Meet Me @ The Altar could well be the next iconic band from a genre that defined a generation. Time to say hello…
Words: Tyler Damara Kelly.
Photos: Lindsey Byrnes.
Not all stories of meeting people on the internet come with happy endings. Any child with computer access would’ve been met with warnings from their parents about talking to strangers online and trusting any tales that would come from a person without a profile picture. From Habbo Hotel to Chat Roulette, through to Myspace and eventually Instagram, the art of the internet is its ability to provide anonymity and an escape for those who seek it.
While we may have all been aware of the ability to be deceived by a stranger online, with the debut of MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show in 2012, this idea really took off. As the series revealed, it takes meticulous planning to conjure up another identity and live a double life without getting caught. But why were we all hooked on watching these events unfold? Was it because there was an element of relatability within these stories, or were we perhaps fascinated by the drama that ensued?
Even though there is a lot of toxicity surrounding internet culture and even more scaremongering when it comes to the limitless nature of what you can discover through the internet, there’s also a lot of good that it can do for self-development, confidence and creativity. As American pop-punk band Meet Me @ The Altar can attest, finding communities of like-minded strangers online can actually be serendipitous.
It’s a fairy-tale story of sorts. One that involves three young women coming together from three different parts of the East Coast to sign with their dream label and make a conscious effort to be faces of representation in the alternative music scene. Some people might say right time and place, but Meet Me @ The Altar don’t believe in that kind of thing. They’re incredibly confident and self-aware, and they think that if you want something done properly, you’ve got to do it yourself. So, from the beginning then, how did this fortuitous internet meeting take place? Let’s cast our minds back to 2015 when the internet was rife with budding musicians posting covers on YouTube…
Ada Juarez’s father was a drummer. When he immigrated from El Salvador to the United States in his late teens, he had to leave his passion behind, get a job, and adjust to his new world. When Ada was six, she learned of her father’s musical history and inherited his love of all things percussion. They bonded over Pink Floyd and Linkin Park, and almost as though she was making up for lost time, Ada recalls “drumming non-stop ever since”. From the age of nine, her father would post her drum covers online – perhaps innocently, perhaps hoping that she would be discovered – but it wasn’t until she turned 16 that the stars would align for her.
As a 14-year-old guitarist, what better way is there to spend your time than trawling on YouTube videos for inspiration? There’s something so optimistic and innocent about the mind of a teenager where anything is possible, and nothing can get in the way of your idealistic fantasies. So, of course, when you stumble across a drummer who you think is sick, you’re going to message her and ask her if she wants to be in a band. There’s nothing that could stop you from fulfilling your lifelong dream of making music, right? Not even the 1,000-mile journey between Florida and New Jersey.
“When I told them that I found this 16-year-old girl on YouTube, from New Jersey, and I wanted to be in a band with her, and I wanted her to come down to meet me, they were like, NO! But they did eventually come around,” laughs Téa Campbell as she imitates her parents’ naturally dumbfounded reaction to the news that she had made a musician friend online, and after bonding over bands such as Twenty One Pilots and Paramore, had decided to start their own pop-punk band.
“It sounds so ridiculous – I would panic if my kid did that!” jests vocalist Edith Johnson. “It helps having a supportive family and a musical family when you’re trying to do this because when I joined [my parents were so cool about it]. I was like, why were they so cool? It could’ve been a creepy old man!”
When Ada and Téa had committed to being in a band together, despite the logistical difficulties of living in different states, they soon began to realise that they were missing one thing – a vocalist. As they had found each other online, it made sense to use the same DIY method in scouting their missing piece, so Ada created a video asking people to send in their audition tapes. “I was on YouTube, and on the algorithm, the first video on the list of recommendations was the video that Ada posted on her channel,” Edith says, before Téa interjects: “It was fate!” Edith sent in a video of her covering ‘All I Wanted’ by Paramore, but unfortunately, the duo had decided to go with another singer.
“I knew it wasn’t going to work out,” Edith brazenly admits, an element of that self-awareness coming through. “For some reason, when I didn’t get in, my brain didn’t process it. I was in full-blown denial. Mentally, I was thinking, I’m still in the band, and if it’s the last thing I do, I will be in this band – period! I got in contact with Téa, and I bothered her for two years. I prayed about it every single day for two years; I texted her for two years until she was like: ‘Yeah, why not!’ I’m sure one day she was just like: ‘Shut the fuck up, leave me alone’ – I’m very persistent!”
This persistency was fed down through Edith’s family on her father’s side, who are all singers, but it was her mother who laid the foundations down for her music taste. Growing up in Georgia and listening to Stevie Wonder, Alabama Shakes, Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews Band, Edith eagerly describes herself as singing since she came out of the womb and attributes this eclectic mix to her variegated vocal style. Still, there’s no denying that at heart, she is firmly rooted in the pop-punk style.
Shortly before Edith joined Meet Me @ The Altar, they released the ‘Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind’ EP. Alongside a few collaborators, it showcased how fully formed Téa and Ada’s creative relationship truly was. Inspired by subtler elements of pop-punk made famous by early releases from Mayday Parade, Knuckle Puck and Panic! At The Disco, Téa’s raw vocals and unpolished riffs were perfectly complemented by Ada’s drumming style as they romanticised ever-relatable tales of how simple, yet complicated, life can be in your teens.
‘I Made This Title Really Long Because Ada Asked Me To’ is perhaps the earliest indicator of where Meet Me @ The Altar would eventually end up sonically, but it’s still laced with insecurity. “They say fake it ’til you make it, but honestly, I always hated not being brave enough to stand up to the truth,” Téa sings. It’s only a few years later that Edith echoes her sentiment from a tried and tested perspective in ‘Tyranny’ from the 2019 EP ‘Bigger Than Me’ – “I dream it every time I sleep, I’ve come so close but still so far. I’m not there yet, but I’ll make it.”
It is instantly apparent from meeting with the band that while they are each self-assured in how they see their futures panning out, strength in numbers is also at play because they truly shine when they’re together. Effervescent and occasionally sarcastic, the trio are more like sisters than friends. Giggling as they speak over each other and finish each other’s sentences, they exude warmth and the kind of charismatic relatability that can only come from a group of people who believe in community spirit and creating safe spaces for those around them.
It’s this spirit that drew them to the world of punk in the first place. “For me, it’s the beauty of live shows,” Edith says. “I used to go to shows every day of the week, and I loved how tight-knit everyone was because of the music. Everyone loved the music, and everyone had that in common. In pop-punk, you really see how it brings people together.”
Téa echoes this statement, noting that the particular energy of shows like Warped Tour is what she enjoyed the most. “In their circle pits, and with crowd surfing, you could do all of it without getting punched in the face – that’s what I really love because I have glasses, and if I got punched in the face, it would suck,” she laughs. “We try to incorporate that into our songs because we want it to be fun.”
Where Meet Me @ The Altar used to take influence from pop-punk staples such as Paramore, Green Day and Blink-182, Edith and Téa have a trade-off as they explain that they’re quite simply taking inspiration from themselves at the moment. “We’re trying to channel the whole essence of 2008 into our music now,” Téa says.
“It has such a big influence over us, and I feel like obviously, inspiration comes out, but it’s not really at the forefront of our brains anymore when we write. Subconsciously as an artist, you make what you like, and other artists come into play,” Edith continues, before Téa finishes her train of thought: “Because all of our influences over time have led to this, but now it’s just us!”
Finding your own identity in music is always a difficult task. For a trio of young women from under-represented backgrounds in the alternative scene, it was about finding the confluence between making great music and making safe spaces for people trying to discover themselves with the help of music and its community aspect.
Ada mentions that the band have always subconsciously prepared themselves to be role models because of how self-aware they were in terms of the messages they were spreading in their music. ‘Changing States’ was the first official EP that Meet Me @ The Altar released with Edith as a vocalist, and beneath the classic buoyant guitar is despondency and angst directed at all angles. After its release, the band vowed not to include profanities in their lyrics so that they would be inclusive for all ages and so that parents would be able to support their children listening to the songs.
If kill-them-with-kindness could ever be personified, then Meet Me @ The Altar are advocates for the cause. Their mission statement is to be the representation that was missing from their lives as women of colour growing up in the early 00s – especially in the punk scene. Were they were aware of such power imbalances in music at the time? Téa responds without hesitation. “Definitely! Especially for Edith and me. We know exactly how it feels to be the only black person at a show in that scene, and it still kind of is that way,” she says, referring to moments where they have received side-eye glances even at their own shows. “It’s just very disproportionate, the amount of straight white dudes [that there are] compared to any other person,” she says.
“People ask us a lot if we feel pressure [to be role models], but this role feels very natural to us. I think that we’re the perfect people to be in this role because we are so persistent and confident,” Edith adds. This harkens back to the subconscious preparation that Ada mentioned. If you’ve been predisposed to an idea that you’re the underdog before you’ve even begun to show what you’re capable of, then, of course, you’re going to have built up the determination to prove people wrong. And despite only being in their late teens and early twenties, Meet Me @ The Altar have numerous stories to tell about the kinds of judgements they’ve been subjected to, from people who have doubted their ability as musicians.
When Edith, Ada and Téa realised that they shared the same mindset about shouldering the responsibility of making pop-punk more inclusive, being unapologetic in all of their efforts, and in the process, becoming the biggest band in the world, that’s when everything clicked for them. They realised that there was indeed strength in numbers and that they held all of the power in their own hands. “We have pretty much been right about everything. We really do put a lot of work in as a band, and it has paid off tremendously,” Téa boasts with well-deserved pride.
“There’s something about learning to trust your first instinct, for real,” Edith admits. “I’ve learnt that it’s not a bad thing [to be persistent and particular] when you’re an artist because your art matters. That’s why I get along with them [Ada and Téa] so well; we’re all that way.” Both Téa and Ada nod in agreement and emphasise that they’ve learned to assert their opinions and to not let anybody walk all over them.
It wasn’t an easy path to get to this point, as they never had anybody they could really look to for answers. They’re an anomaly of sorts on the pop-punk scene – if you hadn’t already noticed, 99% of their influences are men. There was only really one woman who was able to infiltrate the sausage fest of the 00s. “Hayley Williams was that person. She was pretty much THE woman in pop-punk killing it out there,” Téa enthuses. “There weren’t any women of colour that we had ever heard of. We had to take that lack of representation, do something with it, and just keep going. If there are any pop-punk bands out there that exist and have women of colour, hit me up, please, because I want to find you!”
In a time of limited human interaction, the internet has been a saving grace that has provided escapism and catharsis – especially from a musical perspective. “The internet was everything! I don’t want to say backbone…” Ada begins – “It really was, though, because we wouldn’t be a thing without it,” interrupts Edith – “It was something that we really paid attention to. Social media is a really big part of being a band because it’s the best way that you can build your fanbase and be there for them. It’s more than just the music; it’s creating a community with these people,” she continues.
Even though they’ve recently moved into a house together in Florida, the internet is so inextricably linked to the ways that Meet Me @ The Altar work that they still often write songs over the phone and send voice notes to each other. Despite all of the good that the internet has done for them, Téa is quick to acknowledge that it still feels bittersweet sometimes because they were used to their music being buried beneath everything else. “It was a blessing and a really bad thing at the same time because, after George Floyd and everything that happened last summer, there was a surge to support black music over the internet,” she says. “It really helped us because it kind of gave us a platform despite us being there all along, but it was behind something that was really bad. We don’t really know how to feel about it…”
It’s difficult to potentially have so many of their lucky stars attributed to being spotlighted as the POC artists to take notice of in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, but Meet Me @ The Altar know that they worked incredibly hard to even be noticed as one of these future spotlighted bands in the first place. They remain humility, but they’re unashamed to admit their awareness that hard work pays off.
In June 2020, they were announced as winners of Halsey’s Black Creators Fund, which was a massive boost for an unsigned band at that point in their lives. Téa’s dry sense of humour comes out to play when discussing how Halsey’s support had benefitted them. “We got money… That was great because before then, we were kinda broke!” she laughs. “We were able to pay for photoshoots and music videos. It was really awesome to be able to talk to Halsey on a human level.”
To have another queer POC ally in Halsey was a significant game-changer for Meet Me @ The Altar, and little did they know, there was another surprise waiting around the corner.
After discussions with a few record labels, the band decided to stay independent for a little while longer, saving themselves for when the perfect deal came along.
“I think we really needed to go through that process because it made us realise what we did and did not want. We know our worth, and we didn’t want to get signed to a label, then get shelved and not do anything,” Téa says. “We were perfectly content with staying independent for as long as we needed to until we got the deal that we wanted,” she continues, her breath quickening with excitement, “and then we signed to Fueled By Ramen and got the deal that we wanted! It worked out perfectly. This is what we would’ve been working towards on a smaller label, and we’re already here, which is awesome.”
For a band of 14-16-year-olds who grew up idolising Paramore, Twenty One Pilots, and Panic! At The Disco, Fueled By Ramen was always going to be the pinnacle. To be able to say they’re on their dream label was mind-blowing enough for Meet Me @ The Altar, but the fact that they are the first all-female, POC band that the label has ever signed – that is what dreams are truly made of. Their self-awareness and hard work have paid off at a rate that they can barely keep up with, but it aids the perpetual excitement and passion they exude. “It feels great to finally find a team that sees your worth – Fueled immediately saw our worth,” Edith gushes, with Téa adding: “They put us to work right away, and we wanted to work! We didn’t want to just be sitting…”
‘Garden’ was their debut single with the label, and it truly captures the distinctly dynamic energy of the trio. The video, directed by Lindsey Byrnes, sees the band in their uniform-black punk outfits, rocking out amidst a sea of flowers that occasionally rain down in slow motion amidst a colour palette of neons. It’s personality in abundance and highlights the euphoric spirit of a band who are currently revelling in a path that is seemingly full of open doors.
As can be expected, Meet Me @ The Altar are currently working on new music, but they’re tight-lipped on spilling any details; what they do reveal is that there may be a surprise element that they’re yet to showcase. “It’s 2008, but modern,” Téa jests. Now that there are crowds of people waiting for them to release new music, the pressure is on, but it’s not something that they’re putting too much of their attention into because the band are confident that it will be well-received. “We’ve been writing for a while now, so we have songs that we’re sitting on. It kind of makes that pressure [almost like] it doesn’t even matter because they’re gonna like it when we put it out,” Ada says.
So, what’s next? Of course, it goes without saying that live shows are top of the list. Ada is desperate to play overseas, while Edith is aiming for The Grammy’s. Téa, on the other hand, wants to dabble in TV and has her sights set on starring in Netflix’s musical comedy-drama Julie and the Phantoms.
Whatever is truly next for Meet Me @ The Altar, just know that they’ve set themselves the goal of being the biggest band in the world, and given their ability to manifest their dreams so far, they really could get there.