July 4, 2012
Nina Diaz and GIAC (from The San Antonio Express News)
Nina Diaz is sending out signals via SOS - sound on sound.
The singer-songwriter and voice of San Antonio's Girl in a Coma is increasingly incorporating hypnotic, electronically created sound-on-sound effect loops into her solo shows.
She's doing it, too, in the acclaimed punk band with sister Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alva.
Technology is more efficient and easier to incorporate, Diaz says, in a unit this tight. Not a lot of drama with a pedal.
"You don't necessarily want to get another member when you're happy with whatever you got going on," she said. "It just makes me think outside the box. It's like a scientific experiment."
Encouraged by musician Alex Scheel of Pop Pistol, Diaz began experimenting with a Boss Loop Station RC-20XL about two years ago before the making of the critically lauded "Exits & All the Rest" (Blackheart Records).
The extent of her newfound prowess can really be appreciated when she's playing all alone.
At a recent solo show at Ocho patio at the Havana Hotel, Diaz showed that she's no folkie. Her sound is closer to PJ Harvey, Björk or a stripped-down Laurie Anderson.
This is no phase. She's committed. Some of it has to do with testing new material for Girl in a Coma; mostly it has nothing to do with that.
"I think it's just fun to do it," Diaz said. "Some of it is just me playing (without) anything to promote. It gives me another sense of confidence. It's almost like swimming without knowing how to swim, doing solo shows. You're completely vulnerable. It's just given me another perspective of being a performer … no safety net."
In solo mode, Diaz plays electric guitar plugged into a Fender amp. Using her foot pedal, she can repeat melodies that might be a slinky guitar line or riff. It's just as often a stacked vocal part or chanted harmony line.
"I'm much more comfortable holding my electric (guitar) and standing up than sitting down and playing with an acoustic," Diaz said.
The overall mantra effect can be lovely, delicate or downright menacing - and definitely edgy.
Musician Carly Garza, one of Diaz's closest friends, says she's fascinated by the transformation.
"I've seen these songs develop, and I've seen her skill with the loops develop as well over the past several months," Garza said via email. "Solo gigs like this showcase the fact that her writing ability is not confined to just one style, and she uses certain limitations to her advantage."
Filmmaker Jim Mendiola has directed several Girl in a Coma music videos. He characterizes Diaz's solo presentations as simply "badass."
Her sister, Phanie, says Nina's loops create new challenges. When she's on drums, she's got to "lock in" with Nina's tribal digital creations.
As the band prepares for a gig at the Korova on Friday before beginning an East Coast tour that culminates with its first headlining show at New York's Bowery Ballroom, Phanie's acknowledges she's a little loopy.
"Now, I have to train myself almost like a metronome," she says. "We're starting to look into stuff like in-ear monitors so I can hear her better because if we play a gig and I can't hear her loops, it's almost impossible. She's challenging me."
Both Phanie and bassist Jenn Alva are supportive and cool with Nina's new sounds.
"We were both really fascinated," Phanie said. "We're excited. It's fun to watch her. Jenn and I try to study her."
Nina Diaz has big plans. She wants to be an actress. She wants to write a musical. Last week she was a model for a photo shoot in Austin. She's writing lots of new songs that probably won't make it onto Girl in a Coma's next record.
"I'm totally full of myself," she said with a giggle. "But I might as well try that. Anybody that's some sort of a creator wants to put their big noses into everything. I might as well try it. What's the worst that can happen? Tomatoes?"
Her older sister thinks Nina will make a solo record and has "brought it up." Nina says she's in no hurry.
"I remember teaching her how to play guitar," Phanie said. "Now, all the stuff she does I can't even do. We're supportive of anything she wants to do. She's an artist. It just makes me proud."