‘Punk can be anything you want it to be’: The Linda Lindas are bringing riot grrrl energy into 2022
Our ones to watch for the year, here’s the teen quartet on their rise to fame, fighting oppression, and performing alongside their inspirations.
“Our parents love that we’re in a band because it keeps us out of trouble,” says 14-year-old Lucia de la Garza, guitarist of punk band The Linda Lindas, with an eye roll and beaming smile.
“Yeah, it means they can keep an eye on us because wherever we go, they go,” adds Lucia’s sister and the band’s drummer, 11-year-old Mila de la Garza.
The Linda Lindas’ oldest member, 17-year-old Bela Salazar chimes in: “It’s also fun being in a band because when we go back to school and a kid’s telling us that he had a great weekend ‘cause he played video games, we can be like, ‘Hah! We played Jimmy Kimmel –’”
“That’s so mean!” shouts 13-year-old bassist, Eloise Wong, and the band of four descend into cackling laughter.
Gathered around a computer screen in Los Angeles, The Linda Lindas cut each other off, jump in to finish each other’s thoughts and grin wildly. They’re on Thanksgiving break from school but have spent most of 2021 working holidays and weekends: recording music, playing live sets and filming music videos. At the start of the year, the band went viral with a performance of their high-energy, gnarly-sounding song, ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’. Streamed from the LA Public Library, The Linda Lindas’ upfront lyrics and punk delivery struck a chord with other young people around the world, during a year which saw early 2000s pop-punk re-emerging across music and gaining popularity on TikTok. The quartet of punk rockers promptly signed with the iconic Californian rock label, Epitaph Records, were booked on talk shows and began recording their first LP during their summer holiday.
The band’s sudden rise to fame hasn’t gone to their heads. “We’re all super passionate about playing music and saying what we want to say through our art, but we’re also kids and we need time to figure out exactly how we want to do that,” explains Bela.
Though only recently internet famous, The Linda Lindas have been making punk music together since 2018. The de la Garza sisters, alongside their cousin, Eloise, and best friend, Bela, grew up together in creative households. Eloise’s parents played rock benefit shows for their school’s music programme and Lucia and Mila’s father is a music producer, while Bela’s parents are designers.
“We started the band because Kristin Kontrol [founder and lead singer of the band Dum Dum Girls] was getting a band together for a project called Girlschool Festival in LA,” explains Eloise. “She wanted to get a band of kids together, so it was us and some other kids and Kristin Kontrol. Bethany and Bobb from Best Coast came up and Karen O!”
“From the Yeah Yeah Yeahs!” shouts Lucia.
“That was the first time we performed together on stage,” continues Eloise. “It was really special because we had so much fun up there despite making all these mistakes and having jitters before the show.”
“That’s the cool thing about punk: it doesn’t have to be perfect. We barely knew how to play our instruments the first time that we played”
“But we’ve really grown since then,” says Lucia. “And after that Bela asked us to back her up at a show at [LA music venue] the Hi Hat and we were like, “Yeah, we want to do that!” So, Mila started learning drums and I started learning guitar and Eloise started learning bass.”
The band named themselves after the Japanese film, Linda Linda Linda, about a group of teen girls who perform songs at a school show, and began performing live around LA in 2018, opening shows at iconic venues like the Hollywood Palladium. One opening act gig was for their musical heroes, Bikini Kill, pioneers of the punk-rock riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. In early 2021, The Linda Lindas recorded a cover of Bikini Kill’s ‘Rebel Girl’ for the Netflix film Moxie, which they also appear in. Founded as a punk band, the quartet’s sound inherits the dynamic delivery of the riot grrrl band’s feminist lyrics, coupling them with modern pop-punk guitar riffs and anthemic choruses.
“We’ve learned a lot in a small period of time,” says Bela. “Not in a cocky way – I’m not saying we’re amazing or anything – but we have made a lot of progress. I think we understand more how our instruments work.”
“That’s the cool thing about punk though, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” adds Eloise. “We barely knew how to play our instruments the first time that we played.”
“But it was more about the energy and the freedom of being on stage and playing for people ‘cause that’s what we wanted to do,” says Mila. “Doing it yourself and having fun.”
From inception, the band has used making loud, brash music to express their feelings about the struggles of being young right now. When the pandemic began and a sharp rise of hate crimes against East Asian people was reported, Mila had an encounter with a classmate which inspired their viral song, ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’.
“At school, a boy came up to me and told me that his dad told him to stay away from Chinese people at school because of the virus,” she explains. “And after I told him that I was Chinese, he backed away from me. That was just really messed up and the more I talked about it with my [bandmates] and my family, I realised how messed up it was. So, Eloise and I decided to write a song about it and I’m really glad we did because if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten to spread the message to more people. The song is really important because it tells other people who have had similar experiences that they’re not alone.”
The group are honest about not getting everything perfect and learning along the way; originally ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’ was called ‘Idiotic Boy’, but the group changed the lyrics to not be ableist.
“We didn’t want to be the racist, sexist boy you know?” says Eloise. “It’s just about not oppressing people. It shouldn’t be that hard to comprehend and it’s so messed up that we have to say to people, don’t oppress people, don’t be sexist, don’t be homophobic, don’t be queerphobic, don’t be racist! So many things have happened in the past and it’s become so much more apparent in the last year with Stop Asian Hate and Black Lives Matter.”
“We see sexism and racism in our schools and lives and it just made us really happy that we were able to make a difference,” adds Lucia. “The song shifted from an angry song to a powerful song that we want to play because it brings people together.”
The Linda Lindas’ other 2021 single, the bright and more pop-sounding, ‘Oh!’, also came from a place of frustration. “There was a situation in school where one of my classmates was being bullied and I did try to do stuff to stop it,” explains Eloise. “But it didn’t really work out and so I was very frustrated about that. Bela just brought us a riff one day and we recorded it in the summer.”
The band’s creativity also extends beyond songwriting; for ‘Oh!’’s cover art, Bela took polaroids of each member in their laundry room (“And Mila took one of me!”), inspired by Andy Warhol’s photography. “We’re all very creative people in our own ways, so any way we can express ourselves is awesome,” she explains. “We’re really into vintage clothes so all the fashion in our ‘Oh!’ music video is vintage and bright colours and full of patterns which we love.”
When asked if they have a favourite memory from 2021, it’s the first time the band are at a loss for words. “There are so many!” say Lucia and Mila, laughing.
“Definitely playing Jimmy Kimmel,” says Bela. “That was a huge deal.”
“And we got to play [renowned all-ages LA venue] The Smell!” adds Eloise. “That was really fun because it was our first show in 19 months – and a headline show.”
“It’s such an iconic venue! It was so cool to see kids our age rocking out,” says Lucia.
“And we got to play our own songs!” chimes in Mila. “Normally we play covers – we still play covers – but we also had our own songs to play.”
“We started out wanting to create punk music because we wanted the freedom and energy it has”
2022 is set to be The Linda Lindas’ biggest year yet. They have their first LP coming out in the first half of the year (“It has a song about Bela’s cat!” says Eloise. “And a song in Spanish! And a studio version of ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’!”) and plans to tour are, fingers crossed, on the horizon. “We hope to travel more as a band,” says Mila. “And put out lots more music besides the LP. We have so much of it!”
The band’s collective new year’s resolution is to continue to collaborate and write together; they’re especially excited about being able to do that again in person after the pandemic meant the group, besides Mila and Lucia, had to isolate apart from each other. Their other resolution is to continue using music to speak up and express themselves.
“We started out wanting to create punk music because we wanted the freedom and energy it has,” explains Mila.
“And by freedom, we mean that you talk about stuff,” adds Lucia.
“Yeah, punk can be anything you want it to be,” says Bela.
“It’s like doing it yourself and doing it with the people you love and doing what you want to do,” concludes Eloise with a smile. “And that’s what we’re striving to do as a band.”