Nina Diaz was 16 and in high school when her older, drum-playing sister Phanie and family friend Jenn Alva (on bass) asked her to front their band, Girl in a Coma. “I hear songs of me singing back then and I sound like a chipmunk,” says the vocalist-guitarist, who on the trio’s new fourth album “Exits & All the Rest” has matured into a Gothic-blues diva who insinuates herself into every dirty groove of “Cemetery Baby,” “One Eyed Fool” and the vintage-Cure-ish “Smart.” As a lyricist, Diaz isn’t afraid to get political, as in “Hope,” describing the Mexican-American group’s experience playing an Arizona benefit concert to support the boycott of the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070.
What did you see in Arizona that inspired “Hope”? The promoter there took us to this jail where (arrested immigrants) were being held for questioning because they were going to send them back (to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious Tent City). We saw the prisoners roaming the courtyard, wearing these pink jail uniforms, like in an internment camp. They were playing Christmas music, but it was the same song, over and over, until it was really annoying. It was really emotional for us to see that.
They just ousted the architect of SB 1070 in a recall vote. But have you ever been racially profiled? One time we were driving through Alabama and they pulled us over. It was late at night, and we were tired but totally sober, and they said “Oh, we just wanted to see what you had in the back of your van.” They probably thought “What are these Mexicans doing here? They must be smuggling something!”
How has your Hispanic heritage shaped you? It’s something that’s just ingrained in us — we’re naturally very warm people. Mexican-background families have their barbecues, their big family get-togethers, and they’re all about taking care of each other. That’s how we feel when we go out on tour. We take care of ourselves, and we’re very warm and inviting to our fans and to other musicians that we meet. So there’s just a lot of positivity that’s inside of us. And a, umm, spicy attitude inside of us, too, if you mess with us the wrong way.
You’re 23 now. But was your mom worried when you hit the road so young? Of course! She was like, “Oh no! I’ll say 10 rosaries for you!” She was scared, and she still is scared every time we go out. She’s a mom. And I’m always her baby girl.
IF YOU GO
Girl in a Coma
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $13 to $15
Contact: (415) 771-1421; www.ticketfly.com