Girl in a Coma's Nina Diaz Debuts Solo

Screaming without a sound

Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

By 2012, Nina Diaz had bottomed out. The singer's addiction to alcohol turned into a dependence on cocaine and eventually methamphetamine.

"I turned from using it every weekend to every other day to every day," she admits. "I was malnourished and I lost a lot of weight."

Frontwoman for San Antonio punk trio Girl in a Coma – famously named after Smiths song "Girlfriend in a Coma" – Diaz sacrificed all for rock & roll. Unlike most of her teenage peers, she had become a circuit bar veteran while still in high school, a regular on the inebriated crawl of St. Mary's Street. Hangouts triangulated between that strip's dingy, now defunct venue the White Rabbit and the faux-posh Limelight, to north side rock digs Jack's Patio Bar and eventually downtown to the luxurious Aztec Theatre.

Looking to Kurt Cobain as her North Star, she dropped out of school.

"I didn't have a normal teenage life," she remembers. "My mom would try to exert some control over me while I was in the band, but I was like, 'What are you going to do?' I was a little shit back then."

Diaz, 28, grew up in a Spanish-fluent home closely tied to the Hispanic roots of her native San Antonio, although her mom's quick to tease her about a certain "white girl accent." Sunday barbecues with Selena blaring on the radio soundtracked her youth, but punk rock gave her a voice that morphed into haunting, wild-eyed yowls prompted by a bible of Ramones, Against Me, and Nirvana. In 2001, Girl in a Coma consolidated when older-by-eight-years sister Phanie Diaz and her sibling's friend Jenn Alva asked Nina to become the singer. The new frontwoman's first show happened a week before her 14th birthday.

“If you’re a functioning addict, it’s grueling when you’re able to do drugs, create music, and tour simultaneously,” says Diaz.

The triumvirate's debut recording gestated until 2005 EP Gira o Morir. The following year they signed to Joan Jett's label Blackheart Records. Three acclaimed full-lengths – Both Before I'm Gone, Trio B.C., and Exits & All the Rest – followed alongside a tribute LP (Adventures in Coverland) between 2007 and 2011. Girl in a Coma opened for Social Distortion, Morrissey, Tegan & Sara.

"If you're a functioning addict, it's grueling when you're able to do drugs, create music, and tour simultaneously," says Diaz. "You think nobody notices, 'Oh nobody can tell if I'm high right now,' but in thinking back, I was shaky and my eyes were all messed up. When you're high, you're usually, 'I'm invincible, nobody knows.'"

The death of Alva's mother in 2011 and Diaz's intensifying drug use revealed kinks in the hard-polished GIAC.

"I started asking for drugs from people I really didn't trust and one nonchalantly told Phanie, which led to a shitshow," reveals Diaz. "I could have prevented it if I had the balls to say something sooner, but I was afraid, vulnerable. I longed for communication where I wasn't going to be judged or pitied amongst my family and friends."

The tipping point arrived when that same support system began pushing back, and ultimately she underwent a self-induced detox at home. Withdrawals left her dizzy, shaky, yet after staying clean for a week, an unexpected sense of normalcy – one without a heavy-lidded haze clouding her – returned. Amidst this fragile clarity, The Beat Is Dead signaled an abrupt change in career trajectory.

"It's been so therapeutic," acknowledges Diaz. "I used to be embarrassed talking about [addiction]. I would cringe reading back on interviews. But [the album] has given me confidence to confront my other troubles in life."

Girl in a Coma isn't over ("I look forward to strapping on that guitar again – I miss my girls"), but the deal with Blackheart Records is. A small indie imprint from Los Angeles, Cosmica Records releases The Beat Is Dead this week. While Diaz's roaring register remains, the 13-track effort pulses an expansive amalgam of jagged synth electro in "Screaming Without a Sound," erratic New Wave via "Queen Beats King," and eerie, intimate acoustics on "Dig" and "Star." Like leering into diary entries, the collection draws heavily on crystalline observations with a plaintive transparency.

Perhaps no one track catalyzes The Beat Is Dead like the song about her deceased grandmother, "January 9th," a jarring, rough-edged rock instrumental.

"It was a rainy night and I was so messed up I heard my grandpa playing guitar like I did when I was little," recalls Diaz. "On the demo, you can hear whispers in the beginning of the song, and I think it was my grandparents reaching out to me. Oddly enough, it was on January 9th, 15 years after my grandma passed."

A few months later, on March 25, 2013, Diaz got clean. Healing ultimately transpired through spirituality. "For You" pays tribute to Hare Krishna.

"It's about that wholeness I felt for Krishna," says Diaz, who views the song in the most intimate of terms. "It sounds sexual and is my equivalent of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah.' It's about going all the way, giving everything up."

Nina Diaz celebrates the release of The Beat Is Dead tonight, Thu., Oct. 27, at 3ten ACL Live, and Sun., Oct. 30, at Waterloo Records, 5pm.

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