Interview: Jenn Alva of Girl in a Coma
From time to time, we here at Lesbiatopia are fortunate enough to be able to speak with some really amazing gay women about what they do and how their sexuality factors into that. Blackheart recording artists Girl in a Coma, an all-girl trio, allowed our own Sinnerviewer, to sit down and speak with bass player Jenn Alva about their new record, touring, being a lesbian and even about her encounter with Kate Moennig (Shane from "The L Word").
Shannon: Tell me about your new CD, Trio B.C., and also what your favorite tracks are and why.
Jenn: Trio B.C. is our new album and the name comes from (band mates) Nina and Phanie’s (pronounced FAWN-ee) grandfather. They found some old photos of him and he was in this band called Trio B.C. so that’s where the name came from. As for the favorites on the album, I mean, I think I like them all, honestly.
Shannon: Come on… what’s your favorite?
Jenn: I think my favorite ones to play are “Static Mind” and “Trail” for sure.
Shannon: Because it’s a musical challenge?
Jenn: Well, “Static Mind”, yeah. The bass line’s kind of everywhere. “In the Day” is like that, too. “Trail” is like a very flowy bass and there’s this power part and playing it live on stage is just great. Even though it’s probably the one song that I need work on, we still play it and it will get better. This is the beginning of the tour so…
Shannon: Yeah, you guys just got started, right?
Shannon: You all were hand-picked by Joan Jett to be on her Blackheart Records label. How does it feel to have the respect of the greatest female musician in the history of the entire planet?
Jenn: (laughs) It’s like one of those things that you can’t really grasp. Even if you tried to. You always think that you know how you’re going to react if something like that happens but when it happens, your brain just goes blank and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, we’ve got to do better. We wanna make her proud. We wanna make the label proud. We gotta go!” It’s very fast-paced.
Recently, we played with Joan there in Houston and she wasn’t feeling well. She had a little tummy ache or something. We went on to play and she was watching us from the side of the stage. When we finished, she was like, “You know, I wasn’t feeling very good but now I am. I’m ready to play. You guys gave me that jolt that I needed.”
I know exactly what she was talking about because whenever we play with other bands that go on before us, I watch them and I go, “Oh I want to play now! I can’t wait to play!” So when she does things like that, it’s incredible.
One time, at the Knitting Factory, in L.A., she was there. She had seen us at the beginning of the tour and this was near the end. We had definitely improved since the last time she had seen us. We got off stage and she was there crying. She was like, “Oh, you know how I get emotional, girls. You girls really made me proud.” When things like that happen with her, everything really slows down in my head and I’m like, “Oh my God. That’s Joan Jett. And she’s really proud of us!”
Shannon: She really has a way of making the room feel in awe. I remember the first time I met her – her manager, Kenny Laguna, saw me waiting outside of a bar door hoping for an autograph. He smuggled me in and let me watch her do sound check because he knew there was no way I was getting in the bar to watch the show later that night. It was the greatest thrill of my life. After she finished, he called her over to my table and I thought I would vomit. She sat in a booth with me! My mind just went blank… I actually told her that she was my biggest fan.
Shannon: Here was my idol whom I knew every fact of her life from birth until the day before. She asked me what my favorite song of hers was and I just froze! I couldn’t even think of “I Love Rock-n-Roll” – I barely managed to say a word. But she was so gracious and cool. She and Kenny were then, and the few times I have met them since, literally the most kind and gracious people I have ever encountered. I don’t even know them but I want to make them proud so I can’t even imagine how you must feel.
Jenn: The same thing happened to me when I met Gary Day, the old bass player for Morrissey. I met him and I was like, “Uhhhh, I play bass, too.” (laughs) That was all I said and I just went blank and walked away. I felt so stupid.
Shannon: Speaking of Morrissey, he was yet another big name who hand picked you to finish his tour with him. There seems to be a trend here that some very big players in the music business really respect your music. It must be a great feeling to be so early into your music career and you’ve already gotten attention from the likes of Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper and Morrissey.
Jenn: It’s amazing! Each one of these people is our role model. Phanie and I have been best friends since we were kiddos and even back then, we would listen to all of this music. It’s incredible and totally blows our minds.
The Morrissey thing came at the perfect time. We always wanted to meet him but then we thought, “No, we don’t want to meet him because what if he’s a jerk? It would ruin everything that we had based our whole lives around.
Shannon: Yes, that was my fear with Joan Jett. If she would’ve been mean when I met her, it would have crushed my spirit into dust.
Jenn: Right! And you never know… people have bad days. Sometimes, they have big heads. You just don’t know how they are going to be when you meet them.
Shannon: But you didn’t have that experience with him?
Jenn: No! Not at all. We got asked at the last minute to do the final leg of his tour. We literally dropped everything that we were doing. We were so lucky that it was Morrissey first because it was like touring boot camp. With Morrissey, we knew already how he was. We heard all of these rumors, we knew all the stories. We stayed in our dressing room until it was time to play. We just really wanted to do a good job. I think it paid off because he would come to our dressing room to visit us and talk to us. But we would never bug him. We totally stayed out of his way. We also made great friends with his staff.
When we got the tour with Tegan & Sara, we did the same thing except that they wouldn’t have it. Not to say that Morrissey is not down to earth or anything, but Tegan & Sara definitely are. They were like, “What are you doing? Come out of your dressing room and hang out whenever you want.” They were very, very cool girls but I’m so glad we started out like that with Morrissey – so that we know not to run around all over the place yelling, “Yeah! PARTY!”.
Shannon: I guess different artists like to run things differently and all have different expectations. It’s so nice that you girls are trying to be sensitive to the expectations of the headliners that you end up touring with.
Jenn: It’s because we appreciate (being able to tour with them) so much. They’re sharing their fan base with us.
Shannon: I caught your show that you did with Tegan & Sara here in Atlanta last year. It seemed to me that you had a very similar fan base. I don’t know if it was that you both have a large lesbian following or that your music is compatible – I’m not really sure but it seemed that the people at the show were into all of it.
Jenn: That tour worked out so well for us. Not just making great friends with Tegan & Sara but also connecting with their fans. They have awesome fans!
Shannon: Girl in a Coma does a lot of touring. What are Jenn Alva’s tips for surviving the road?
Jenn: There’s a lot! It all starts off with making sure you get a good tour booked. A good route! You don’t want to drive more than about 7 hours. It will wear you out!
Packing right. Having enough merchandise. Being organized. I think a lot of bands, when they go on tour, they thinks it’s all only fun. But it’s a business, too.
Motel 6 is great. We don’t like to waste money on anything that’s more than around $60. We’re lucky that there are only 4 of us on the road right now so it makes it easy to have 2 to a room.
Another tip is food. We’re all vegetarians so what we tend to do is go to the grocery store and buy peanut butter and jelly, which we don’t have to refrigerate, and a loaf of bread. We buy lots of soups that we can keep under the seats so that when we are hungry, we stop at a gas station and warm it up.
Lastly, being professional and calling these venues in advance. We let them know that we are on our way and get in our load-in times. When we play, we do a good show.
Shannon: What about getting along with your band mates? Tips?
Jenn: The girls and I have the advantage of being like sisters from growing up together. We never get mad at each other for more than, like, 2 minutes and then, we’ll be laughing the next minute.
Shannon: I read about your being assaulted by the off-duty cop and I know that you can’t really talk about that due to pending litigation but it made me wonder what other interesting stories from the road you might have. Care to share?
Jenn: Every night is usually really interesting. We had an intense drive through a blizzard in Kansas. I told Phanie, “We gotta cancel, dude.” But she hates to cancel so we kept going. When we got to the freeway, the were closing it down and she was like, “Look on the map and see if there’s an alternate route.” And I go, “Dude, they’re closing the freeway for a reason.”
Shannon: Like the alternate routes will be clearer than the freeway?
Jenn: Yeah, right. So we drove and drove and it was okay for a little while but then, BOOM, the blizzard came and we had to drive like 5 miles per hour. Just before we got to a motel, this SUV came out of the fog just spinning around and around and it hit our rental van. It was pretty crazy.
As for wild times, we had a good time with our touring band, Miss Derringer. They’ve been like the first band that we’ve toured with where we’ve fallen in love with each other. We had a day off recently and went to New Orleans. We all went to Bourbon Street and just spent the time bonding. That was fun.
Shannon: I bet it’s kind of nice sometimes to be around people other than the people that you’re used to traveling with.
Jenn: Yes, definitely! It’s kind of like dating somebody. You learn something from everybody that you date. Being in a band is like a marriage, you know? So when we get to stray off with another band for conversation, its great!
Shannon: My daughter wanted me to ask you this: what would you be doing if you weren’t in the band?
Jenn: I would try to do something in art.
Shannon: I read that you were into painting….
Jenn: Yeah. I think if I would have pressed on and stuck with it more, I would have been at a whole other level by now. Ever since we got in this band, it’s totally taken over our lives. Everything is band, band, band. If I did have a chance to paint, it would be with acrylics and I think I would paint icons. I painted Bjork, Elvis Presley, Morrissey. I’ve done portraits of friends, but it’s not anything great. I definitely enjoy it and hope to do something later on. Right now, we are giving the band 100% of our attention and focus. It’ll go down sometime. Nina wants to go to school, I mean, we all want to do our own thing at some point.
Shannon: Social networking sites. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace. Are they a helpful way for you to connect with your fans or do you find them to be a pain in the ass to keep up with?
Jenn: I think Twitter is awesome. I don’t do it. Phanie does all of it. My job is to make some video blogs. I enjoy filming and editing. All of those ways to connect with fans are a help. Especially nowadays. You are really obliged to do it because of the age we live in. You have to keep up with the times and we appreciate having those tools. Girl in a Coma loves using those sites to connect with our fans.
Shannon: Some bands like U2 use their fame to promote social causes. Is there anything that Girl in a Coma is collectively passionate about or do you girls mostly just stick with music?
Jenn: I think we need to educate ourselves more. We are, and have been for years, vegetarians. We are very passionate about that. We’re going to have a lot to talk about soon when this court case is over with (the off duty officer assault). We’ve become a lot more political and more involved than we were since we’ve had more experiences. Phanie and I are lesbians. When we were promoting “Both Before I’m Gone” (1st album), we were doing a lot of gay magazine interviews. I sort of felt like I wanted to focus more on the music. Not the fact that we were girls, Latinas, lesbians… not any of that. This time around, we’re sort of realizing that this is our community and we have a lot to say, actually. For example, I think that kids in school should be educated about gays because “homosexuality” is such an ugly word still and it shouldn’t be.
Shannon: Yeah, there was a little 11 year old boy here in Atlanta that hung himself a few months ago because his classmates were calling him “gay”. There is really something wrong in the world when a kid would rather kill himself than be called “gay”. He was just a baby.
Jenn: Yeah, a baby! It just doesn’t make any sense and I don’t understand why so many people don’t understand that. Gay and lesbian people are paying taxes and contributing members of society and wanting committed relationships. Why are they not being treated equally? It’s the year 2009. It’s just ridiculous to even say this out loud.
Shannon: Yes, basic civil rights that everyone should have.
Jenn: The U.S. is far behind other countries. Those other places, it’s not a big deal at all.
Shannon: Well, the younger people have a better mindset. A lot of them are starting to say, “Who cares?” so change is coming.
Jenn: I hope so. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, of course.
Shannon: We have 6 states now and most of them happened this year.
Jenn: That is true!
Shannon: Would you like to share anything about your coming out experience?
Jenn: Yes, I could share about that. A lot of people want to know how it was for me coming from a Mexican culture family. Was it even more difficult? The answer is no because most Mexican families have a passion to be close to their families no matter what. When I came out to my family, it wasn’t a big deal.
Shannon: How old were you?
Jenn: I was 19. This is how it happened – I had a dream when I was 18. I was talking to my grandmother who had passed away when I was 16 and I just adored her. In my dream, she said, “I think you should tell your mom. She’s going to love you anyway.” So then I decided that I would tell her on my birthday. My birthday came around and I didn’t do it. But 2 days later, I was moping around the house and I was lying beside my mom. She already knew – sometimes parents just know. She was like, “Do you have something to tell me?” and I was like, “Yeah, I do”. And to soften the blow, I said I was Bi even though I knew that I wasn’t. She said, “Okay, well I’m going to love you anyway.”
She treated me a little bit weird for a while, but in a funny way. Like she would say, “Oh, change the channel. I don’t like this Ellen!”. Then, my first girlfriend came around and she was a sweetheart. My mom fell in love with her and became a lot more comfortable with it. Now, all she does is watch Ellen. Every day at 4 o'clock.
Shannon: (laughs) Ellen is a good representative.
Shannon: You were friends with Phanie in high school…
Jenn: Yeah, but she didn’t come out until a couple of years ago. It was funny.
Shannon: So it didn’t affect your friendship because you had come out so much earlier than she did but she never told you until recently?
Jenn: No. I told her when I was about 16. I was lying on the floor and she was on her bed and I was like, “Dude, I have something to tell you. I think I like girls. I like our friend Rosalie a lot.” She was quiet for a long time. She didn’t say anything. I was like, “Are we now not going to be friends or what?” and she was like, “No, no, no! It’s just Wow. Okay.”
Phanie didn’t ever seem to like anybody. She said she was asexual for a while. When she finally came out, it weirded me out. Even being a lesbian, it still weirded me out because I’ve known her for so long. And I’m not saying it wasn’t obvious, I’m just sayin’ that she has been such a weird person anyway. So when she did, I was cool with it.
Then, recently, problems started coming as a result. Not bad, but funny problems. Fighting over girls. That’s all. I’m glad that she came out and she’s happy. But I’m still like, “Stay away from the girls that I see”.
Shannon: Are you both attracted to the same types of girls?
Jenn: Very much so! You’ll see both of our heads turn when a certain type of woman walks by.
Shannon: Which is?
Jenn: It’s a Mexican girl or of Latin descent. Big eyes, long hair. But I love girls. All kinds of girls!
Shannon: Like Carmen from “The L Word”?
Jenn: Oh, definitely! She’s hot. I don’t like “The L Word” that much, though.
Shannon: Those writers frustrated the shit out of me. They made what could have been a really amazing show into a sort of joke that we were all willing to put up with because it was the only thing on TV that had lesbians.
Jenn: I met the girl that played Shane, I don’t know her real name and I hardly care.
Shannon: Kate Moennig?
Jenn: Yeah. I never liked her character anyway. My friends adored her but I never saw what they saw. One night, we were at a club doing a Tegan & Sara after party and she was there. Phanie said to me, “Go tell her something.” And I said, “Okay. I will.”
I walked over to her and I said, “Hi!” and she was like, “Hey.” She sounded like she was in a bad mood and I have no idea what her problem was but I said, “I have an idea for your show” but before I could finish she snapped, “The show is OVER!” and I was like, “Whatever.” And I walked away but I was going to tell her “How about my band comes on the show and then you and I get in a fight and I’ll beat the shit out of you.”
Jenn: Just to be silly, you know? Joke around with her. But she stopped it before I could really say anything.
Shannon: Like you said earlier, sometimes people have bad nights. Maybe that was one of hers. She missed a good one, though.
Shannon: What’s your favorite thing about the gay community?
Jenn: It’s nice to be around people who have similarities with yourself. I love my gay guys. I love talking to them because they make me feel more feminine. Just having that connection to someone else right away that makes you a family. Every once in a while, you get a bad one. But I don’t think that we should be fighting with each other. We’re really all in the same boat and we need to take care of each other.
We really need to stick together and not be negative towards each other because it really doesn’t get you anywhere. Just understanding that everybody has different views and opinions helps. If we can just respect one another, homosexual, straight… whatever, if we can just get to that point, then that’s good enough, I think.
Shannon: Last question (and I ask everyone I interview this question). Girl crushes – we all have them…
Jenn: Yes, I have sooo many.
Shannon: Well, besides me, who?
Jenn: Okay, well, besides you, let me see… Eva Longoria. I love her. Jessica Alba, I used to but not so much anymore. Who else? Besides Eva? I saw her on TV the other day and I was like, “There she is!” Let me see, Megan Fox. Oh! There is an actress that is staring in a new Ethan Hawke movie called “The Hottest State”. I think her name is Catalina Sandino. I am in love with this girl! Oh my God. She’s got an accent. She is sooo beautiful.
Shannon: Thank you so much, Jenn! I hope your tour goes well and I hope people flock to the shows and but your new CD, Trio B.C.