San Antonio based punk rock band, Fea, hits the road tomorrow to kick off their “A Texas Punkmas Tour.” Jenn Alva talked about the band’s upcoming tour dates, their latest album No Novelties, working with Alice Bag, and more.
This riot grrrl reminiscent band consists of two-thirds of Girl in a Coma with Phanie Diaz, and Jenn Alva, and now also includes Letty Martinez, and now new guitarist, Sofi.
Signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records, Fea is one of the true riot grrrl punk bands today. It’s no wonder they have they gotten on the radar of and worked with legends such as Babes in Toyland’s Lori Barbero, and Alice Bag, the iconic Chicana punk rocker.
Their music stands out from so many others, partially because of their constant code switching, where they change back and forth from English and Spanish with the occasional sprinkle of German, French, and Japanese even.
Their latest album, No Novelties, came out on November 15th and is their second album which follows their self-titled debut in 2016.
Jenn Alva, the band’s bassist, talked about finding their new guitarist, making the new album, working with Alice Bag, how the Girl in a Coma days with Nina Diaz was a foundation for Fea’s unique talent of doing covers, and more.
Antonio Villasenor-Baca: I first wanted to talk a little bit about the new album, No Novelties. It’s been like three years since the first album came out with Fea and the first one since Girl in a Coma officially broke up. So can you talk about the time that’s passed since the last album and what you’ve been up to these last few years?
Jenn Alva: Yes, sure. Three years, we were basically trying to get settled with the right guitar player. We did have a lot of tours with a lot of great bands so we were pretty busy in the sense of touring but we weren’t writing and like I said we were trying to make sure we had the right guitar player. When we got back from the last tour we decided we needed another guitarist and we were going to search for the one we really wanted. We did auditions and we found Sofi and as the chemistry was there and finishing the rest of the album was no problem, I think that time period was like a much needed time period to bond with me, Letty [Martinez] and Phanie [Diaz], the lead singer. We got a lot closer and then finding Sofi, we found our fourth.
AVB: How exactly did you find her and and how’s it been having her in the band and the album?
JA: Like I said she auditioned and then we had a talk and we’re like okay, this girl seems really cool. She she knows about punk but she’s mainly like a trained jazz music theory guitar player so that was interesting. I thought that it would be weird adjustment for her but she nailed it in the studio she was great.
AVB: Yeah, that’s a really interesting background to come into the music ya’ll play, like the punk and riff heavy music. So I know Alice Bag produced the latest album and Lori Barbero also had a a role with the band; how has it been working with them and has their music influenced you?
JA: This last album, our latest one, it’s just Alice Bag as a producer. We wanted it to be her because we had worked with her on three songs on the last album and we really liked the way she worked. She had been a big supporter of Girl a Coma so we had known her that long and it’s just an honor to work with somebody that’s doing what we’re doing now and of course being a legend. So it’s great to talk to her and pick her brain and she’s so down to earth but she’s very professional in the studio and that’s what we needed. We needed that fifth band member to help us produce this album because some of the songs were there but not yet and she was just a blessing for this album. She knew exactly what to do and she had amazing ideas.
AVB: Cool. Yeah, I spoke with Teri from Le Butcherettes for instance and every time I hear about Alice Bag and working with her and especially with producing other people’s music, it’s always a positive review experience.
JA: I think that she’s the next go-to, honestly as a producer, for either females in rock or any kind of Latin based punk. She’s just pro, man. She’s got something special for sure.
AVB: When you say Latin based punk or artists, do you mean that as an artist or because of her musical background?
JA: I think it’s just it’s relatable because she was in the scene and you know the L.A. scene and a Chicana punk rocker. It’s just relatable and she sees what we go through and we talk about the challenges that we face and we have somebody to talk to about that.
AVB: I’m really interested, and I’m sure you’ve talked extensively about this even ranging back to the days of Girl in a Coma, but how your music whether it’s the song titles themselves or the actual lyrics have always been very like, mixed English and Spanish. How much does language play in the lyric writing and in the actual identity of the music?
JA: Well Phanie and I, and Sophi being from San Antonio which is a melting pot of cultures and that’s always been a part of us. I know Letty when she writes she doesn’t go into writing as like, ‘oh, I’m going to think in Spanish.’ It just kind of just happened, whatever she’s feeling or if she feels like she can make the message come across better if it’s in Spanish. She also does French in this new album. It’s kind of something that she feels and that’s the direction it goes. There’s Spanish, there’s English, and we incorporate it into the music as much as we can.
AVB: Right and yes I saw the French in there and then even in in the previous album, the song “Feminazi” had a little bit of German.
JA: Yeah, it’s German, Japanese, and I think French as well. Yeah she’s a big lover of like you know French pop and 60’s so it comes into her writing.
AVB: And the actual album itself has no track titled “no novelties,” so I’m wondering where the concept for the album came from and what it means?
JA: We decided “no novelties” because in the song “Girl Band,” it says ‘no novelties,’ just cliche and what we’re what we’re basically saying is it’s like we’re not a novelty act. You know, a lot of times like let’s say a booker books a show and he’s like, ‘oh okay a female group I’m gonna the theme is female’ and we could be playing with random bands that are not punk. I think it happens a lot to a female group where it’s more of a theme or novelty; we’re saying no novelties because we’re not a novelty group but we are cliche in the sense of musicians: we do act out, we do party, we do the the classic thing sometimes, and so that’s why we decided to name the album no novelties. It’s just it’s kind of a common ground for a lot of female artists. We’re not a novelty act. We’re proud females explain music but, you know.
AVB: Yeah, definitely. That’s like a reverberation of the riot grrl right?
JA: Right, and which Phanie and I grew up loving the riot grrrl movement. It inspired us so much so when Girl in a Coma decided to take a break it was like, now we can do our dream nod to the riot grrrl movement and do the band that we wanted to do originally.
AVB: Right! Ya’ll tend to play and interact with so many references and with incorporating other songs and musicians, bands, artists, and things like that. The actual band name Girl in a Coma comes from a song by the Smiths. Now in this album you have a cover of a Gloria Trevi song. Is there a lot of like time for the band where you listen to music and kind of decide to do covers or where the band shares ideas to cover?
JA: I mean like Letty is a huge Gloria Trevi fan. When she was younger, she used to imitate [Gloria Trevi] and put on performances for her family and she really loves that song and we were like, ‘let’s cover it.’
I mean I feel like when we adore a song, it is something that we want to do. Fea has done X -Ray Spex a cliche and then in our live performance we do “Demolicion” by Los Saicos because they’re just these songs that are just so powerful and we want to play them live.Jenn Alva
You know and Girl in a Coma had many opportunities to. We did a covers album (Adventures in Coverland), we did Christmas songs, and it’s fun to rearrange and take and do your own take on iconic songs. And there might be a young girl out there that’s never heard of Gloria Trevi and then wants to cover her or says ‘I’m gonna look her up’ or you know any cover we do that’s kind of why we do it, too. Its like okay cool maybe you know this inspired us and you check it out too. That’s the fun part of music.
AVB: Right, it’s kind of like opening up that conversation, making the music a little bit more two directional and kind of like references or suggestions rather.
JA: Right, and you know we’re huge Morrisey fans and he put out his influences album (Under the Influence) we listened to the shit out of that because we want to hear what made him. I think when people like a band enough, they they can get into that.
AVB: Yeah, I definitely think that’s the best when some music can ultimately create that conversation. That’s what the whole emphasis should be doing this, opening it up for music nerds and then just let people talk and enjoy sounds.
JA: And Nina was so great at that! She was so great at taking a cover and rearranging it. It’s just the things we’ve learned in Girl in a Coma and have come into Fea. I remember when we did the Girl in a Coma covers album, a couple songs I didn’t even listen to the bass line because I just wanted to rewrite it and do my own take on it, like “Walking After Midnight.” So covers are fun and I’m sure that if Fea does another album, we’ll probably do another cover.
AVB: My last question is really about this string of tour dates for the “Texas Punkmas” tour. The first opening dates are- specifically starting in El Paso- but most are a lot of border cities. I think McAllen and Brownsville on there too” Is there a specific reason why you chose these cities and just cities in Texas?
JA: Yeah, we chose these cities because basically just wanted to do a tour in December. I mean we don’t we try not to tour to much but we also basically just wanted to have a good time and play these shows in our favorite Texas towns and because we already know them. We’re playing Neon Rose (in El Paso) we know the staff, everybody’s friendly, we’ve got our friends and fans that come to attend the shows and we just really just wanna have fun and that’s why we booked this last minute: just to play and to get out of San Antonio and play our favorite Texas cities.
AVB: Awesome. Well again, thank you so much for your time. That’s it for my questions. I don’t know if there’s anything else that you want to add about the album, the tour, Fea, or just for life in general?
JA: We’ve been waiting on the vinyl. The vinyl has not come out yet; it’s kind of on the delay, so we’re hoping that on this Texas store that we’ll have the vinyl. And we just look forward to coming del Paso having a good time.
By Antonio Villasenor-Baca