The exciting punk rock trio Meet Me @ the Altar — composed of lead vocalist Edith Victoria, guitarist and bassist Téa Campbell, and drummer Ada Juarez — are giddy when they chat over Zoom with MTV News on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Juarez’s eyes are animated, and Edith’s bright green and blue braids flip around as she speaks. It’s clear that the band are excited about their debut album, Past // Present // Future, out today (March 10) via Fueled By Ramen, as well as their evolution as musicians. “Before we started writing the album, we said, ‘We want to write something that rocks,’” Campbell says. “We wanted to write things that people can catch onto quickly,” Victoria says, with Juarez adding that “if a record doesn’t ‘flow,’ it’s not going to hit as hard” for listeners.
Calling in from different locations, the three band members’s geographical separation for the interview harkens back to their beginnings as online friends who connected over a shared love of music in 2015. But things are different now — the trio have performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and are embarking on their first headlining tour in support of their debut record. Through all of these accomplishments — in addition to being co-signed by Paramore’s Hayley Williams and alt-pop artist Halsey — they are just as close, if not closer, to one another than they were back then. Campbell attributes their early days sharing music digitally for how they’re able to weather the difficulties that may come with being in a band. “I really think that the way we formed has set us up to where we’re never going to experience what most bands experience,” she says. “It’s not like we’re just business [partners]. We started out as friends. We were kids that had a shared love for music and formed the band around that. I think that foundation will always help us pull through anything.” Campbell adds that communication is “huge,” something that’s helped them in contentious times where they’ve “had to step down and talk to one another.”
Hailed by Kerrang! as a band carving out a new diverse face of pop-punk, a genre that has long been dominated by white people (in particular, men), Meet Me @ the Altar quickly became the band that gave BIPOC fans a space in the scene. However, they still feel like they have to kick the door open to get opportunities, even as some arrive on their own. “They’re coming, but I feel like it’s a little bit of both,” Victoria says. “When you’re growing as an artist, your goals grow with you and they get higher. We still have some goals we’re striving for, but things are coming naturally as well.” Campbell adds that the band has been aligning themselves with managers and high-profile collaborators “who put us in the lanes we want to be in.”
The trio put themselves in their first lane. Johnson hails from Georgia, while Juarez and Campbell come from Florida and New Jersey, respectively. But the latter two connected through YouTube when the drummer posted a few pop-punk covers, prompting Campbell to reach out. Subsequently, they held online auditions for a vocalist. After nailing an impressive cover of Paramore’s “All I Wanted Was You,” Johnson joined the band in 2015. The story of the band’s name is also closely wrapped up in technology. A text exchange between Juarez and Campbell discovering that they share a love of the Mortal Kombat character Sub-Zero led Juarez to ask Campbell to “meet me @ the altar” of marriage, birthing the unique moniker. The band went on their first tour in 2018 and signed to Fueled by Ramen in 2020. Their debut EP, Model Citizen, released in August 2021, signaled a wave of momentum for the group that established their sound with singles such as the re-release of “Garden” and “Hit Like a Girl.” Now, with Past // Present // Future, the band find themselves experimenting with sound more than ever, ripping apart the nostalgia-act label placed on them early in their career.
Just as their origin is very online, the criticism that the band has faced is similarly connected to social media. “Say It to My Face” puts a spotlight on the misogynistic commentary they’ve faced from internet trolls — “I'm a bitch and my band is an industry plant / Least that's what it says on the internet” — who believe they can’t live up to the hype they’ve received in the scene and gives a middle finger to those who put down confident women in the industry in the song’s music video where the band virtually trolls haters. “We’re still learning how to deal with it and still navigating that whole side of the career path we all chose,” Victoria says. “We were fed up and we wanted people to know that we were annoyed and fed up with it. It was therapeutic to be like, ‘We read your comments, fuck you. Here’s an awesome song about it.’”
With the album name of Past // Present // Future, the band pays homage to their roots and growth. The “past” refers to the artists the group grew up listening to, the ones that shaped them. “We always found ourselves going back to P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, and Hilary Duff,” Campbell says. “It’s probably rooted in misogyny how all that female-led rock from the early 2000s got overlooked and labeled as lame and not real. That’s something that we don’t agree with. It was all so good.” The present redefines the look and sound of a modern day pop-punk band — one like MM@TA — while the future refers to how the band may still impact the genre down the line. Campbell says that the band focused on feel rather than pulling from specific artists when it came to the album’s sound. They looked to the early aughts when “everything was instruments and vocals,” Campbell says. “It makes each part of the song stand out, and that’s the approach we took.”
To bring the pop-rock past into 2023, the band needed a producer who knew the sounds of artists that ruled the airwaves at that time — among them, the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson, and Demi Lovato. Enter producer John Fields, who worked with all of them. “John Fields was such a big part of creating that sound and feel we wanted to go for,” Campbell says. “We assumed he would be too expensive for us to work with on this album, but Edith brought it up one day at dinner with our A&R. He was down, and it was insane. It’s such a full-circle moment for us to be able to work with someone who was so influential in our childhood.”
The overwhelming happiness that the trio exude can be felt on the album, like on the flirty single “Kool,” which balances pop and rock with an R&B groove. Revolving around thinking your crush “is the coolest person in the whole entire world,” the tune shakes up the typical song structure to deliver a catchy, straightforward chorus. Surrounded by other heartbreak songs on the record such as “Thnx for Nothing,” one perfect for blasting in the car after being dumped at a restaurant, “Kool” stands out, even as it began as a joke during the writing process.
The album tackles more mature subjects like self-doubt on “T.M.I,” facing criticism on “Say It to My Face,” and heartbreak on “It’s Over for Me,” moving away from the positive tone of their earlier music. For “T.M.I” particularly, Victoria was inspired by P!nk’s hit “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” citing its honesty. “For her to use her huge platform to just let people know who she was and how she felt at certain times is so incredible, especially at that time specifically when there weren’t many women talking about all the difficulties she’s had with her self-esteem. Growing up, it really inspired me to talk about it in music and I hope we inspire other people to use music as therapy and let people know how they’re feeling.”
Noting “Garden” as a tune that harkens to their optimistic phase, Campbell adds that, before, “we were that positive band, [and] things are filled with happiness, unicorns, and rainbows, but it’s just not like that. Part of that comes with growing up and realizing, ‘Oh shit, no, I have problems,’ and it’s all right because everyone does. But we realized that only focusing on the positive might not have been as helpful as we thought it was.” Campbell hopes that the authenticity in their music inspires others to be open with themselves as “so many negative feelings come from hiding from yourself and other people.”
Though they have accomplished “some of their goals,” Meet Me @ the Altar still have boxes to check off of their list. “I’m putting it out there because I want to manifest it: We want to tour with the Jonas Brothers. We just shot a video with their photographer, so we’re making our way in that lane,” she says. “It’s gonna happen, and you’re going to interview us in a year and be like, ‘So, how was touring with the Jonas Brothers?’”
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