“I always gravitated towards rock music,” says Téa Campbell, the guitarist and bassist for the pop-punk trio Meet Me @ the Altar. “I always played guitar, even when I was 7. I was like, ‘I can’t just do this by myself. It doesn’t look right, just playing guitar by yourself,” she laughs. “I knew I wanted to be in a band. I knew it would happen eventually.”
Campbell is sitting next to drummer Ada Juarez, who’s sitting next to vocalist Edith Johnson. They’re snugly positioned on a couch to fit on a Zoom screen, and I notice that the logo on Campbell’s hoodie is the same neon green as half of the braids framing Johnson’s face. With Juarez’s unassuming black tee in the mix, the band looks like they sound — guitar-driven, to-the-point pop-punk with a fun, effervescent twist. The three are relaxed in their close proximity, laughing at each other’s answers and smiling like they know what the other person will say before she says it.
“I told my parents at a young age. I was saying it at every single family reunion we had: ‘Oh yeah, I want to be in a band. I want to be a musician!” Juarez reminisces. “Then, years go by, and when I started posting on YouTube, I had that in the back of my head: ‘I’m going to find fellow musicians, hopefully, that are all girls, just like me, and start a band.’”
“I never thought about being in a band until I was 14,” Johnson recalls. “But in my life, music has always been there. I knew I wanted to be a musician. I was like, ‘OK, I can be a solo artist. But not until I got into the [rock] scene was I like, ‘Whoa!’” She stops for a beat, letting her smile widen. “I want to be a singer, but I can be a singer in a band — and that’s what’s going to happen.”
They were right to trust their intuition, and to utilize the Internet. Campbell, now 20, lived in Florida; Juarez, 22, was based in New Jersey; and Johnson, 20, was in Georgia, so they mostly tele-collaborated for a few years before embarking on their first tour in 2018. A deal with Fueled by Ramen was announced last October, putting them in the ranks of pop-punk royalty like Fall Out Boy, Paramore and Panic! at the Disco, and making Johnson the first Black frontwoman the label has ever signed.
The choice to lead with an upbeat song was intentional because, as they told The Fader, “We wanted to write a super-energetic song that was really positive, because a lot of pop-punk isn’t positive. It’s about white dudes, crying over their girlfriends.”
Speaking of white dudes: As three women of color, Meet Me @ the Altar’s makeup may seem counterintuitive to the heavily white, primarily male pop-punk scene, or rock scene in general. Though rock wouldn’t exist in its current form without Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s guitar heroism, Chuck Berry and Little Richard’s foundations, Jimi Hendrix’s sonic revelations, Santana’s innovative electric grooves, Bad Brains’ galvanizing performances and the harmonies of ’60s girl groups like the Ronettes, Black and brown contributions to rock history and culture have too often gone overlooked or marginalized — a problem Meet Me @ the Altar wants to help correct.
Their current mission is twofold: to record and share their new music while also pushing for the much-needed diversification of pop-punk, in hopes that their fans will follow suit. “I hope they see that since we’re doing it, they can do it too,” Johnson says. “And that doesn’t even necessarily mean only music; that [revolves] around anything they want to pursue in their life. ‘You can do this. What’s holding you back? You’re just thinking too much.’ And I hope that’s what they see when they see us.”
While profiles of Meet Me @ the Altar have used phrases like “the future of pop-punk” to describe them, the band seems equally excited about the impact of the Black and brown rock artists that came before. “It’s inspiring to see them doing what they did in the time that they did, because, for us, we can do it, and it’s not like, ‘Black people?!’” Campbell says, putting her hands up to her face to feign shock. “For them, it was ‘you don’t belong here’; it was very outright. It’s very inspiring to know the history, and to know Black people started rock. It pushes us to keep going. We belong. This is our space. Even though people try to convince us that it’s not.”
“It’s kind of sad,” Johnson interjects solemnly. “Because they convinced us so well that it wasn’t our space that other Black people believe it’s not their space. We’ll get messages like ‘I get bullied by my Black peers for liking rock,’ and that’s so confusing. So we’re trying to eliminate that.”