DeAnne Cuellar, executive director of the Media Justice League and a local music advocate, can remember a time when Girl in a Coma were musical pariahs.
“Back in 2000, I was booking shows and … people were talking about them as if there was something wrong with them,” Cuellar said. “People would pay money to see them and make fun of them.”
Cuellar admitted that while the San Antonio born-and-bred eclectic hard-rock trio was still trying to figure out their sound, she was immediately enamored by them. Seven years later, Antonio Rodriguez, who runs the blog Indie Texas, recalls a much different scene. “It was at Sam’s Burger Joint during a screening of their first music video release [for] Both Before I’m Gone. I remember being right in front of the stage, looking back, and realizing that there was a room full of adults singing along to almost every song.”
It’s no mystery what twists of fate helped these aspiring SA musicians secure their place in rock. They got a demo tape into the hands of Boz Boorer, the musical director for Morrissey, in 2004. While being filmed for a documentary about emerging Latino/a bands in 2006, they had a chance encounter with Joan Jett, the inspirational rock ’n’ roll trailblazer, that wound up landing them a record deal on Jett’s own Blackheart Records. These strokes of luck were met with Girl in a Coma’s steadfast work ethic, which was forged in part because of the early resistance they encountered. For starters, sisters Nina (vocals/guitar) and Phanie Díaz (drums) and Jenn Alva (bass) are Latin females playing punk, metal, Texas blues, rockabilly, and country. Add to that the fact that Phanie and Alva are also both openly gay. “They were wearing blue jeans and had tattoos and playing in a band in a city where women have a traditional role,” Cuellar said. “I also think that [the work ethic] of Girl in a Coma is a reminder to some bands of what they’re not doing.”
In 2011, the group is the breakout success story that every San Antonio band wants to be, having made it big and increased the SA scene’s profile while maintaining an inclusive, community-driven approach. They’ve toured with Cyndi Lauper and Social Distortion, but their recent two-night run at Jack’s Bar featured a mere $12 cover and accommodated ages 13 and up.
Meanwhile, their body of work represents much of the noise San Antonio has made for decades; it’s just never been as consolidated and seamlessly integrated into one band before. From their thrash punk cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” to their hard-edged, doo-wop balladry in “El Monte” to their dance-y grunge interpretation of Selena’s “Si una vez,” they make sliding across classic Texas genres seem as effortless as breathing. This musicianship and success is what perhaps makes Girl in a Coma the de facto, transcendent, quintessential San Antonio band. They’re heavy, twangy, new wave-y, and Latin. They’re alternative, (2/3) queer, and community focused. When the local music scene gathers in front of them, it’s to look into a mirror, seeing where they’ve been and, hopefully, where they’ll go.