It was the first time she had been on a plane. Nina Diaz made the decision to not return to high school and boarded a flight headed to England. Boz Boorer, Morrissey’s music director, flew a young Diaz and her band overseas to record an EP in 2005 that would eventually lead to a recording contract and opening slots on the biggest show bills in rock n’ roll.
We see it happen in professional sports and in the tech world, when athletes and young computer geniuses forgo their education for a paid position in the public and private sectors. Dropping out of high school for a career in the music industry may sound like a parent’s worst nightmare, but Diaz’s family stood by her decision, recognizing not only her talents but the unique opportunity before her.
In other professions, a definable, measurable path exists with degree plans, internships and relevant experiences that can be compiled into a handsome resume. Musicians aren’t so lucky, and few are capable of weathering the risks involved. Recently, Diaz embarked on a solo mission armed with new material, a backing band, and a long list of achievements few musicians in San Antonio have seen.
Diaz’s last performance of her month-long residency at the The Belmont in Austin Wednesday night and has been moved to the outdoor stage. Tickets are still available. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and show starts at 8:30 p.m.
She picked up a guitar at the age of 12 and performed her first show a week before turning 14. To say Diaz hit the ground running is an understatement. After recording in England with Morrissey’s people, Girl in a Coma focused on building a loyal fan base here in San Antonio. The three young women, including Diaz, her sister Stephanie and Jennifer Alva, worked the local and regional front playing shows around central Texas while their manager was able to secure opportunities for national exposure. A pilot for SiTV in New York City was to feature undiscovered Latina bands.
“After our performance, I expected Joan Jett just to say, ‘Hey nice job, thanks for everything.’ But instead it was, “So, you want to record an album?’” Diaz said with a spot-on impersonation of Joan Jett.
As a musician myself, I struggle with the identity of my Hispanic heritage in my music. I feel like I’m not exactly considered a “Latino artist” because my music has no cultural sound cues or Spanish language. Diaz, on the other hand, said she doesn’t feel excluded from the ‘Latina club.’
“I feel very much embraced by the community as a Latina artist.” Growing up in San Antonio forged a strong Latina identity into the band that they embraced and carried with them.
Girl in a Coma went on to record four albums with Jett’s Blackheart Records and have since completed a laundry list of successes. The names of producers, collaborators, and celebrities Girl In A Coma has worked with over the years reads like a list of award show presenters. Fun fact: Girl in A Coma once performed at a music festival in Poland with a crowd of more than 300,000 people.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, and self doubt was no stranger. Diaz remembers being on the road far from home as she struggled with drugs and alcohol.
Self-doubt can be a powerful obstacle for a young person. Child stars often find it difficult to lead a normal life after the stage, and while Diaz may not be an A-list celebrity, she finds herself in the middle of an existential juggling act.
Ultimately that’s what this solo record is about, she said. A journey of the self, an exploration of who Diaz is, alone. The Girl In A Coma project isn’t going away; in fact, Diaz is counting on this chapter in her life to strengthen the band.
“I’d like to go back to school and study psychology,” Diaz said of the future. “Because that’s what a lot of music is about, it’s about people and interpersonal relationships and how we feel and interact with the world.”
We have seen Diaz grow as an individual on stage and now as a young adult exploring different religions and philosophies, she’s begun logging this latest journey and expressing her experiences in the only way she could, through music.
She sat down with a guitar and Garage Band music production software, and drew from her past and even reworked material that didn’t make it into GIAC’s albums. Diaz writes GIAC’s lyrics, but each member writes their own musical parts.
The process of creation without collaborative pressures was a much welcomed change of pace for Diaz. It may seem counterintuitive to spend a lot of time and creative energy on a “side” project, but it can be a healthy exercise.
Diaz was able to approach the writing and recording process in a more personalized manner. She didn’t offer much details for what to expect in the recordings, except that “the music is different from Girl in a Coma but … I can’t escape my voice.”
*Featured/top image: Travis Vela (guitar), Justin Carney (bass), Jaime Ramirez (keys), Jorge Gonzalez (drums) and Nina Diaz (vocals, guitar). Courtesy photo by Daniela Riojas/ZaaZaa Productions.