From Paramore to Blink-182, it’s no secret that pop punk has long been dominated by white people. But Gen Z newcomers Meet Me @ The Altar want to change that and become the role models they wish they had growing up.
“Even when we were 14 years old and the band just started, we were aware of the lack of representation in the scene well before anyone else was just because that’s who we are,” says guitarist-bassist Téa Campbell over Zoom from the band’s shared home in Orlando. “When a white man sees themself on stage, they don’t think about everyone else that’s not seeing themselves on stage, and obviously we did.”
Like most people these days, Meet Me @ The Altar, met the only way people meet in the digital age: online. “That’s so Gen Z of us,” lead singer Edith Johnson laughs over Zoom from her parents’ house in Atlanta. “It’s kind of funny.”
In 2015, guitarist-bassist Campbell came across a Twenty One Pilots drum video on YouTube made by drummer Ada Juarez and sparked a friendship with her. While Campbell and Juarez lived in different states (Florida and New Jersey, respectively), it wasn’t long until they were looking to form a band together. Soon enough, Juarez posted a call-out video on YouTube looking for a singer for their group, and it caught the eye of Georgia native Johnson, who submitted a video of her take on Paramore’s “All I Wanted.” Across three states, the trio bonded on their love of pop punk. While Johnson wasn’t initially invited to join Meet Me @ The Altar, she kept in touch with Campbell and Juarez. By 2017, Johnson had won them over and officially joined the group. Now, the trio is inseparable. Not only are they bandmates, but best friends that reside together in Orlando, Florida.
Like many rising pop-punk artists, Meet Me @ The Altar are used to the vocal comparisons to Paramore and Hayley Williams. For them, it’s a double-edged sword. In some ways, it’s a compliment — the group, after all, are fans of the group and Williams. But it often feels like a lazy and inaccurate parallel to make. “It’s kind of annoying,” says Johnson. “Any band that has a female voice will be compared to Paramore.” Really the frustration stems from “stupid men [who] say that because there’s a female voice when we actually sound nothing like them,” explains Campbell.
For the trio, things shifted last year when they began gaining visibility. In May, Meet Me @ The Altar released an intentionally upbeat pop-punk anthem “Garden,” which created a buzz on TikTok where users created their own videos lip-syncing or dancing to the track. Just a month later, the three-piece became recipients of Halsey’s Black Creators Fund, which provides Black artists with financial support, resources and a platform. The opportunity was a game-changer for them.
“I had grown up listening to Halsey, so it was really awesome to not only get a cosign from her, but Zoom with them and talk to them on an artist level, which is a really unique experience with someone as big as she is,” Campbell says. Halsey has since kept an eye on the pop-punk outfit, even sharing their music videos and having “little talks” about the possibility of collaborating. “That whole first few months of the pandemic really laid the foundation for the band that we are right now,” notes Campbell.
By October, Meet Me @ The Altar signed to their dream label Fueled By Ramen — home to artists like Panic! At The Disco and Twenty One Pilots — as the first all-female Black and Latinx band on the roster. “Everything that’s happened for us was always the plan,” says Campbell. “Fueled by Ramen was our end goal, and it just happened to come a lot sooner than we were expecting it to.”
While Campbell is confident everything about the band would have resonated with listeners eventually, she acknowledges that there was an uptick in people seeking out Black art after the murder of George Floyd that steered people towards Black artists: “It’s very bittersweet because such a terrible thing happened.” Still, she doesn’t discount the importance of people “finally opening their eyes” to artists of color like themselves.
Now, the attention the band has received the past year is paying off.
On Aug. 13, Meet Me @ The Altar is set to release their studio EP debut Model Citizen — a fierce collection of pop-punk anthems full of catchy choruses, blazing guitar riffs and heartfelt lyrics. Along the way, however, it went through some creative changes. After releasing the energetic “Hit Like A Girl,” Meet Me @ The Altar felt like the EP needed to reflect the same aesthetic — and show a gradual sonic growth.
Just one week before their project was due to the label, Meet Me @ The Altar scrapped and re-wrote the material. Now heavily influenced by easy-core and late 2000s radio hits from Demi Lovato and P!nk, Model Citizen grapples with highs and lows of life and its fluidity. “Feel A Thing” and “Wake Up” are triumphant hooky tracks about acknowledging your mental health is suffering and you need help, while the euphoric “Brighter Days (Are Before Us)” is the aftermath of that realization.
“It’s more of a self-reflection,” says Juarez from her own bedroom at the band’s shared home in Orlando. “It’s [about] finally having that high point in all of the downs that you’ve been going through lately.” While the hard-hitting “Now or Never” isn’t necessarily aligned with the theme, the band thought it was integral to the EP to have a love song — one that can be interpreted as romantic or platonic. “The message at the end of the day [on Model Citizen] is that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s also good to want to work on yourself, get better and have hope for the future because that’s what keeps literally everyone going,” notes Campbell.
Model Citizen presents a band who knows how to have fun with purpose, but most significantly establishes Meet Me @ The Altar as pop-punk power players.
Following the release of Model Citizen, the trio is eager to keep busy. This fall (COVID safety permitting) they’re set to head out on tour with Coheed and Cambria and The Used and earned a supporting slot on a handful of All Time Low dates. Hitting the road will allow the group to fully step into being the role models they want to be — the ones they always wanted.
“That’s why I’m so excited for the tour,” says Johnson. “Because we get a lot of messages on social media from people of color like, ‘I’ve been waiting to see representation in this genre of music I love so much, and it makes me feel like I belong now.’” Getting to connect with their fans from marginalized communities in person, they hope, will inspire them to pursue their own dreams. “These girls are gonna grow up thinking that they can do anything that they want to do, and I can’t even describe how good of a feeling it is to be able to provide that,” says Campbell.