If you were a young alt-rock fan of colour in the mid-00s, it might have been a bit of a challenge to find fans – or artists – who looked like you. The music could still offer emotional catharsis and escape, but there was an air of exclusivity that hung around the scene; one where the ‘wrong’ hairstyle or gender expression could have you feeling pretty left out.
For Gen Z’ers Edith Johnson, Téa Campbell and Ada Juarez, this story rings all too familiar. All feeling out of place in their respective local scenes, they responded by forming Meet Me @ The Altar after meeting online. Téa and Ada met after the former commented on the latter’s Twenty One Pilots drum cover on YouTube, while Edith was later recruited as their singer following her video audition of Paramore’s ‘All I Wanted’. Instant friendship ensued and the rest, as they say, is herstory: the trio have gone from performing scrappy cover versions of their favourite songs to a position as figureheads of a new inclusivity movement for pop-punk.
As the first Black female-led group to be signed to emo-royalty label Fueled By Ramen – home to both Paramore and Twenty One Pilots, as well as scene-defining releases by Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco – their story is one that holds serious promise; a hopeful sign that, with enough committed activism and solidarity, real change can finally occur.
Meet Me @ The Altar’s current lofty standing may seem like a Cinderella story, but it’s not a position that comes without its own emotional toll. “It’s kind of a strange thing, really,” says vocalist Edith, squished up on the end of a sofa with her bandmates, playing with a braid of her soon-to-be-iconic neon hairstyle. “We’ve been playing together since 2017, but it was around the George Floyd murder [in May 2020] that we first started getting any momentum. People were really looking for Black art, Black artists, Black-owned businesses – Black anything – to support. We had so many people reaching out and championing us – we got Halsey‘s Black Creators Fund, people like Alex Gaskarth [All Time Low] and Dan Campbell [The Wonder Years] were tweeting about us, and then it just kind of blossomed on its own.
“It’s been great, but it’s also really bittersweet and a little sad that it happened this way. It’s interesting, because I was angry at people posting black squares, and then I was angry at people not, so it’s like… I don’t know how to feel!”
“Tokenism is definitely this two-way street,” guitarist Téa agrees. “It’s like: ‘Hmmm, I am benefitting here,’ but it’s kinda suss, too… it’s tough. I do think quarantine kind of levelled the playing field for us, too. For however long we were a band, we were screaming: ‘Hey, we’re over here!’ But while everything else slowed down, we’ve sped up with how busy we’ve got and how much we’re doing. Now we’re here and people are noticing, it’s going to be really cool to come out of this and see how much we’ve truly grown.”
Growth is a definitive part of Meet Me @ The Altar’s modus operandi. Very much born and raised on the third-wave MTV-emo tradition, all three go misty-eyed as they reminisce over the formative bands of their youth (“finding Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Can You Feel My Heart’ video was like discovering something I’d always been waiting to hear,” says Edith). But they also acknowledge just how frequently casual misogyny appeared in the scene, condemning autonomous women in wallowing lyrics about saviours and whores. “And as young women getting into pop-punk we were all into it too, singing along to those lyrics,” laughs Edith. “Some of those songs… thinking about it now, it’s almost funny – but at least people are noticing now.”
Wanting to look at things differently, the band wrote their lead single ‘Garden’ as an intentional departure from the tradition of “white dudes crying over their girlfriends”. A heartfelt happy-headbanger, the song shares an uplifting and reassuring message of friendship-through-the-hardships: “I’ll always be right here… Hold on ’til the morning / Forget all the scoring / Your flowers will finally grow.”
“I just feel like a lot of pop-punk songs just write the same things over and over again: so why not introduce something new?” says Téa. “It’s pop-punk, but it’s upbeat and it’s energetic and you can have a positive message along with that. It’s kind of necessary to stand your ground and do your own thing, because nobody else is going to go out of their way to welcome you in. You have to be in these spaces unapologetically, and then other people will be more likely to come through.”
The vanguard-shifting sanctity that the members of MM@TA have found with one another is undeniably their greatest strength. For the teens who watch their TikTok skits or submit clips for their fan compilation videos, they are a gang whose infectious energy is something you want to be part of – the friends-for-life you might not have found if it wasn’t for the internet. Téa is the chatty one, Edith is the introspective and Ada is the one with the pithiest one-liners, but all three bounce off of each other with the natural ease of siblings. “We were best friends within a week of us talking – we move quick over here!” says drummer Ada.
Having worked remotely for several years from their respective homes in Florida, Georgia and New Jersey, the pandemic has prompted MM@TA to recently move into their very first ‘band house’ where work has begun in earnest on new music.
“You’d think that we’d be writing differently now, but literally nothing has changed,” laughs Edith. “It’s kind of the mindset of like, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. So Téa and I still write separately, and we’ll still text on our phones to send each other ideas.”
“I don’t really understand how other bands just write everything together,’ says Téa. “Especially in the early stages of the writing process, it sounds terrible! I would be so insecure if somebody had to hear all of that. But we’ve been writing a lot: about being in our early 20s, just growing up and becoming adults in this world and trying to find our place. As a guitarist, I’m very influenced by late-00s pop and bringing those melodies into our sound. I think even from just ‘Garden’ you can hear that there is more to what we can offer outside of the immediate pop-punk space.”
Not allowing themselves to be pigeonholed by genre or by race, all lanes are open for Meet Me @ The Altar’s future. Their next single – described only by Edith as a “girl power anthem” – is imminent as is the promise of live shows, even if all three of them are still mourning the 2019 loss of the pop-punk-pilgrimage event Warped Tour as their ultimate bucket list goal. ‘Dude, we were robbed!” laments Téa, shaking her head. “It needs to make a comeback – when bands can play again at the end of the pandemic, the scene is just ready to explode.”
For the teens of today, Meet Me @ The Altar are proof that emo is for everyone; for us older 00s pop-punkers, they are also a reminder that it’s never too late to dust off your knee-high Converse and throw yourself back in the pit.
“It breaks our hearts reading so many messages from people who said they needed us when they were younger. But at the same time, we’re glad to finally be here now,” says Téa. “And we can relate: we know how much people really mean those words. It is cool to be able to talk about how much we are a representation for the scene right now, but the music really does speak for itself, and that’s what we hope people focus on at the end of the day. We’re just going to keep on pumping that message out to the universe. You know, being a little pebble in the… I don’t know. What analogy could I say?”
As always, her friends have got her back. “A pebble in a world full of rock?” proffers Ada. “Yeah, that’s it!” Three identical smiles light up the Zoom chat. “That’s us. A positive pebble in a world full of negative rocks!” Fetch your sledgehammers and join the ruckus: Meet Me @ The Altar are ready to break down some walls.