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San Antonio's Nina Diaz looks ahead, even as she helped reimagine a 1979 Elvis Costello LP 

click to enlarge Nina Diaz kicks off the Spanish-language reimagining of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model with her version of "No Action." - COURTESY OF NINA DIAZ
  • Courtesy of Nina Diaz
  • Nina Diaz kicks off the Spanish-language reimagining of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model with her version of "No Action."
A Spanish language reimagining of Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model titled Spanish Model will feature Nina Diaz, former frontwoman of San Antonio’s Girl in a Coma, kicking the entire album off by singing “No Action.”

The honor of being in the pole position on a tribute Costello’s seminal 1978 album by a lineup of Latin music stalwarts was particularly impressive for one of Diaz’s biggest fans. Especially after it landed a writeup in Rolling Stone.

“My mom was so proud,” Diaz said in a recent Zoom interview. “She showed all her friends.”

Diaz’s mom wasn’t the only one who thought she was perfect for the spot. That opinion was shared by Sebastian Krys, the collection’s producer, who’s worked with plenty of heavy hitters in the Latin music community.

Diaz came to Krys’ attention after he attended one of her shows during the Los Angeles sojourn she undertook a couple of years ago. He tracked Diaz down and pitched the project. For the singer, participating was a no-brainer.

“I’ll sing in any language for Elvis Costello,” she said.

Diaz is no stranger to recording covers, having spent a chunk of quarantine time exploring her favorite tunes and turning them into a series of online releases. But Costello was a different story.

“I never really dove into Elvis Costello’s music before,” she revealed. “The universe was like, ‘Bam! It’s time for Elvis Costello.’”

In addition to doing a lot of listening, she watched YouTube videos of Costello talking about This Year’s Model and what it meant to him. The research helped her inhabit the song, she said.

In control now

While Diaz dug into the past to prepare for Spanish Model, she’s used to looking forward when it comes to her own career. Right now, she’s putting together upgrades on her home studio and aspires to produce other artists or work as an outside songwriter.

“You have to know your way around — the chords and whatever — if they’re like, ‘Hey, write a song like this,’” she said.

While Girl in a Coma — a collaboration with her sister Phanie and Jenn Alva — was her launchpad into the music business, she said she’s now happy to be in control of her own artistic destiny.

“While I was in Girl in a Coma, I was going with the flow,” she said. “Now, I’m in a transition to being an independent artist. I’m not on a label, I’m doing my Patreon, I’m self-managing.”

Getting out of her own way

Diaz’s recent creative output is about more than covers, though. She’s working on a new album that will reflect her personal growth via eight years of sobriety and additional time spent in therapy.

“I want to experience things so I can explain them and write about it,” she said. “I was a functioning addict, but during that whole time, I was still able to create. You put a drug or alcohol on a pedestal, but what it does for us is help us relax, get out of our own head. As a sober person, you have to get out of your own way and you’re able to create again.”

Elephant in the room

At the time she released her 2016 solo album, The Beat Is Dead, “a lot of people were still hanging onto Girl in a Coma,” she said.

“And for me it was like, ‘Catch up. I’m going to this other world,’” she said. “When you put pressure on yourself, you’re not focusing on the now, which is just doing what comes natural to you in writing. Focusing on mental health helps me as a writer. It’s what my next album is about.”

Like most artists who go solo, an elephant lingers in the room: whether Diaz would consider reuniting with her former bandmates, themselves busy with the all-female punk quartet FEA.

“At the time my solo album was coming out, I didn’t do many interviews because I knew it would be heated. I don’t communicate with [Phanie and Jenn] as of now. I would never say anything that drags people under the bus. I was hurting myself when I was using, because I felt stuck in a lot of ways.”

In retrospect, Diaz added, it might have been better for her mental health if Girl in a Coma had ended sooner.

“When they started FEA, I was really happy for them. They’re great musicians. Phanie is a badass rock drummer. But our time just ended,” Diaz said. “It’s not time for us to connect again. I don’t see Girl in a Coma playing again. Phanie and I would have to connect in a sister relationship first, but I don’t want to force anything.”

Spanish Model will be released September 10.

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