Since their inception, English rock duo Nova Twins (vocalist/guitarist Amy Love and bassist Georgia South) have been defying convention and making room for women of color in alternative-rock spaces. Meanwhile, American pop-punk band Meet Me @ The Altar, a three-piece energetic group composed of lead vocalist Edith Johnson, bassist Téa Campbell and drummer Ada Juarez, who are Black and Latinx, have been jump-starting a new era of pop punk. Formed in 2014 and 2015, respectively, both bands have been proudly flying the flag for women, the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color and Black people in the alternative-rock scene. However, there’s still a glaring lack of women of color and LGBTQIA+ individuals represented in rock who aren’t seen in the mainstream music world. After the defiance of trailblazer Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, we’re still having the same conversation 40 years later. These bands are more than their cultures and gender—they point to an inclusive future for punk rock.
The punk community prides itself on being welcoming and accepting. What kind of effect has not seeing people of color in the punk scene had on you as an artist?
EDITH JOHNSON: I think for us, it’s mostly just motivated us. Of course, it annoyed us and made us pissed off, but we take those emotions, and it pushes us even more to be that representation and to start this line of WOC-started bands after us, hopefully.
TÉA CAMPBELL: It’s really cool for our two bands specifically to be at the forefront of the representation for the scene right now, which is awesome ’cause you don’t expect yourself to be in that position until you’re in that position. It’s like, “Whoa, we’re the ones doing it right now.” So, it sucks that there aren’t more and if they’re just getting buried under everything else and we’re just not finding out about them. But hopefully, our bands will inspire so many other people of color, women of color and women in general to start their own band [and] make a place for themselves like we both have done.
AMY LOVE: Yeah, it’s a tricky one. Because, obviously, punk is supposed to be this whole inclusive space. Not always, but it could appear to be this fascist movement, where everyone just looks like a particular style of punk. Think of the Sex Pistols. And that’s the only way you can be a real punk, if you have white skin and you got peroxide, straight hair and stuff like that. So I like that we are challenging the stereotypes. And we are trying to break down the barriers that we come across.
We’re lucky because there were people before us like Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex and Skin from Skunk [Anansie], who were fighting, where she was the first woman of color to play Glastonbury and headline it, and people often forget that. And they were really breaking down barriers for us. So, now, for us, it’s still difficult. We’ve been a band for like seven years, so we’ve been trying to cut through the bullshit. But I think there’s also positivity around it, too. And it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity that we do. Sometimes we get so frustrated when we see certain bands are getting picked up or being ignored, and we go, “What the fuck?” There’ll be some really shit bands who just happen to have the right look, and they’ll get on that playlist. So I think for us, we’re just trying to open the gates a bit more and widen people’s knowledge and perspective of what punk is or [who] rock artists or pop-punk artists should be.
And I do think that we’re crossing genres so much more now, especially with the Spotify culture that we have. The other day, we were saying that people are listening to us, Chloe x Halle and Biffy Clyro. You can see who’s listening to you, and suddenly it’s a really eclectic mix. There it is. There’s that crossover audience because that’s what the future is going to be for rock music.
Men in the punk scene are able to make aggressive music and be celebrated for it, but it’s seen differently when women do the same. What are your feelings on this?
LOVE: I think there’s definitely a weird perception in the industry that women can’t be aggressive, and if you’re Black, you get stereotyped as the angry Black woman as opposed to the cool fucking rock God that they get compared to. They can be angry, they can be aggressive and the man is seen [like], “Yeah, that’s it!” The more angry, the better. But when it comes to us it’s like, “Ooo, that’s scary. What’s wrong with her?” And it’s almost like a mocking thing, like, “Oh, are you gonna fight me then?” It’s a bit like, “OK, shut the fuck up.” It’s so ridiculous. That’s where a lot of the rage and the grab people by the throat concept comes from because we have to. We have to work that hard. We have to deliver that energy.
I guess when you’re standing up to loads of fucking men in the industry that have been around for years, we feel that we just come and bring it as hard as we bloody can and make sure that they know that we can do it just as well, if not better, than some.
JOHNSON: Sadly in the whole world—and it’s not only punk—it’s every single type of music. We saw this example when Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B had that “WAP” song. And people lost their shit. Or they were like, “This is vile. This is disgusting,” and then there are men over here that have been rapping for decades about even grosser stuff. And it’s not even thought about.
CAMPBELL: There’s such a huge double standard. It’s ridiculous. But as women, we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and not give a fuck what anyone says because they’re gonna find something to be upset about regardless. So just make what you want to make.
LOVE: You’re either too conservative, too sexy, too loud, too shy, too this, too that, too much makeup, not enough makeup. And it just goes on, and we get scrutinized for every single little thing. So at this point, we’re just pushing that to the side and being whoever the fuck we gonna be. And there’s so much positive imagery that we’re trying, and people are trying to put [that] out there now. And hopefully, it cuts through all the false beauty ideals that we can never live up to because they don’t exist.
People of color, especially women of color, are rarely lifted up in the alternative music community. As a result, what stigmas have you had to push back against?
LOVE: When we first started off as a band, a lot of people told us to lighten up our sound. They were like, “You need to pop it out a bit more,” and it’s like, “That’s not what we’re presenting to you, though.” This is who we are. And if we weren’t, that’s fine, but we’re not. So you obviously cannot handle us being that aggressive or portraying that kind of emotion. And that was really weird. And we decided very early on [that], “No, we don’t want to do that.”
So we just took this independent path. We played loads of shows and made the music we wanted to make and then eventually just kept building each show from 50 people to 1,000. And we’ve kept going up at festivals, and then we just kept building like that, really, because they weren’t ready for us.
GEORGIA SOUTH: There was even a time when we worked with this producer. We played him the song that we wanted to record with a big fat riff as we love to do. And he wanted to cut the riff into a quarter of the riff to just have the two notes at the beginning. And we were like, “That’s not what we want to do. What were you trying to do, dumb this down?” It was really good. He was trying to get in our mind, like, “No, this is what’s best.” Electronica started. We’re a band. It’s great [that] people do that. But we actually want to play our instruments.
CAMPBELL: For us, it was mainly just people constantly underestimating us. And we always felt like that pretty much every single show that we’ve played because, first of all, they wouldn’t even assume that we were a band. It was just assumed that we were there, and we weren’t supposed to be there. But you can always tell they don’t think that we’re going to be good because we’re girls, and we’re Black and Hispanic. But then when we actually go to play, they’re like, “OK, I was wrong.”
But I feel like coming out of COVID and getting back to business, that’s not gonna happen anymore because we don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone. And that’s the best part and the best mindset to go into literally everything that we do. You just gotta do what you love and what makes you happy. Because people are still not going to be pleased. It doesn’t matter.
JOHNSON: We start playing, and they’re like, “What the fuck.” I see you in the corner trying not to mosh and not like our music.
ADA JUAREZ: Just embrace it. Come on.
In your ideal world, what would the future of punk look like, especially for women of color?
JOHNSON: A bunch of bands of WOC. I want us everywhere, and I want us to take over everything.
JUAREZ: I wanna see a bunch of people that look just like us all over the stages, all over the crowds. That’s exactly what I want. A lot of POC feel uncomfortable going to shows. We want them to feel comfortable with themselves and not be like, “This is weird because I’m the only one.” It’s the worst feeling.
CAMPBELL: In the ideal world, it would be great to see a 1:1:1:1 ratio of just everyone—a complete diverse mix of people in audiences and in bands. Because we know what it feels like to be the only POC at a show, and I never want anyone to have to go through that ever again. I hope not, especially because of what we represent as bands and who we are. People who don’t even listen to punk or rock support us. That’s cool because they’ll end up going to shows, and it’s going to be this crazy mix of diverse people.
LOVE: I think I’d love to see the diversity obviously penetrate the audience and obviously affect the bands. But put us, women and POC, obviously less men, I guess I’m saying, on the front of fucking magazine covers. All we ever see is male rock bands on the front of magazine covers. Daytime radio, in the mainstream sense, women don’t thrive, especially in guitar music, for no other reason than their sexual genitals. That’s it.
That’s the only reason why we’re not there. Basically, we need to be in all these spaces. We always refer to the mainstream in terms of a wider audience, not a sense of pop culture, like how Bring Me [The Horizon] can exist in a mainstream way like Biffy Clyro or Led Zeppelin did. But we should start building up women, and not just one type of woman, but we’re talking about all types of women, a real reflection of our society today. Start building them up as headliners, as cover artists and on daytime radio. Put us in those spaces because if you don’t, we’ll never be able to build upon it like our counterparts can now. That’s the main problem, definitely.
When you hear people say, “There just ain’t any women in music,” it pisses me off so much when there are so many amazing artists out there slaying it and doing so, so good. There are so many! They’ve just been ignored. It’s such an ignorant way of thinking, and people are not looking, or they’re deaf or just not listening. They need to be able to be more aware.
You can read the full Nova Twins and Meet Me @ The Altar interview in Alternative Press’ debut Power Issue: Women Rising. Issue 392 featuring cover star Phoebe Bridgers is available here.