'You know, the good old days—we're trying to bring it back'
Alex Rigotti
10:00 24th December 2021

I distinctly remember being on Tumblr during my pop-punk phase, looking at the various skinny white girls and boys with their dyed hair and boyfriend flannels. I might have been a little young for the days when Pete Wentz was plastered in all the gossip mags, but I was definitely around for when pop-punk started making waves online. It was a time when the biggest fandoms on Tumblr were all pop-punk: My Chemical Romance, Panic! At The Disco, Twenty One Pilots (and even, debatably, 5 Seconds of Summer). Being a Person of Colour, however, there just weren’t many people I could truly connect with or relate to. 

In a scene that tends to be dominated by white men, Meet Me @ The Altar (often abbreviated to MM@TA), are a refreshing change of scenery. Singer Edith Johnson, guitarist Téa Campbell, and drummer Ada Juarez represent the kinds of fans that have long been shunned from representation. But MM@TA are more than just reinvigorating interest: they’re bringing pop-punk and easycore bands back to their roots. 

MM@TA’s formation is all too familiar for this generation: Campbell connected with Juarez after watching the latter perform a Twenty One Pilots cover on YouTube. They named the band after exchanging texts discovering their mutual love for Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. Campbell requested Juarez to “marry me”, to which Juarez responded: “meet me @ the altar”. Johnson joined later, having kept up with the band for two years and later beating out fifty other contenders to the position..

Campbell, 20, hails from Florida, and was introduced to music around seven years-old, when her father purchased a guitar for her birthday. Trying to recreate what she heard on the radio, she got into bands like Paramore, and then fell completely into the scene using Pandora, with bands such as The Starting Line and Cartel. Johnson, also 20, comes from Georgia. Her family is also musical, and she knew of her talent when she began harmonising to songs in the car. Growing up on a diet of gospel music, The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes, Edith was exposed to a wide range of music—which she credits as the reason she’s “not shy around genre”. Juarez, 22, comes from a family of drummers: her father used to play, but gave it up when he emigrated to the US at the age of 18. Once young Ada showed interest in music, she was directed to the drums, which she has since stuck by. Her father introduced her to bands such as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and her favourite band: Linkin Park.  

Despite this wide range of influence, it was pop-punk that brought the trio together. For Johnson, the pop-punk community is unlike many other genres: “There's something very specific about the pop-punk and Warped Tour energy and community and scene. The shows were so much fun and everyone was there because they have this interest in this genre that was pretty small”.

MM@TA have won the respect and admiration of everyone, from industry heavyweights like Dan Campbell from The Wonder Years, Hayley Williams from Paramore, and Halsey—to their ever-growing online fan-base. Their talent has helped them sign a contract with Fueled By Ramen, one of the defining hubs for pop-punk bands; the label’s roster reads like a Hall of Fame for the genre: Paramore, Panic! At The Disco and  Fall Out Boy have all worked with the label at one point or another. 

Getting signed by Fueled By Ramen is A Big Deal, especially for a band who want to fight against the homogenisation of what pop-punk sounds and looks like. Whilst the label has been treating them well (they’ve rented them a house in L.A. to help write songs), the beginning of MM@TA’s journey was far more difficult. “The issue really lies in those smaller communities,” Campbell elaborates. “Back when, you know, we were a band with 3,000 followers, our scenes didn't really treat us properly, which sucks because I feel like local scenes can be very gatekeep-y. And in the opportunities and everything, we would see tours going through that needed openers”.

I would literally email promoters right away and send our music to be like, ‘Hey, we're a perfect fit, like literally the perfect fit for the sign up’, and we would just never get the opportunities. They would always go to the same, like, three white guy bands. So it's really hard to actually progress in your respective scenes when they're actually keeping you out”.

“But that's not how it is anymore,” she clarifies. “I'm so thankful to be in the position that we are now.”

“We just always question, like, ‘why don't we see this side of the scene being represented on the stages’?” adds Johnson. “That really motivated us to want to do what we're doing because there are women and People of Colour and the LGBTQ community who are in the scene who also want to make music and stuff. Hopefully us being on those stages now help people realise that they can also do it because it can be discouraging when you don't see literally anyone like you playing the type of music that you like to listen to.”

***

Model Citizen, the band’s latest EP, is the latest fruit of the girls’ labour, landing after spending time in L.A. during the pandemic and building up hype. The project explores that sort of nostalgic sound and teenage angst that people clamour for nowadays. MM@TA lean into the sugary-sweet harmonies and bone-crunching, string-snapping riffs, straddling easycore and pop-punk aesthetics.  

“At this point, all those bands have grown with their sound and it's not really the same anymore,” Campbell says of the genre OG’s. “We really like to bring some of those elements of the earlier pop-punk back into the music now because ‘pop-punk’ now is like, I don't know… it's considered the MGK-type pop-punk with rap and pop-punk mixed together. But we really fell in love with classic pop-punk. You know, the good old days—we're trying to bring it back”.

What is it about pop-punk that people are so quick to reminisce about? For Johnson, it’s simply remembering a time pre-pandemic that has inspired the resurgence in the genre. “People love going back to a time that made them feel a certain way. And I think that especially when the pandemic hit, people were really searching for something that would take them out of reality to what used to be their reality: and that was pop-punk. Like, pop-punk was a really good time for a lot of people.”

Riding on this nostalgic wave, the girls wrote Model Citizen in their new house, although surprisingly little has changed form their old method of sending ideas over email. “Part of the writing process was me and Téa together, versus how we were doing it before, it was all remote—like everything kind of in our own little circle,” Johnson explains. “We started to write lyrics together when we moved in. But other than that, everything was pretty similar to just the staple of us remotely writing in our separate corners. And then when we had our parts, we came together in a room and we wrote the lyrics. I think that's why this EP is so strong lyrically, because it was more of a connection while writing them.”

It would therefore come as no surprise that there’s rarely any qualms or disagreements about writing music together: “We normally fall into the same opinion. Luckily, I think that’s why we work so well together”. 

Model Citizen has six tracks. Each explores adolescent existence in all its intense glory: holding yourself to seemingly impossible standards, beating yourself up for fucking up, pivoting to moments of hope for the future; there’s even a bittersweet love song. “That's kind of the irony in the title Model Citizen, because everyone has that idea of what a model citizen is in their head,” Johnson explains. “We all try to live up to it, but that's not always going to happen. It's a lot easier said than done. And there's going to be times where you think you're getting better and then you're like ‘damn, I'm never going to change’. Like, it's a wave.”

EP opener ‘Feel A Thing’ plays on the tension between big, inexplicable, intangible emotions, and the inability to access them properly. It was written by Tea’s experience in college back in September 2019: “Life kind of felt weird at the time. I don't really know how to describe it, but it was just a big adjustment… It's just about not really being able to feel anything.”

I feel like recognising where you are, emotionally or mentally, is the first step into making a change about it and getting better. That is why it's the first song on the EP, because it's kind of that baseline of like ‘Hey, I'm not really feeling OK, but it's all right, because at least I'm aware of it’”.

‘Never Gonna Change’, on the other hand, is about understanding your flaws to a painful degree, feeling helpless as to what to do about them. “It's like trying to be better, but always making the same mistake, and then you're kind of frustrated with yourself,” says Johnson. “You're like: ‘well, damn. I know my issues and I know why I shouldn't be doing these things, but I still keep doing them!’ Everyone has ups and downs, and this is just one of the downs”.

For Juarez, ‘Wake Up’ is one of her favourite songs off the EP, which she tips as the song that’s going to be the best to see live. “Personally, I want everyone to hear ‘Wake Up’ live, oh my God!” (“Me too!” Johnson chimes in). “That's because that song is going to get everybody crazy. I can just imagine it. It’s the last song on the album, and it begins with a statement most teens would be familiar with: ‘Oh shit – I lost my cool again”.

At present, the girls are focused on recovering and getting as much sleep as possible. They’re  supporting State Champs, after finishing their own headline tour (“We had a van that we completely trashed by the end of the tour,” Campbell notes guiltily). Meet Me @ The Altar are completely undaunted by the stages ahead of them, having prepared themselves for it during the pandemic. 

“These type of tours are what we have dreamed of for the entire time that we've been a band,” says Campbell. “So to be able to actually get out there and be on those stages and stuff, it's just an awesome feeling. And we just loved, loved performing. It just feels like it's literally something we were born to do.” 

At the end of the day, MM@TA are more than just tokens to ward away accusations of racism and sexism in pop-punk. One of their tracks, ‘Brighter Days (Are Before Us)’, is a roaring anthem which declares: “Time has coped and it has definitely helped me see/That I’ve always had a purpose”. When it comes down to it, the girls believe that their purpose is making good music.  

“Music is like the number one thing out there that can really bring people together,” says Juarez. “You don't have to understand what really is going on, even if you even just like how it sounds. That already brings a community of people together, and at least for me personally, music is my purpose.”

Model Citizen EP is out now.

This interview first appeared in Gigwise 2: The Back To The Future Issue. Buy a copy here.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.


Photo: Alfie Fisher