How a San Antonio rocker helped bring Bell Garden’s 1980s punk scene to life for ‘Adobe Punk’


After the indie rocker Nina Diaz moved from her native San Antonio to Los Angeles, she discovered the local theater community that would create Adobe Punka piece about three young punk musicians squatting in a vacant mud house in the working class community of Bell Gardens.

The show, set in the early 1980s, was co-created by playwright and director Theresa Chavez and her son Gabriel Garza. Diaz co-wrote the songs with Chavez.

The two met on a 2019 production of Evangeline, the queen of pretend, which Chavez co-wrote and directed. Diaz performed in the show’s band.

This piece followed the East LA High School walkouts in 1968 and featured music by local rock legends Los Lobos. It was Diaz’s first time working on a play since second grade, and she said she fell in love with the theater company. About the productions and the way it gives voice to Latin artists.

When she heard Adobe Punk was in preparation, the resonance with her own story had excited her. She compared the vibe of the project to that of one of her favorite films, SLC Punk.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘Please ask me to be a part of this somehow. It’s so my thing. Please, please, please, please, please. But I still didn’t have the confidence to say, “Hey, if I can get involved in any way,” Diaz said.

A working class SoCal story

Diaz, now 34, performed with punk band Girl In A Coma in the 2000s and 2010s, but she eventually quit the band, got sober and started following her dreams of being a solo rock star.

Although not from here, Diaz said she knows more about California than San Antonio, and connects to the world of Bell Gardens and the working-class environment depicted in the room.

“I felt like it was part of me in some way,” Diaz said.

Her father, her grandfather, “everyone worked in the fields”, she says, “so I can understand when you break your back to earn nothing”.

Diaz struggled creatively while living in Los Angeles, writing only three new songs, as she was absorbed in her day job and other personal issues. But she used the time to collect personal experiences to have something to write about.

“I just listened to whatever, understood the stories and made room for what it was about,” she said.

Diaz returned to San Antonio shortly before the pandemic hit, but the experience stuck with her.

“I love who I am in Los Angeles,” she said. “I put down roots there. I made friends there, I made family there.

Find a “soul mate”

It was in the summer of 2021, long before the coronavirus pandemic, that Chavez reached out to Diaz to get involved. Chavez asked him to write music to accompany Chavez’s lyrics. While Diaz tried to play it cool, she said yes right away.

“I have a horrible poker face,” she said.

Diaz connected to the way Chavez and Garza talked about the show, likening it to how she herself talks about an album or a song.

“You can tell the difference between someone talking about something because, ‘Oh, this is going to give me a boost in the industry,'” Diaz said. “It was like, ‘This is one of my passions.’ Of course we want to live from what we do, but it didn’t seem [to be] any malicious string attached to this creation process. »

Diaz said it was unusual for her to find someone she connected with so well.

“Usually you’re like, ‘OK, that’s good, but I know I’ll never work with you again,'” Diaz said. “With Theresa, I say to myself, ‘We are going to form a group’… beyond Adobe Punk.”

The two had a similar approach to their work, “which sometimes might not seem the most stable to a lot of people,” she said, “but we get there.” We do it with passion, with power. And I felt like I had found a kindred spirit, like, ‘I’m not crazy to work like this.’

Healing while regaining his old punk rock mindset

According to Diaz, co-writing the songs on this show put her back in the mindset of her Girl In A Coma years.

“I was writing some pretty cool stuff at 13, 14,” Diaz said. She was hard on herself then, but now she’s like, “’You’re a good writer, you know what you’re doing. Just stop stopping.

Diaz said she found it both refreshing and cathartic to get back into that mindset. She said she was still healing and learning to forgive herself after traumatic experiences in her teens and early twenties.

“Sometimes if the most traumatic thing happens during that time, you’re forever that age in a weird way,” Diaz said. “So I felt a kind of connection with these characters, especially as they try to find each other. Now is the time, right? Where do I fit in? What do I do?”

Diaz said she knew when she was young that she wanted music to be her life, but she didn’t know where it would lead.

“The fact that these characters were still trying to figure out what they were going to do, but they know they have a passion, I felt like I could get something out of that,” she said.

Diaz also used the composition for Adobe Punk as a relief from the stress of working on her second solo album, which she recently completed (it’s due out this summer). This is the first time that she has designed and recorded an album herself. She’s also taking online classes with the LA Film School to continue developing her skills as an engineer – she recently set up her own studio and production company, with the aim of supporting women in San Antonio who want to become engineers.

Create the sound of Adobe Punk

Chavez continued to write straight through the rehearsal process, working with Diaz to create the sound for the show. Diaz was recording demos, picking up notes from Chavez along the way.

For Diaz, the show was an opportunity to put some of his recent musical development to good use. She had made money for much of the pandemic recording covers in a wide variety of styles for netizens, which she described as “online busking.” Beyond punk, she would do Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez songs. The experience was like going to music school for her.

This show was also the first time Diaz started with the lyrics and added the music, rather than musically riffing and finding the lyrics from there. While she and Chavez worked, Diaz would help polish the lyrics to fit the music or draw a line from elsewhere in the room.

Diaz said she wanted the experience of going to see Adobe Punk be like live projections of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the show Hedwig and the Angry Thumbwith a screaming and fully participating audience.

Adobe PunkThe songs are catchy, Diaz promises, thanks to both its music and Chavez’s lyrics. She said she hoped the songs would be released outside of the show.

Meanwhile, the actors who play the members of Adobe Punk‘s Bell System got a real band together, and they might even play some of their own gigs.

Diaz was lucky enough to perform with them on a benefit show, providing vocals while they supported her. That brought her back to that sophomore theater production. In this show, she was supposed to be holding signs with the days of the week on them, but she accidentally held them upside down. As a second-grader, audiences found him adorable. Years later, in Adobe Punkthey put up their own sign for Bell System – and they too managed to put it upside down.

“I loved it,” Diaz said.

You can see the final shows of this series of Adobe Punk until this Sunday. There are hopes of mounting a future production at Bell Gardens, and if that happens, Diaz said she wants to go back there to see it – and visit the community while she’s there.

  • Editor’s note: Theresa Chavez is married to Oscar Garza of KPCC/LAist. Garza was not involved in the attribution or editing of this story.

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