatever, then that’s one kind of energy that I just don’t like to deal with. It’s like, ‘You know you’ve had a long road to get to where you are right now so don’t act like you’re better than me’ kind of thing. But the people who are in the public eye and everything, making money doing great at what they, naturally, are good at, and you get to meet them and they’re sweet people, you just see them as a person, because you don’t even know, yourself, what kind of path you’re on right now. So you just want to take everyone in for what they are and the energy they’re going to give off. You find, when you get into a conversation with them, they just want to talk sometimes, like anybody does. Maybe you want to talk about your favorite ice cream, when you were a kid, that gave you a stomachache – something like that. I mean, who knows who I’m going to meet. I know whoever I do meet, I just want it to be real.

TST: So you did a Girl in a Coma tour blog last year. Are you going to do that again, or do any more episodes on this tour?

ND: Yeah, we are. Jenn is usually the one who’s in charge of that, but I think this tour we might try to film a little more of me and Phanie to get the load off of Jenn. But she’s still working on the tour blogs of the last tour we just had with Piñata Protest, who is also a band from San Antonio, and Sara Radle, who is from Los Angeles. It’s a little late, but that one should be coming out soon, and we’ll definitely be making a tour blog for this coming up tour. We’re touring with Black Box Revelation again and we know it’s going to be fun and that there are going to be a lot of things we’ll want to capture on film.

TST: Can we talk about Exits & All the Rest [the most recent Girl in a Coma LP] for a second?

ND: Yeah!

TST: Where did you record that? Who did you record it with?

ND: We recorded it with Mike McCarthy who is based in Austin. We did it in his studio there, and we did it on old school, like 8mm tape deck. And that whole experience was awesome because we knew in the beginning of Exits & All the Rest that we wanted to capture a raw sound, almost like our first album – kind of a lovechild of all the other albums together, kind of just to show how we’ve progressed as musicians a bit. Working with Mike – he’s like a weird, off the wall kind of guy, but he totally understood our sound and our style and was able to capture each sound for what we wanted it to be. And at the end of the day we came out with pretty much what we wanted it to sound like. It’s very raw. A lot of it was first takes. And it was just a great learning experience for all of us playing the song at once and getting that dynamic together on the first try. So that kind of seeps over to our live performance.

TST: Was that the first record that you’ve done on tape?

ND: It was, yeah.

TST: It’s got a really warm sound to it that’s very attractive, so this makes sense.

ND: Yeah, thanks!

TST: I want to ask you something about your live show. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you live, so pardon that. I want to know if there are – not necessarily tricks – but methods you employ live to make the live sound bigger. Because you’re a three-piece, and the dynamic between three is interesting. But I wonder, as drums, bass, guitar, if you do anything to thicken the sound, or if you just play, straight up.

ND: Well, the only thing that we do right now is that I use a looper pedal for certain songs. Actually, a lot of the new things we’re writing I’m incorporating that. But for the tour we’re about to do, certain songs I’ll prerecord. “Control” – I have a loop in it. “She Had Plans” – I have a loop in it, and I can loop the bass guitar, the root of it, and then play the melody on top. It’s just to make certain solos a little more punchy. And I have a 12-string guitar just to make it a little bit fuller. But other than that, it’s our basic stuff.

TST: I have to ask all my interviewees – what are you really into right now, what new bands, etc.?

ND: I like Shannon and the Clams. They’re this band out of Oakland. Jenn actually had one of their songs called “Trouble Maker,” and she thought that it was an old school group from like the Sixties. And then I give it to [a friend] and she researches and tells me, ‘No, wait a minute, they’re from now; they’re actually new.’ And that just made me really excited and I thought, ‘Oh, maybe we can play a show with them someday.’ I did the whole thing, and I ordered their vinyl from our local mom & pop record shop here and I was so excited when I got it. So, Shannon and the Clams is the main group I’m listening to a lot. I’m always listening to Jeff Buckley and I recently got into Led Zeppelin a lot more lately. And Mamas and the Papas. It’s a rotation of all of those things going on right now.

TST: Obviously, everyone’s influenced, to a certain degree, by the music that they listen to, but do you feel like new bands that you listen to have any kind of direct influence on your writing at the time?

ND: Oh, definitely.

TST: Do you let that happen, or are you one of those people that try to keep your own voice much.

ND: If you’re aware, like if you’re starting to change and you notice you’re changing and you stop, you’re just stopping your progression. And I think you’re just pinning yourself in a corner to do that. By listening to all kinds of types of music, it naturally affects the writer. It’s kind of like a dream, you know. You dream about something and then it’s something that you’ve subconsciously been thinking about all day; it’s in the back of your mind. I think it’s the same thing with music. If there’s something you’re listening to a lot, and then you pick up and try to write something, naturally you’re going to write a melody that almost sounds like something else that you’ve been listening to. I totally agree that it’s a great thing that happens though. Music is meant to influence others, to make you want to get up and do something, to make you want to take pictures, to make you want to go ask that person out, to make you just want to stay in and sulk. It’s meant to make people have different emotions.

TST: We’ll good luck on the tour. I guess I’ll see you guys next week when you come through Atlanta. I hope you’ll have some vinyl at your show.

ND: Oh yeah, definitely. We have vinyl for Trio B.C. and for Exits & All the Rest.

TST: Excellent. Thanks for chatting, Nina.

ND: No, thank you, anytime.



7/09 – St. Petersburg, FL – The Local 662
7/10 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl
7/12 – Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
7/13 – Washington, DC – The Red Palace
7/14 – Teaneck, NJ – Mexicali Live
7/15 – Philadelphia, PA – Ortlieb’s Lounge
7/17 – New Haven, CT – Café Nine
7/18 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
7/19 – Northampton, MA – Iron Horse Music Hall
7/20 – Providence, RI – Providence Social Club
7/23 – Montreal, QC – Divan Orange
7/24 – Toronto, ON – The Garrison
7/26 – Chicago, IL – Double Door
7/27 – Detroit, MI – Shelter
7/28 – Indianapolis, IN – Radio Radio
7/29 – St. Louis, MO – The Firebird
7/30 – Kansas City, MO – The Riot Room
8/01 – Nashville, TN – 12th & Porter
8/02 – Hot Springs, AR – Maxine’s
8/15 – Corpus Christi, TX – House of Rock
8/16 – Pharr, TX – Pharr Entertainment Center

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