Nina Diaz Is On The Other Side | KERA News

Nina Diaz Is On The Other Side

Nov 19, 2016

Nina Diaz joined the punk band Girl in a Coma when she was just 13 years old. It was her sister's band, but she quickly made a name for herself as a fierce and magnetic vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. Around that same time, she also started drinking. Then came drugs. It wasn't long before she struggled with full-on addiction to alcohol, cocaine and meth. Now Diaz is clean, and she's just released a new solo album, The Beat Is Dead. The record chronicles her addiction, her sobriety and all the stops in between.

When you're 13, being a punk frontwoman can be both terrifying and thrilling. "At first, it was just a big rush, you know," Diaz says. "Ultimately, it was something very self-destructive to me, but I gained a lot out of it. I'm actually kind of happy things happened the way they did, because now I am the woman that I am today."

Diaz, who's now 28, wrote some of the material on The Beat Is Dead while she was still using drugs. She says it's rewarding to come back to those songs now. "After getting sober, I was really able to give them the attention they deserved," she says. "It was very liberating to go back to them and just give them the love that they needed."

One of the songs on the album, "January 9th," addresses a critical moment for Diaz. Her grandmother, with whom she was close, passed away on Jan. 9, 1998. On that same date in 2013, not long before she stopped using drugs, Diaz was working on a song. "It happened to be a very eerie kind of night," she says. "And I was recording [the song] on my phone, and I swear you can hear whispers in it. ... It's as if something was in there, kind of telling me what to say." She says felt the presence of her grandparents — and later realized what day it was.

Diaz says she's been sober for three and a half years now. Being on the road, around a lot of drugs and alcohol, can present its challenges, but she says her band is supportive.

"They respect me and they understand what kind of message I'm trying to show in my music," Diaz says. "And if I ever do feel awkward in a situation now, I just walk out. ... I'll just go outside and have a smoke and wait until I feel ready to go back into the crowd."

Hear more of Diaz's conversation with NPR's Scott Simon at the audio link.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUEEN BEATS KING")

NINA DIAZ: (Singing) Start the film. Fill your rhythm, infectious, as I lose my directions to the...

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Nina Diaz fronts the punk band Girl in a Coma, but she's gone solo for her latest project. The album is called "The Beat Is Dead."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUEEN BEATS KING")

DIAZ: (Singing) Darling, talk of addiction. You're the fame and the fiction. And you don't know...

SIMON: Nina Diaz joined Girl in a Coma when she was just 13 years old. It was her sister's band. She quickly made a name for herself as a fierce, magnetic vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. But around that same time, she also started drinking, then drugs. Then it wasn't long before she struggled with a full-on addiction to booze, cocaine and meth. Now Nina Diaz is clean, and "The Beat Is Dead" chronicles every step of getting there - her addiction, her sobriety and all the stops in between. Nina Diaz joins us now from Denver.

Thanks so much for being with us.

DIAZ: Thank you. You explained everything pretty perfectly (laughter).

SIMON: Well, I think we want to go to you for that. Is it in the lyrics? Is it even in the title, "The Beat Is Dead"?

DIAZ: It's not about music being dead. There's a lot of people that come up to me and they're like, the beat isn't dead. But to me, it just means that being a victim is over.

SIMON: It must have been both thrilling and terrifying to be a - the front singer for a punk band when you were 13.

DIAZ: At first, it was just a big rush, you know, being able to hang out with an older crowd and, you know, be part of a group 'cause I spent a lot of time alone and just writing stuff. So it was nice to just get out there. And then, ultimately, it was something very self-destructive to me, but I gained a lot out of it though. I'm actually kind of happy that things happened the way they did because now I am the woman that I am today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY")

GIRL IN A COMA: (Singing) Everyone will quote me on this line.

SIMON: Tell us, if you could, about those, incomprehensible to me almost, middle-teen years when you joined Girl in a Coma. What was it like then?

DIAZ: I did kind of live a pretty fast life when I was young 'cause, I mean, I idolized James Dean and, you know, that kind of motto. So I thought I'm just going to do whatever I want to do, you know? And I was kind of a brat and kind of spoiled, and I can say that now because I admit it. And I know, and I've kind of - I'm learning from the things that I've done.

So there was a lot of drinking, and I did have moments where I would stop and I would get sober for a second. And then, of course, I would just - something emotional would happen to me, and I wouldn't know how to communicate things. And sometimes in an addict mentality, the only thing you can control is the drug or the alcohol you put inside of your body. So that's what I would always run to.

And now, fast forward to I'm a 28-year-old woman now, and I can communicate things properly and really, really feel things. When they are stressful, they're just stressful. And you just kind of go through the motions, and you know that it will pass.

SIMON: Let's hear some of your song "January 9th."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JANUARY 9TH")

DIAZ: (Singing) Every time I try to find another place to stay, every time I try to look away, I seem to cave. Oh, in the back of my mind, in the back of my mind...

SIMON: What does January 9 mean to you?

DIAZ: January 9, 1998, was the day that my grandmother passed away, and I was very close to my grandparents growing up. And I really do feel that when I was in the depths of my drug use, I felt my grandparents around me. You know, I felt their energy. There were some times when - I know that the drug itself can make you a little paranoid and hear things. But I literally could hear an acoustic guitar playing sometimes, and my grandfather was a musician when he was younger. And I felt their energy so strongly, as if they were trying to tell me, you need to stop doing what you're doing or you're going to die.

And this one evening, January 9, 2013, one of the last times of me and my drug use, I was working on a song - that became "January 9th" - and I was recording it on my phone. And I swear, you can hear whispers in it. Like, I say hi, I'm just a wish upon a genie that you stole. You can hear somebody say genie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JANUARY 9TH")

DIAZ: (Singing) I am just the one that you will throw away in the cold. Oh, in the back of your mind.

It's as if something was in there, like, kind of telling me what to say. But then I felt my grandparents there as well. And at the end of the night, I realized what day it was. And I was like, I'm going to call this song "January 9th."

SIMON: Some of this material was written while you were still using. What's it like going back to that material?

DIAZ: After getting sober, I was really able to give them the attention they deserved and really take them to the limits without anything false pushing it on. It was all completely was in - that was naturally inside of my mind. So it was very liberating to go back to them and just give them the love that they needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCREAMING WITHOUT A SOUND")

DIAZ: (Singing) Every time you know that you are going to shake it up, you feel the doubt. And then it's back again. Oh, you must breathe and let it out.

We want so badly sometimes just to confess everything when we're deep inside of our drug use. We want so badly to get caught sometimes, you know? But then there's that fear of disappointment 'cause a lot of addicts are people-pleasers. And that's when you get that anxiety when you can't save the world and you can't fix everyone, so I'm going to hurt myself. And that's really - that's an illness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCREAMING WITHOUT A SOUND")

DIAZ: (Singing) You will be found screaming without a sound.

SIMON: You've been sober for more than two years now, right?

DIAZ: Yeah, three and a half years, actually.

SIMON: Congratulations. That's great.

DIAZ: Thank you.

SIMON: What is it like to be in show business and to be - unless I miss my guess - around a lot of drugs and alcohol?

DIAZ: You know, when - even when I was using drugs, I would find on the road I would actually be better. It was when I was home and, you know, you get idle hands, that I would get into trouble. And now, being sober, my band that I have playing with me - they respect me, and they understand what kind of message I'm trying to show in my music.

And if I ever do feel awkward in a situation now, I just walk out. And unfortunately, I do still smoke cigarettes. I have the nicotine and the caffeine still going through me, you know, one thing at a time. So if I ever do feel awkward, I'll just go outside and have a smoke and wait till I feel ready to go back into the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REBIRTH")

DIAZ: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

SIMON: Nina Diaz - her new album, "The Beat Is Dead."

Thanks so much for being with us. You're kicking and alive, never better.

DIAZ: Oh, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REBIRTH")

DIAZ: (Singing) I'm back from the dead like I told you, friend. I will not love you until you are my enemy. I'm back from the dead like I told you, friend. I will not love you... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.