You’re already living in Meet Me @ The Altar’s pop-punk future
Speaking to Meet Me @ The Altar feels a lot like kicking it with your best buds — easy, warm, familiar, frequently interrupted by jokes about Drake and Degrassi. You know, BFF stuff, if your closest friends just got off a whirlwind tour with queer heroes MUNA, finished writing and recording their debut LP, Past // Present // Future, with producer John Fields (the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato) and made their live television debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert with a tongue-in-cheek diss track targeting trolls. The first lyrics heard out of singer Edith Victoria’s mouth: “I’m a bitch/And my band is an industry plant.” (“People just like calling women that,” Victoria rolls her eyes. “If anyone ever sees a woman playing music…” Guitarist Téa Campbell jumps in with a mocking bro tone: “There’s no way she got there herself, man!”)
OK, fine. So, it is not exactly like hanging out with your friends. But the connection is palpable. When the band appear on screen for this interview, they work a miracle, making the distance of Zoom feel like sitting in the same room. No longer in the Davenport, Florida house they shared for one crazy year, the trio are spread across the South: Campbell and drummer Ada Juarez in different parts of Florida (Juarez is seated underneath a massive Godsmack poster, a reference to her heavier sonic preferences, and still in pajama bottoms in the afternoon. “Business on the top, party on the bottom,” Campbell jokes); bandleader Victoria appears later, from Atlanta, Georgia. Her bedroom is a mall goth’s paradise — so intrinsically designed it looks like an art installation, all black sheets and black clothes and photographs of musicians in black clothes in other black rooms. “It’s my cave,” she smiles.
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Contrary to a few vocal haters on Reddit, Meet Me @ The Altar are not an overnight success. But they are a product of their environment: the internet. The band started back in 2015, when Campbell and Juarez linked up on YouTube. “The first time me and Téa met in person was for a Halloween party,” Juarez laughs. “We did a cover of ‘Tear in My Heart’ by twenty one pilots, and we dressed up as Josh [Dun] and Tyler [Joseph.]” The duo held auditions online for a frontperson; Victoria was a candidate but ultimately lost the part. When the singer they initially chose didn’t work out, in 2017, she was in. “I quite literally had to fight my way into this band, I will forever say,” she smiles. “I was a little crazy. I was silently bitter.” Victoria knew she needed to be in this band. She eventually reconnected with Campbell, the nascent trio recorded a cover of Neck Deep’s “In Bloom” and the rest was history. “There’s a reason God made me that persistent,” Victoria laughs.
[Photo by Jonathan Weiner]
The three did the DIY thing for a while, until everything changed in 2020: The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell tweeted about their single “Garden,” sparking endorsements from Halsey, All Time Low…the scene. The legendary record label Fueled by Ramen signed them. Their songs were undeniably tight — reflective of pop punk’s penchant for palm-muted power chords and ascendent choruses — but also a fresh take on a genre frequently criticized for lack of innovation.
All of that work was often hidden behind superficial conversations about representation. Here is a queer band of women of color — nothing like the antiquated emo music industry had ever seen before, or since. Undoubtedly, their presence was a long time coming. But becoming leaders in a conversation about diversity can often flatten the work. A pop-punk band built of cis white straight men does not need to hedge every conversation on identity politics. They’re not asked the same questions. They’re allowed to talk about their music. “We have done our due diligence and talked about [representation, gender, race],” Campbell says. “We really want music to be the focus now. We’re a band! Our existence in itself, in this space, is what’s going to continue to push the message and hopefully inspire other people who look like us to be in a band and do the damn thing.”
In the 2003 fantasy-comedy Freaky Friday, starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis — a delicious Y2K remake of the ’70s classic where mother and daughter switch corporeal forms — there’s a scene where Lohan’s punkish character Anna Coleman holds band practice in her garage. Her band Pink Slip play an original pop-rock banger, “Take Me Away.” In the years since, it’s become a bit of a cult classic — and the source material for “King of Everything,” an explosive cut from Past // Present // Future. “I literally had a crush on all of them,” Victoria says of the fictional band. “And I was like, ‘I need to be that girl in front of the band, and it has to be all girls.’” Prescient.
Each member of Meet Me @ The Altar knew since they were children that they wanted to be in a band. Campbell says “It’s all because of Disney! We were fed Freaky Friday. We were fed Camp Rock,” in reference to the 2008 Disney film starring the Jonas Brothers. “Pop in that time was rock [music]. It was rock-driven pop. We’ve always been about catchy melodies and songs. We’re unapologetic in our love for it.”
In fact, the overwhelming influences on their debut album stem from ’00s Disney pop punk and radio rock: the JoBros, Demi Lovato, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, hell, even Hilary Duff — certified hits, but the kind of music a lot of emo acts of the aughts were cynical about. These are the loathed “guilty pleasures,” the kind of music that could be labeled the stuff of “sellouts.” Meet Me @ The Altar pay it no mind. “People need to get over whatever stigma they have about Disney,” Campbell jumps in. “And pop in general, pop is good. It’s popular for a reason!”
So they went straight to the source for their material: They worked with co-writers they trusted (like John Ryan, known for his work with One Direction, and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson) and linked up with producer Fields at his studio in Minneapolis. “That was the vibe we wanted to go for, the Jonas Brothers from back then,” Campbell explains. “And he is the guy. He curated that sound. It was a no-brainer.” Plus, he showed them tons of JoBro archives: guitar cases from back in the day, Nick Jonas “Hold On” vocal takes, videos from Nick Jonas’ wedding, photos of Nick Jonas wearing his purity ring… a lot of Nick Jonas. As for that last part: MMATA are not interested in bringing Christianity into their music — they largely missed the religious undertones of the time period — but Victoria does say, “I’m a Christian. That’s a disgusting sentence,” and they all laugh. “I grew up singing in church.”
[Photo by Jonathan Weiner]
Across Past // Present // Future, MMATA tackle topics they’ve only touched upon in the past. Mental health is prevalent. “Try” details anxiety; “TMI” is an anthem for those with low self-esteem. That one was cut from Victoria’s soul: “I needed to write a song like ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me,’ by Pink. How Pink views her life is how I view my life — it’s all very depressing. But it was a very therapeutic [writing] session… I was tired of being ashamed and hiding. I know a lot of people feel the same way. I think it’s gonna be a fan favorite.”
There’s heartbreak, too — “It’s Over for Me,” in particular — previously unmined territory for the band, fully avoids the sexist lyrics of ’00s emo. “Sometimes that shit subconsciously turned into internal misogyny. Some of us saw it and made it out,” Victoria explains.
But at the core of the album is still this band’s unending optimism, like on “Rocket Science,” with its “Everything is possible” repeated refrain. That’s a lesson the band have been learning over the last few years — it’s as much for them as it is for their fans. Campbell says it best: “We are exactly where we are because of manifestation, and they can do it, too. We were just some kids on the internet in different states. Now we’re signed to Fueled by Ramen, we were just on Colbert and our song’s in a Taco Bell commercial. Everything is possible.”
Meet Me @ The Altar appear in Alternative Press' spring 2023 issue. Grab a copy here or below.