‘We’re basically a Disney Channel pop-punk band’: get to know Meet Me @ The Altar
With their new single out this week, the rising stars of US pop punk talk representation, the rock scene and their forthcoming EP, Model Citizen.
“We’re basically like a Disney Channel pop-punk band and I love it,” Téa Campbell, guitarist for Meet Me @ The Altar, says over Zoom.
It’s a good way to sum up the band’s sound, outlook and personality. Téa loves the music from movies like Camp Rock and Lemonade Mouth (“Lowkey some of our new stuff is in that vein,” she says). They even made a TikTok where each of the members of the band mimed drawing the Disney logo, saying “you’re watching Disney Channel!” Not only do Meet Me @ The Altar want to spread positivity – something you can hear in their exuberant pop-punk and uplifting lyrics – they also want to inspire others.
Téa holds up her phone to show me a video. Across the screen, three Black toddlers (triplets) dance to her band’s recent single, ‘Hit Like A Girl.’
“That’s why we do what we do,” she says. “Because they’re so young and they’re going to grow up thinking that they can do anything that they want to.”
I’m talking to Téa and the band’s drummer, Ada Juarez. For Meet Me @ The Altar, being the representation they wanted growing up is key. “Even though we didn’t have that representation, we didn’t let it stop us because we didn’t care,” Téa says, “We saw that there was a lack in the scene and we were like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna fill that space.’”
“We wouldn’t get any show slots, because they would go to the same, like, three or four white boy bands in the scene”
And they’ve gone above and beyond that. Meet Me @ The Altar has a classic pop-punk sound, made up of soaring hooks, high-energy verses and upbeat choruses. Edith Johnson’s unique voice navigates their dynamic melodies with grace and confidence; Téa goes above and beyond with her riffs; while Ada’s drumming is impressive in both its speed and power. Not only are they excellent at music, but they also look like they’re having so much fun in the process.
In October, they signed with Fueled By Ramen, a rock label known for being home to big names like Paramore, Twenty One Pilots and All Time Low. Meet Me @ The Altar has gotten shoutouts from Halsey and Hayley Williams, been named among gal-dem‘s ones to watch for 2021 and graced magazine covers in the US and UK – all without having put out an album. And for a rock band comprised entirely of women of colour, including queer women of colour, it’s not only unheard of – it’s historic.
For all three members, their love of music was inherited: Ada’s father played the drums, Téa’s father and grandfather played guitar and, as for Edith, “Her entire family sings so she was singing straight out the womb,” Téa says. Their training was all different, though. Edith sang in choir, Ada’s father taught her drums and Téa taught herself by watching music videos.
They met online in 2015. Téa, then 14, came across 16-year-old Ada’s drum cover of Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Holding On To You’ and, two days later, suggested they start a band. This was even though they were on opposite sides of the East Coast in the United States – Téa in Florida and Ada in New Jersey. They held auditions for a singer and Edith, from Georgia, submitted a cover of Paramore’s ‘All I Wanted.’ She didn’t make the band at that point, but joined two years later.
It’s clear the members are close, and they now all live together in Florida. On our Zoom call, Ada and Téa exchange quips back and forth with the rhythm and wit of sitcom dialogue. It’s fitting then, that they got their name from a conversation they had: Téa was trying to come up with a band name, while Ada was just listing off characters from the video game Mortal Kombat.
“She was being very diligent on the subject and I was just fooling around, because I wanted the name to be something funny, but still something that only we understood,” Ada says.
Téa and Ada found out that they shared a favourite character, Sub-Zero. Téa said “marry me” and Ada responded, “MEET ME @ THE ALTAR.”
They released four EPs – 2015’s Red Walls, 2017’s Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind, 2018’s Changing States and 2019’s Bigger Than Me while writing music remotely. But they weren’t initially gaining a ton of traction.
“We wouldn’t get any show slots, because they would go to the same, like, three or four white boy bands in the scene,” Téa says.
Everything changed during the summer of 2020. Following George Floyd’s murder by the police, the Black Lives Matter movement once again rose to the forefront and people began to look more critically at diversity and inclusion. Many people started making a conscious effort to amplify Black voices, businesses and art, including listening to bands like Meet Me @ The Altar, who started getting much more attention than ever before.
“It sucks that it took the murder of George Floyd to get people thinking about, ‘Hey, there is a huge lack of representation in the scene right now. Let’s seek some of that out.’ It took such a terrible thing to do that, but I’m glad that people are starting to wake up. And it’s helped us out tremendously, because before then, we were getting buried under everything,” Téa says.
Over the past year, pop-punk has floated back to the surface, with more women, queer artists and artists of colour gaining ground in the genre than ever before.
“As we get more established, the focus will be more on the music and less on the colour of our skin and us being women and gay”
When asked whether they feel the burden of representation when being repeatedly asked to speak on it, Téa responds, “As we get more established, the focus will be more on the music and less on the colour of our skin and us being women and gay. We’re all comfortable talking about it, because someone needs to.”
Meet Me @ The Altar are very clearly and proudly carrying on the work of pop-punk bands before them like Paramore, Fall Out Boy, Knuckle Puck, Neck Deep and State Champs. But they’re not just a pop-punk band. They’re heavily influenced by pop and alternative rock, Edith’s classically-trained voice takes cues from multiple genres, including R&B, and Téa’s guitar parts are inspired by softer rock bands like The Script and The Fray. Ada was more of a fan of heavier music like nu-metal, metal, post-hardcore and metalcore before she found pop-punk.
They’re also really into easycore – a form of pop-punk which borrows from heavier music – so much so that less than a week before the deadline, they decided to rewrite their upcoming EP, Model Citizen, out on August 13, to bring out the easycore sound. The songs on the EP contrast bold, heavy-hitting guitar and drums with Edith’s smooth vocals, while also drawing from late 2000s pop music like Katy Perry and Demi Lovato, and synthcore like Attack! Attack!. Filled with bouncing melodies, rapid-fire guitars, precise drumming and impressive vocals, Model Citizen is a sharp jolt of joy and excitement.
Lyrically, the band says they like to write about navigating adulthood. They aim to come up with positive songs about feeling down and trying to get better, which was their goal for Model Citizen. These songs, despite their bright, feel-good sound, tackle more difficult emotions with straight-forward honesty and vulnerability while still maintaining a sense of hope and a determination to pull yourself back up.
“It tells a story of not being okay, and then starting to get better,” Téa explains, “But then, you mess up, but it’s okay that you mess up because you just have to work on that.”
Their new song, ‘Feel a Thing’ was written in September 2019, while Téa was in her first year at university. It talks about being detached from your emotions – but, despite its subject matter, it’s dynamic and emotive, going from slower verses to captivating, climbing hooks and an impossibly fun and catchy chorus. ‘Feel a Thing’ also arrives with the band’s first narrative video. With its video game theme (inspired by the song’s 8-bit intro) and its message of teamwork, it feels almost like the story of the band coming together. But it involved some outside help as well. Before they were even signed to Fueled By Ramen, Meet Me @ The Altar asked fans to send in chants, which feature in the song.
The band makes a concerted effort to stay in touch with their fans. They even have a community phone number where fans can reach them.
“That was kind of the best way, even to this day, that we can communicate with people because it’s straight up just texting them,” Ada says. “I think that’s so cool, because it’s very personal. It’s fun, because our listeners are so funny and they match our energy perfectly.”
Clearly, what Meet Me @ The Altar are doing is resonating, but what does success look like for a band that’s already achieved so much in such a short period of time? They mention touring, getting played on the radio, a Grammy. But most importantly, their focus remains on inspiring others.
“You know those triplets we showed you earlier?,” asks Ada, “When they start a band, there it is. That’s when we really made it.”
Meet Me @ The Altar’s new EP, Model Citizen, is out 13 August on Fueled By Ramen. ‘Feel A Thing’ is out now.