El Paso Music Scene

Girl in a Coma Interview

by Charles Hurley
Girl in a Coma, formerly Girls in a Coma, comprises three San Antonio females (including two sisters). Fronted by seventeen-year-old Nina, who joined the band at age twelve, they have a large, enthusiastic following. Their demo was recorded in London and produced by Boz Boorer, guitarist for Morrissey. They are coming to The T Lounge this Saturday. We spoke via phone with Jenn this past Saturday.

EPMS: Who in the group are the sisters?

Jenn: Phanie and Nina are sisters.

EPMS: OK. To get started, what would your fans be surprised to know about you?

Jenn: Let's see. We're all vegetarians; practicing vegans. That's probably one of the things not too many people know about us.

EPMS: Do you drink?

Jenn: Yes, we do.

EPMS: OK. I don't mean to get personal. Anyway, one thing I've seen from researching Girl in a Coma, is that your fans really seem fanatic. Is that true, or do you just have a bunch of fans?

Jenn: There are a few, we've been around about five years, so we have a devoted fan base, especially here in San Antonio, where we kind of grew up as a band, and of course, out of town. Yeah, like I said, there's a few. What they know is pretty much from the internet and hearsay, so, yeah, we have some great fans.

EPMS: Do you spend a lot of time in Austin, which is close, by Texas standards, to San Antonio?

Jenn: Yes, definitely. We play there as much as possible. It's a really good scene. We've got some fans there because of the Austin Music Network that was going on. They recently shut it down, but they played a lot of videos for, like, Texas bands, national groups. It helped us out with exposure there.

EPMS: Is that like a weekly TV show?

Jenn: It's every day, kind of like a little MTV that they had.

EPMS: I've been in the sticks for too long out here in El Paso. We don't have anything anywhere near that.

Jenn: Right, right, right.

EPMS: I see you played the Southern Girls Convention. Is that something you've done a lot of times? They do that every year, right?

Jenn: No, actually, a friend of mine had told me about it, and she said that they would probably enjoy our music, us being all females, and I just kind of wrote to them saying, "Well, if they would like us to play, and we would have some free time, the dates they have for that," and they wrote back right away, saying, "Yeah, we'd love to have you," and that was cool, that was like a whole bunch of workshops. Different things, music, art, different kinds of workshops for females, and it was really cool.

EPMS: Is that in Louisiana?

Jenn: Yeah, that was in Baton Rouge.

EPMS: What is different about being in an all-girl band?

Jenn: There's a lot, what's different about it is, we get kind of, what's the word, like, when people see us, they expect to hear the normal all-girl band, some screaming and shouting, maybe even feminist views, but we really try to be just musicians, not necessarily female, male, whatever. We just try to do music, you know, we're women, we just basically see ourselves as musicians. We get a lot of guys that come up to us and say, "Well, I usually don't like all-female bands, but I like yours," and we take that as a compliment; we can kind of understand their point. When we get thrown comments like that, you just have to see where they're coming from, and they don't have a lot to compare it to, it's not a big deal, you just take it like, "Thank you so much."

EPMS: Do you have a lot of guys that bring you flowers when you are on stage?

Jenn: We did at the beginning, because a group of fans that knew we were big Smiths' fans, and we were getting some flowers. Recently, we kind of got a mystery bouquet. I don't know how they got the girl's mom's address, I don't know who it was, but no, we haven't had that a lot in the past year of playing, but it's always nice.

EPMS: A lot of fans of, you know, guy bands, will buy shots for the band. Do they buy y'all shots, and, if so, is it for the same reason, or are they trying to get you drunk?

Jenn: LOL. I've never thought about that. Every once in a while, we'll get a drink or a shot. Actually, not too many shots, like, they see Phanie and I drinking beer, they'll go get us a beer, but I haven't seen too much cruel intentions, pretty much standard round. I mean, we're normal girls, we're not like, "OK, we'll drink a shot with you guys. It's not like that. It's more like, let's have a good time together. They're giving us a beer out of gratitude.

EPMS: Do y'all consider yourselves role models for other girls and women?

Jenn: Absolutely, like, it's, we don't really think too much, we have so much on our minds, we're always thinking, OK, what do we do now, what can we do today for the band, we just kind of took the time, maybe like a week ago, Phanie, the drummer was looking through ?? magazine, and the San Antonio Current, these are both free magazines that talk about musicians across Texas, and you look in the classifieds, and there's definitely an increase of females looking for other females (to form bands with), so , here in San Antonio, anyway, I think we had something to do with that because of our popularity, but yeah, that's great, I mean, we get young, young girls coming up to us, and we give them the whole, "You can do it, too, you just got to practice. It's not that hard, you just have to buckle down and practice." San Antonio, hopefully other places.

EPMS: Did y'all have any kind of women role models that you looked up to, to help you overcome ideas that women couldn't achieve certain things?

Jenn: Yeah, there's a lot... Lets see, just to name one, for example, we went to London to go record with Boz Boorer, the guitarist from Morrissey, and his wife was there, her name is Lynn, and she's been in a band since she was like sixteen, seventeen, I'm not sure, very young, and they have the drive, that passion, you know, I would say that she inspired us. I guess she kind of felt a little bit of her in us, she was just kind of giving us advice, you know, another one I would say is Aimee Echo from The Start, she was just blown away, and they've been helping us ever since, kind of talking about us in their interviews, they're more national, they're a lot more popular, and that's great. You see these women on stage, and it's like, yeah, that's what I want to do. Those two were definitely a big influence. Anybody in the past, though, I would say, Patsy Cline. I studied a bio on her, you know, she was real like, my way, this is what I want to do. In that time and age, (to see a) woman kind of stepping up, and saying, this is my music, this is how I want to sing and stuff...

EPMS: Did you and Phanie start out as just the two of you in an act?

Jenn: No, her and I, we were like, fifteen, we had, through friends, had heard of another guy named Shane, and he became our drummer. His buddy, Shawn, became our guitarist. We had a little band for maybe about a year.

We've always jammed out together, we've always been talking about, "We need to start another band," and just, kind of under our nose, was Nina. Nina, being twelve at the time, was just kind of playing with the guitar. She sang us a song, and really kind of blew us away, like, wow, we should stop looking and, no matter how old she is, you know, she has the same passion, and they have it in the family, so, let's just start a band with Nina.

EPMS: So, when she became a member of the band, she was twelve?

Jenn: Right, twelve years old, yeah.

EPMS: So, she's seventeen now?

Jenn: Seventeen now, uh-huh.

EPMS: Wow, that's really amazing. I did see that story, but I didn't realize she was twelve.

Jenn: Yeah, definitely, very mature for her age. I mean, she's got, like, an old soul.

EPMS: Have you ever heard of Bow Wow Wow?

Jenn: Yeah, as a matter of fact, we're on the same booking agency.

EPMS: I saw them a couple of times, many years ago in Houston. They started out with a fourteen-year-old girl (Annabella Lwin) singer.

Jenn: Right, yeah, exactly.

EPMS: You recorded in London... Did you record something else in West Virginia?

Jenn: Yeah, we did, we had big plans with a guy there that enjoyed our sound, and he said, "My buddy has a studio, would you like to come out and lay down some tracks?"

We thought, maybe this is a good idea, a different sound, like, yeah, we're going out of town, do another demo, but you know, at the same time, it's always an experience to travel, and get to know different kind of people. His buddy was really cool, he had some good ideas, but when we came back, and you have a chance to listen and listen and listen to that CD over and over again, you realize, "Oh, I could've done this, or we should've added this," so it never got released.

EPMS: So, what you really have is several seven-inchers and one EP or CD? What do you call it?

Jenn: No, we have just one seven-inch but we have maybe three or four out that are just basically demos.

The first one we ever did was a live at Sam's Burger Joint, which is a venue here, and a couple we did at home studios with some buddies, and of course, the last one, which was with Boz. So, we're gonna officially record, starting in January, in Austin. That's another reason why we'll be moving to Austin for three months: to record, and kind of play Austin a lot more.

EPMS: So, are you saying you don't have an official CD?

Jenn: No official CD. Anybody who wants one, our manager is really good about sending them out, but it's basically just that same demo that we've had, from Boz.

EPMS: Why release a seven-inch, and why was it white?

Jenn: We did that because Erick Sanger, from The Start, he came up with this idea, we were going to do a split seven-inch, half The Start, half Girl in a Coma, but when it came down to it, they just said, "Do you girls just want your own seven-inch?" And we said, "Sure, that will be cool, we've always wanted something in vinyl." So, him and his buddy, Gabriel Gonzalez, they produced and recorded three songs, actually, but only two came out on the seven-inch. And, we wanted it to be on white, because when we went to London, Boz had a couple gifts for us, knowing that we're big Smiths and Morrissey fans, he gave us a seven-inch of The Smiths', "Girlfriend in a Coma," and it was on white with red lettering, so, we were like, "Let's do that," you know, just because we liked it, it was really cool, white vinyl.

EPMS: Where does a person buy one of these, and where do they buy their record player?

Jenn: In a lot of record stores here in town, vinyls everywhere. Here in San Antonio, at Hog Wild Records, they have a lot of punk rock, alternative, on seven inches, like, a lot of people said, "I want to get the seven-inch, but I don't have a record player," and I kind of directed them to the thrift stores, and kind of feel for the needle, if it has a needle. Or, you know, Conn Appliances has CD players/record players you can get, but, yeah, we've been telling them if they want to hear it, but people just wanted it to have it.

EPMS: One word that I've seen used for you guys two or three times is 'feisty.' Where did that come from, and what's that about?

Jenn: LOL. I think Boz used it first, it's because Phanie, the drummer, and I, we've been best friends for thirteen years. I've known Nina, too. Basically, all of us are like sisters. We're with each other 24/7, most of the time, unless we go hang out with other buddies, but we're living together right now so we can practice and try to keep our head focused with what we're doing, but, yeah, we went to London and Boz kind of witnessed our whole little fight scene. It's not physical fighting, it's just because we've known each other forever, like we're sisters. We'll get in a fight, but like, five minutes later, laugh at it. It's like really good chemistry. Anybody around us, they would witness like, we'd down-talk to each other. It's pretty funny, actually.

EPMS: What touring have you done outside the U.S.?

Jenn: Nothing. We went to London just to record, and we kind of hoped to play some kind of quick show somewhere, but that didn't happen. We had less than a week there. We will be doing Mexico, in March, something called Lady Fest, like five or six towns or cities in Mexico. That's going to be a lot of fun, but that's it.

EPMS: I've seen shows in Juarez; they'd only give them like, five minutes to change from one band to the next.

Jenn: Wow, like boot camp, huh?

EPMS: Yeah. What's the impact of Myspace for Girl in a Coma?

Jenn: Myspace is a great networking thing, you can accumulate a lot of fans from outside San Antonio, of course, and make a lot of connections, like with other bands that like your band, and if you like another band, it's just a really good networking thing. We've booked a lot of our tour because of Myspace, the last big tour we had, before this one. It's just great. It even has record labels on it, you can add a friend, or whatever.

EPMS: How did the affiliation with Boz Boorer come about?

Jenn: We had, our old manager, real sweet guy, his name's Jay, they're buddies. He said, I sent Boz a CD, and he really liked it, he's down to help you guys out. It's kind of like, 'small world' kind of thing, being that we're such big fans. You know, it kind of boggles our brains some times, but Boz is real sweet. He's like uncle Boz now. He's just a really cool guy, real down to earth. We manage to maintain a normal conversation without freaking out, because we're also fans.

EPMS: BTW, have you ever heard of a band called Archer Avenue out of San Antonio? That's another San Antonio band that I've interviewed.

Jenn: Yeah, yeah, they're on my friends list, yeah.

EPMS: You had been called Girls in a Coma. You tried a name change and it didn't take, then you tried it again, to Girl in a Coma. What's the story?

Jenn: This happened maybe like a year ago. It was always Girls in a Coma. You know, if we're gonna change the name, which we never really wanted to, we'd probably correct it to Girl in a Coma, proper english or whatever. We changed it to Sylvia's Radio. For one, we just got bombarded with tons of emails. Everybody was just not liking it at all, like, "Why did you change it, change it back!" So, like if we ever did change it, we were just gonna drop the 's,' so it makes proper sense. You know, Girl in a Coma, like, the way it should've been was 'Girls in Comas.' But, like I said, we just want to change it so it's correct.

EPMS: Somebody said that a touch of sadness pervades your music. Does that make sense?

Jenn: Right. Uh-huh. It's probably because of Nina's voice. It's so haunting, you know what I mean? Like, when you see her perform live. It's one thing, kind of hearing it on Myspace, or on CD, but when you see her, she's so passionate, you can see it in her eyes. I guess it can be emotional you know? We've watched tapes of ourselves, and it's kind of hard to put ourselves, you know, out of our shoes, but people were saying about it, a lot of emotion, like when we play.

EPMS: What's the impact of having an ex-guitar player on the drums?

Jenn: Wow, you know, that's a good question. That was kind of like starting from scratch because Phanie played guitar, and she was relatively good. Like I said, she taught Nina how to play, and she's always played guitar and bass. She's really good at bass, too. But, her real dad was a drummer, her grampa was a drummer, and I was kind of the one that said, you know, it's kind of hard to get along with other people, just, why don't she play drums? She already knew a couple beats, and it took a good year. She would say, "I don't think I'm any good, I don't think I want to be the drummer." A year of like, dude, you're sounding great, don't stop, and throughout the year, as far as a lot of people in town, they think she's a great drummer.

EPMS: What percentage of your audience is female?

Jenn: I would say .. sixty per cent. It's pretty high, not fifty-fifty, because other females, being inspired to want to play, or they like female groups. Like myself, I have a good number of female friends, all musicians, that I like. Like I said, the guys dig it, and that's why I say, like forty per cent for them.

EPMS: Who does most of the writing?

Jenn: Nina will do, she'll write the chords, plus she'll come up to us and say "Hey guys, I've got a new song." Most of the time she'll have the lyrics, already, and the guitar part, all the way through, and we'll hear it out, and if we have any ideas for her, she'll try to compromise, and then Phanie and I step in. We'll play it a few times, we'll kind of help each other out, you know, drum beats or something that we hear together. It's just really good chemistry, that's the way it's always worked with us. We'll go ahead and write a song first, and then we'll put in our parts and kind of help each other out.

EPMS: Has it been that way the whole time, even going back to when she was twelve?

Jenn: Pretty much, like Phanie, like I said, she plays a lot of instruments. Phanie has maybe helped on two songs, where Phanie's kind of wrote the riff, ideas for vocals, and lyrics, but the majority is Nina. They're her songs.

EPMS: What are your favorite clubs, or the clubs you play the most in San Antonio and Austin?

Jenn: As for San Antonio, there's a couple. There's The Sanctuary, we've played there a lot. Let me see, I guess Sam's Burger Joint. The one we'll be playing real soon. Good vibes, that's what matters. Good sound, of course, and PA, and kind of the way things are organized, and the venue. People can stand without having to be crowded. Those are our two favorites in San Antonio. As for Austin, we've played, of course, on Sixth Street. We've done Emo's, we've done Stubbs. One of the little places we've liked a lot was called Trophy's; that's on Congress. But, as for the main ones, I think, Stubbs has really good vibes, like, that was a great show.

EPMS: Some people tell me, when they go on the road, they can't bring monitors. In El Paso, people really don't use those in-ear monitors. What do y'all do about monitors on the road?

Jenn: When we book a show, the first thing is to ask for the show, and then we go from there. As soon as they say, "Yes, we have room on the bill for you," we kind of talk about a guarantee, and if not, that's OK, because we're not well-known yet, and well, that's another question, "What do you have for PA, and they'll let us know, "We have this and that," but we don't bring our own monitors. We just kind of rough it on the road, like, whatever they got. We practice a lot, so we try not to complain too much. We try to keep it simple, we kind of just wing it. We know each other well enough to do what we have to.

EPMS: So, how often do you run into gigs with no monitors?

Jenn: I would say, maybe about thirty per cent of the tour. We try to study up on, like, Myspace, see what's popular. A lot of the local bands, where they're playing at, and usually, it's kind of just like here, in San Antonio. In El Paso we play the T Lounge. We just kind of study what the popular places are, and, most likely, they do have everything, Again, we're playing in Salt Lake City, at Sugar Beets, and I think, all they have is just that vocal mike, and they don't mic up anything else. It's pretty much up to us to equalize ourselves. It's usually not really a big deal. We've played so many shows, that you kind of adjust it to everything,

EPMS: Wow. That kind of surprises me, that a person could sing on key very well without monitors.

Jenn: Yeah, she's just really good. I would say, like if I wasn't in this band, and I heard those two, you know, not being friends with them, I would definitely be a fan. I really love the singer's voice. It's not a kind of girl voice; there's some girl vocalists that I listen to, and I can only listen to for so long. They can't do it again and again. Sometimes you just get sick of it, just like any kind of group, actually, male or female, but with Nina, I really enjoy her voice, and I think a lot of people do.

EPMS: What has the sponsorship by Gibson Guitars done for you?

Jenn: Well, a while back, they had seen us before we went on the road, and there was a representative, and he said, "Well, let's see what we can do," before we went on our big tour, maybe like three weeks before he goes, "Why don't you go to the web site and pick out a bass and a guitar," and we did, and the day before we left, we had a show at The Sanctuary, and the guy was there, just like he said. He had the guitars that we picked out. They gave us a couple guitars. It was really awesome.

EPMS: That sounds nice, LOL. Have you had any unusual difficulties that you've had to overcome?

Jenn: There's always a whole bunch, but when you love to play, you love to tour, you just kind of look at those and laugh about it, but difficulties might be, maybe with a booker outside of town. They give you a hard time about pay, whatever, there's always people like that out there. Driving is difficult. So, fog, I think; one of the things I hate the most is fog, during the early morning. It's kind of that stuff, maybe finding parking spaces in different towns. We've had that fear, like before. We'd never even toured, it'd be crazy driving through LA or New York. Both of those we've already done, and it's really not that bad. Like, Phanie and I take turns driving. I think, that would be one of the big difficulties once you do it, and you start to miss touring because you're back at home. I would drive through fog, just to get back on the road.

EPMS: Well, thanks a lot, that's a lot of neat stuff there.

Jenn: Cool, well, thank you. Hopefully we'll be seeing you soon. Thank you so much.

EPMS: Thanks a lot.

Jenn: Talk to you again. Bye-bye.