Nina Diaz began performing with Girl in a Coma at the tender age of 13 alongside her older sister Phanie Diaz and friend Jenn Alva. At a time when kids her age were navigating the waters of first crushes and gym class, Diaz was playing in clubs and living the life of a working musician, temptations of the night included.
Last year she released her first solo album, The Beat is Dead, which was inspired by her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction and her eventual path to sobriety. Now the San Antonio native is embarking on a Texas tour with her band, which will hit Houston on Wednesday for an in-store at Cactus Music and a full set later that night at the Continental Club.
Starting her career at such a young age has helped shape Diaz’'s unique voice; she can range from soft and sweet to loud and rough, sometimes in the same song. “There are two different voices," explains the singer. "There’s the voice when I sing and the voice when I speak, and I’ve noticed that both of them have grown as I’ve grown as a woman, as an artist and as a performer.”
Though Diaz and GIAC were experiencing success as a band, including being signed by rock legend Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records; touring in and out of the U.S.; and being hand-picked by Morrissey to be his opener, Diaz decided she wanted to try her hand at a solo record. “It started off with me doing everything, writing all the parts and recording it with studio musicians," she says. "Then I formed my band, all San Antonio-based musicians. The birth of all of this solo stuff began with just me and my loop pedals and guitar.”
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The singer's “solo stuff” is rife with raw emotion and elements of rock, New Wave and dance-pop. Though both projects can be hard to pigeonhole, both provide fans with very different experiences. “If you see me now in my solo act, I can stand up there and I can engage completely, more so than I’ve ever done in GIAC," says Diaz. "In GIAC I had my hair in my face, and I’m rocking out with my guitar and if I see you, I see you and if I don’t, I don’t. I’m just in a zone. Here, I’m away from my guitar for half of the set and if I’m feeling a certain emotion then I really let it out right then and there.”
Diaz describes performing as her version of therapy throughout her battle for sobriety and self-assurance. “I find that performing has been the best therapy for me to just let everything out. You know how for some therapy they tell you to hit a pillow or something? Well that’s me hitting my pillow. That’s me getting it all out.”
Describing the San Antonio music scene, or Diaz’s sound, is not a one-label job. “It’s not a metal scene, and it’s not a punk-rock scene," she says. "I don’t think you can really call [the] San Antonio scene a particular sound now, because there are so many things growing out of here now which is a really good thing.”
Diaz and her bandmates have done a great job of avoiding the obvious labels associated with being in a band. It can be tempting for journalists and publicists to categorize artists, especially female Latina artists. “It’s in our minds," Diaz explains. "It’s a mentality thing, because whether we like it or not it does happen. If you find comfort in having us in your corner, then we will be in your corner.”
As a solo artist being represented by Cosmica Records, which represents mainly bilingual singer-songwriters, Diaz is frequently asked about her intentions to record a song in Spanish. "I plan to but I’m not going to hold myself to that just because that’s what’s expected," she responds. "What I expect is for me just to be myself. I’m born here in the United States, in San Antonio, I speak Tex-Mex, and my music is a mixture of all types of inspiration from the Beatles to Ritchie Valens to Selena. It’s a whole melting pot inside of me.
“When the time does come, I want to be so self assured before I belt it out," continues Diaz. "Slowly but surely I am working on it but because I think there is this fight of, what’s going on in the world, there’s so much politically going on in the world, especially towards the Latino community. I want to stand there but I also want to stand there as the person I am. As a generation that is here and doesn’t speak Spanish, which doesn’t make me any less of a Latina. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be right there next to anybody that’s fighting a good fight.”
When discussing her future plans, Diaz says she would like to continue working on solo records as well as a new GIAC album. “Me and the girls have some plans and then eventually another solo record," she offers. "I just hope to keep going back and forth and back and forth until the day I die.”
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Diaz is eager to bring her solo sound to Houston, hopefully lifting some spirits after the recent natural disasters experienced all over the world and get one step closer to erasing an old, personal Houston memory. Back in 2009 the artist and her bandmates were arrested here and later found to be not guilty.
“We got arrested and spent a day and a half in jail and unfortunately that’s one of the big memories that will always stick to me when it comes to Houston," she says. "I always try to look past it. There’s so many great friends and people there in Houston that it makes it so much better and easier when we go back but there’s always that thought, 'Remember that time we got arrested here?'”
This run through our town will be different, though, she promises. “Especially after everything that has happened there, I just want to help, anything I can do to help while I’m there," Diaz says. "That’s all that’s on my mind this time around coming to Houston. Bringing some good music, helping people get away from what they’ve just gone through, just having a good time.”
Nina Diaz and her band, and special guests Thee Commons, perform Wednesday, September 27 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. Doors open at 7 p.m.; $12.