Back in 2020, before the Coronavirus pandemic and the various lockdowns that followed, Meet Me @ The Altar were a struggling DIY band. Playing shows to 30 people if they were lucky, and constantly dealing with scene gatekeepers who had an issue with their race, their gender or the fact they met over the Internet, the band marched on. Quietly, they believed that one day, they’d be the biggest act in the world.
Their origin story is truly one for our times: in 2015, guitarist Téa Campbell stumbled upon Ada Juarez’s YouTube channel, which hosted all her drum covers of pop punk classics, and the pair quickly bonded. Vocalist Edith Johnson completed the lineup in 2017, via an audition where she sung Paramore’s All I Wanted.
Living in separate states, the band would fly to Orlando to play basement shows and worked on music remotely. “I don't even think there was ever a day where we didn't talk to each other,” says Johnson.
“It felt right though. Sometimes in life you have obstacles, and this distance just happened to be the thing we needed to overcome in order to do what we love. We never complained and we’re seeing those sacrifices pay off now,” she adds with a grin.
Sometime last year, their track Garden – a posi, pop-punk emotional support anthem ('I'll always be right here when everything's unclear') – started connecting with people en masse. Then they were chosen by US singer Halsey as one of the recipients of her Black Creators Fund. A record deal with Fueled By Ramen (Paramore, Twenty One Pilots) quickly followed and earlier this year, the three-piece released the Model Citizen EP before a huge US tour with Coheed and Cambria.
They’ve already been booked for 2022’s Slam Dunk and Download Festivals and this month, they played their first ever international shows as part of All Time Low’s UK tour.
We spoke to Johnson about positive music, being the biggest act in the world one day, and why she never let the bastards grind her down.
Hey Edith, talk to us about Model Citizen.
“The EP is about growing up and learning from your mistakes. You're constantly trying to become the person you want to be. We're young and right now, we're trying to navigate ourselves at the same time as navigating our careers. We were just writing what we thought we needed to hear. Musically, we love Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, Pink and KE$HA and we wanted to match the MM@TA Easycore sound with that.”
What does it mean to be touring with All Time Low?
“They were my emo band. I found them when I was 14 and I listened to them everyday so it doesn’t feel real yet. It’s crazy to grow up with someone and then be touring alongside them. That first show together is going to be an emotional moment, for sure.”
Why do you think your music is connecting with people?
“We’re just honest. I think it’s resonating because it’s not just whiny and full of complaining. Yes, sometimes we get pretty sad with our lyrics but I think it’s the perfect balance of positivity and negativity. Honestly, sometimes people want to be lifted up and that’s not something that happens a lot in pop punk. The world is so dark already, we really don’t need to focus on more negativity."
You’ve gone from no one knowing who you are to being heralded as the saviours of pop punk. Are you feeling the pressure?
"Yes and no. We were always very aware that we were going to be at the front of championing diversity and inclusion within the scene. Honestly, I feel like we’ve been preparing ourselves for this since we first got together. From the very beginning, we’d look around and know there’s not really anyone that looks like us in the world of pop punk.
"I was just so tired of not seeing anyone like me fronting a band. I'm the type of person to be encouraged by that and not pushed away. I was angry but that just made me a lot more motivated to that inspiration for other people, because I didn’t have anyone to look up to.
"And now, it feels like the very, very beginning of a new era. Us and Pinkshift are right at the forefront of that, which is super exciting. It’s why there isn’t much pressure, because we’re doing what we wanted to do all along."
Do you feel like you have anything left to prove?
“People think we came up really quickly, and we kinda did, but Ada and Téa have been working forever on this band. Obviously, as women and as people of colour, people are always going to have something to say. Once we play these shows though, those people will quickly shut up cos they’ll see that we are actually really good. I don’t know why but we’ve definitely got a lot to prove. I feel like women in music, across all genres, will always have something to prove sadly.”
What do you want this band to represent to others?
“That it doesn't matter who you love or what you look like, you can literally do whatever you want. I want people to look at us and know they don’t have to follow the social norms because that’s just bullshit, honestly. If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. And I just want people to live their dreams, because we are literally doing that right now.
How ambitious are you?
"I know we want to be Green Day big. I want to be the biggest band ever, because the bigger we are, the more people see us. The more people that see us, the more normalised Black and brown people in rock music becomes and the more normalised women in music becomes. That’s the most important thing for us."
Do those goals feel achievable?
"Definitely. I couldn’t just wish for something that I wasn’t working towards though. But when I started playing with this band, everything felt possible because Téa, Ada and I are a force to be reckoned with. We have a long way to go but we’re going to work for it and it’s going to happen."
Do you think what Meet Me @ The Altar are doing is important?
"Us getting all these big tour opportunities, speaking our truth and singing about what we believe in, it gives other people the belief that they can do the exact same thing. I feel like even when we are one the biggest band in the world, things still aren’t going to be as diverse as they needs to be and we still will be held to different standards.
"It's something Halsey talked to us about. She said that once you get bigger, people are just going to point out that you are women, and women of colour, and not focus on the fact that you are artists making art. The funny thing is that we don’t even need to make political music because our existence in this scene is political. So yes, MM@TA is very important. It's important for people to see us. Our voices are really important for society right now and personally, this band is important because you want to prove to yourself that you can do this. It’s been a real journey of learning to trust yourself."
Model Citizen is available now