If there’s a recurring theme that seems to sum up the events of the past few years for Girl In A Coma, including the trio’s latest album, Exits & And All The Rest, it boils down to one word — growth.
Some of the events that have produced the growth have been anything but easy, but bassist Jenn Alva makes it clear that her band is in a better place now because of the experiences.
One incident that tested the band occurred in March 2009 at a Houston nightclub called Chances. Singer/guitarist Nina Diaz got into an argument with an ex-boyfriend. Alva, hurrying to check on things after being summoned by the group’s drummer, Phanie Diaz (Nina’s older sister), slipped on some beer on the floor, fell and, in a fit of anger, ended up scuffling with a man who happened to be a police officer.
Nina had words with another officer and the two bandmates ended up facing third degree felony charges and spending a night in jail. The charges were eventually dropped.
Reflecting on the incident now, Alva sees it as an unfortunate experience that could have some long-term benefits for Girl In A Coma.
“It’s one of those things now looking back, where if it didn’t happen, there could have been something even worse to come,” Alva says. “I don’t want to say I’m glad it happened, but kind of, because then we learn. It’s just a learning lesson overall. We’ve never been disrespectful girls. It was just a weird situation and weird timing. You know, we’re not like anti-police or anything like that. It was just bad timing — wrong place at the wrong time.”
The Houston incident also became a wake-up call that helped bring about some significant lifestyle changes as well as a new perspective on the band and its future. Both Alva and Nina Diaz quit drinking after realizing their partying had gotten out of hand.
“You know, you’re just on that boat, this Rock & Roll boat that’s taking you to this cliché (lifestyle) like parties, playing music, doing drugs, whatever it is,” Alva says. “And not every musician has to do that. We kind of had this realization that it’s a lot bigger than we even know sometimes when it comes to inspiring other females or anybody, really
“Do I want to be perceived as this cliché, another Rock & Roll girl or whatever, or do I want to do something different? Not to sound too ‘goody two shoes’ — really, I spent my whole 20s partying and drinking. It was fun, but toward the end it kind of gets, like, ‘What am I doing?’ It’s ridiculous.”
Another event that made for difficult times but brought some new perspective to the group was the death of Alva’s mother in March 2011.
“It was kind of tough,” Alva said. “I was writing and recording during all of this craziness. That’s why we named the album Exits & All The Rest, because there are bigger exits. There are things that are more important in life and sometimes we focus on too many little things or stress about too many little things. It shouldn’t be that way.”
The bottom line is that Girl In A Coma has re-emerged with a tighter bond and a new attitude about its music and career.
“We’re kind of to the point where we love to play music so much, let’s take it seriously,” Alva says. “It’s not like we didn’t take it seriously two years ago, but I mean even more so, with (more) focus. We we know this is what we want to do so we want to get better at it.”
The musical improvement is readily apparent on Exits & All The Rest. That’s not to disparage the San Antonio band’s previous efforts. The group’s 2007 debut, Both Before I’m Gone, was a promising start, a bit rough around the edges, but highlighted by several catchy, Punk-inspired rockers. The 2009 follow-up, Trio B.C., lived up to the promise of the debut. It was a more diverse and ambitious effort that still had some punkish gems, but also brought in new influences ranging from Rockabilly to shimmering Pop and even touches of R&B.
Exits surpasses both previous releases. Some of the more Punk-edged elements are not as pronounced, as the band’s sound shifts towards slightly less frenetic but still assertive first-rate songs like the shimmering “Smart,” the slightly sad-toned rocker “Cemetery Baby” and the riff-happy “Hope.”
But there’s also more complexity to several songs, as well as a few songs that offer striking twists. Opening cut “Adjust” explodes out of relaxed and Jazz-tinged verses, with Nina Diaz urgently barking out the song’s title, followed by a fat hooky guitar riff that brings the song to recurrent crescendos. “One Eyed Fool” uses a snappy two-note sequence of guitar (given an edgy bit of echo) to propel the song into the galloping rocker that takes things up a notch.
“All of these songs go together,” Alva says of the group’s newfound cohesion and confidence on Exits. “It’s a lot more flowing and … we didn’t plan it; it just kind of happened.”
Nina, who has always been the group’s main songwriter and who has developed into a superior singer, gets her first production credit on Exits, sharing duties with Mike McCarthy. But Alva said in important respects, Nina was actually the driving force behind producing the new album.
For Nina to take a lead role in creative decisions in the studio, however, isn’t anything new, according to Alva.
“She’s always been that way, even when it comes to us in the beginning stages of writing, whether she has suggestions for arrangements or harmonies for live performance,” Alva says. “She’s really good. But I think what helped was working with our second (album’s) producer, Greg Collins, because he really pushed her. I think she just felt so much inspiration working with him that she’s inspired (to produce). She wants to work with other bands. This is something she definitely wants to do.”
Touring in support of Exits, Alva says the band is letting the songs and performances speak for themselves.
“There are no gimmicks when we play,” she says. “There’s no super fancy lighting or any kind of costumes or anything. We just play and play our hearts out and I think that’s what our fans like to see.”
GIRL IN A COMA opens for Alkaline Trio this Tuesday at Newport’s Thompson House. The show is sold out.