By Ida V. Eskamani
The floors are almost as sticky as the humid Florida air. It's the summer of 2017, and a five-band bill is about to kick off at Orlando's Uncle Lou's Entertainment Hall. Guitarist Téa Campbell of Meet Me @ the Altar is preparing for the band's live performance — while simultaneously working the door. It's a show the guitarist booked herself.
"The Orlando scene is where we really built out our initial following," says Campbell, "where we got our start."
And why Uncle Lou's for this important night? "That was the only venue that would take us!" she laughs, acknowledging the absurdity of one of the most sought-out acts in pop-punk today not being able to find a venue to play just four years ago.
"I hit up the owner on Facebook, and I was like, 'Hey, can my band play at your venue? I'll book the show and everything!'"
Fast forward to the present day, and Meet Me @ the Altar are seemingly on the way to world domination, sharing stages across the country with big-time headliners like Coheed and Cambria and the Used. Orlando Weekly featured the Davenport band in our final issue of 2020, in a roundup of our favorite musical bands, songs and happenings from an otherwise downer year. In that piece we noted: "In a scene dominated by cisgender white guys, this trio of women of color comprising vocalist Edith Johnson, guitarist Téa Campbell and drummer Ada Juarez represent the future of pop-punk, and under their leadership it is very bright, especially for Black and brown girls."
We were not alone in our admiration. Teen Vogue, Billboard, Rolling Stone and the New York Times have all since joined the chorus.
Founded in 2015, Meet Me @ the Altar may have cut their teeth in the Orlando scene, but they are a band born out of the world wide web. Until recently, the trio lived in three different states and met via YouTube. They wrote all their songs remotely, via text message and voice notes. Even their band name manifested from a text thread. During these extraordinarily strange times, their ability to create art apart has allowed the band to thrive in the midst of a global pandemic.
It's also how, last summer, Dan Campbell of pop-punk stalwarts the Wonder Years discovered and tweeted about their song "Garden." Alex Gaskarth from All Time Low followed, and then came recognition from singer Halsey's Black Creators Fund. Already gathering a following, the band quickly caught fire through social media, and soon signed on with Fueled by Ramen, a label known for launching acts like Paramore, Twenty One Pilots and Fall Out Boy.
The internet allowed the trio to meet, but it was a mutual love for pop-punk combined with a shared identity as femmes of color in a scene of predominantly white men that bonded them. Campbell credits youthful optimism for allowing the band to not even consider the possibility that pop-punk wasn't made for them.
"I think that's the beauty of us forming so early. Because there was almost a naiveté to it," Campbell says. "We didn't know what the scene actually held, so we didn't think like, 'Oh damn, this scene is probably not gonna want us in there.' We were like, 'Yeah we wanna be there, we're gonna fuckin' do it!'"
She pauses, briefly, then adds triumphantly, "And we did it!"
By all metrics, they have indeed done it. But Meet Me @ the Altar isn't stopping anytime soon. They are determined to take over the world, and to inspire young girls of color to claim their space along the way. Their recently released debut EP, Model Citizen, and tracks like "Hit Like a Girl" and "Garden" center this shared identity with a catchfire confidence and unfettered ferocity.
On stage, Meet Me @ the Altar's energy devours you. This is a band that knows their power, and wants to make sure girls like them know theirs too.
"We went from playing small shows in Orlando, to nothing, to Coheed and Cambria, it's absolutely insane," says Campbell. "With the perspective we have now, we're so aware of how important it is for people who look like us to be on stage with bands like Coheed and Cambria."
She also promises an Orlando show in 2022. "When we're Paramore's size, we gotta go back to Uncle Lou's," Campbell adds with a laugh.
Uncle Lou, if you're reading this — keep an eye on those Facebook DMs.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.