Drugs and booze could've landed Nina Diaz into the "27 Club" of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse. But when the numbness of addiction exhausted itself more than two years ago, the tattooed Tejana reflected on her past. "There was this eruption of songs that came out of me, and they all just happened to flow together," Diaz says. "I didn't want to force the girls to play this stuff."
Due out later this year, Diaz originally conceived The Beat Is Dead as a humble EP. "At first, I was just going to do five songs," she says. The onetime Girl In a Coma front woman tinkered with demos on Garage Band until it came time to head into the studio with Austin-based singer/poet David Garza. Those initial tracks blossomed into a 13-song album.
Next, the 27-year-old had to assemble a backing band. She enlisted up-and-coming musicians from San Antonio and Austin, Texas: Jorge Gonzalez (drums), Jaime Ramirez (keys), Austin Valentine (bass) and Travis Vela (guitar). They started jamming about a year ago, but a tour in the fall was foiled by flu-like symptoms that occurred when Diaz stopped smoking. She's stocking up on antibiotics for a slew of performances that will take the band through the southwest this summer.
Diaz has found a newfound freedom from not having a heavy guitar holstered around her neck all the time. "I love that I'm able to grab the microphone and go up to people in the audience and make them feel uncomfortable," says Diaz, who even dances a little. On the cumbia-infused rock groove "Rebirth," Diaz strikes a guiro while hypnotically swaying in a sweat-drenched seduction. Her genre-blending hints at Diaz's love of Depeche Mode, Björk, PJ Harvey and Lenny Kravitz. "You can tell how much I've grown up," Diaz says, "and you can really hear my vocals a lot on this album." She still gets wild-eyed when her voice breaks out in its signature wails, even on the relaxed pop vibes of "Fall in Love," a strumming song of self-affirmation.
Diaz's life is quieter these days, but she's crawling out of her skin to share the new music with the world. "This is the most vulnerable I've ever felt because I'm not diluting myself with any drug or alcohol," she says. "This whole year, I've had many times where I'll be in the bath and I'll just start crying. I feel so passionately about what I'm doing."
Everyone will find at least one song to fall in love with on the new album, she promises, though she hopes they'll offer a bit of catharsis, too. Fans have already begun contacting Diaz to tell her how her candidness in talking about addiction has inspired them to start on their own journeys to sobriety. "There have been many situations where I could've overdosed or been raped and murdered," Diaz admits. "I've been through the struggles I've been through for a reason."
On the new album's title track, "The Queen Beats the King," Diaz sings, "The beat is dead, darling talk of addiction, you're the fame and the fiction." She wants people to take away from it a universal message, no matter their station of suffering: "It means that story is over," she says, "that the victim is gone, and it's time to be real."
Nina Diaz performs with Maria del Pilar at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; www.alexsbar.com. Sun., 8 p.m. $8-10. 21+.