By the time the wider world heard about The Linda Lindas in 2021, they were already on their way to superstardom.
It was in May of last year that the group made waves on a global scale. A video filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library showed a group of young musicians playing raucous punk rock, introduced by their then-ten-year-old drummer, complete with Bikini Kill t-shirt.
“A little while, before we went into lockdown, a boy in my class came up to me and said that his dad told him to stay away from Chinese people,” drummer Mila de la Garza said at the start of the song. “After I told him I was Chinese, he backed away from me. Eloise and I wrote this song based on that experience.”
The song – fittingly titled “Racist, Sexist Boy” – became a viral hit, gaining millions of views. But by this point, The Linda Lindas were already on their way up.
Self-described as being “half Asian / half Latinx” and composed of “two sisters, a cousin, and their close friend”, the group had formed back in 2018 for a performance at a Los Angeles music festival. Within months, the band were supporting the likes of Best Coast and The Alley Cats, and following a support slot for riot grrrl icons Bikini Kill in 2019, comedienne and director Amy Poehler got them on board to record songs for her film Moxie, including a cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl”.
But it was after their viral video that the group became a revelation of the indie and punk scenes. With members aged between 11 and 17, The Linda Lindas were already impressing people with their young ages, but it was their ferocious musical style, and stunning songwriting, that saw their profile continue to rise, and even saw them signed by iconic record label Epitaph.
Following a self-titled four-track EP in 2020, The Linda Lindas began sharing songs from their forthcoming debut album in 2021. With singles such as “Oh!”, “Nino” (written about guitarist Bela Salazar’s cat of the same name), “Talking to Myself”, and “Growing Up”, it hasn’t taken that long for the group to prove they’re a force to be reckoned with.
Now, with their debut album, Growing Up, released today, the young band have unleashed not only one of the best albums of the year, but they’ve done so with what feels like an almost effortless approach. Consisting of songs written throughout lockdown, featuring some of the slickest songwriting imaginable, and packed with more hooks than a discount bait shop, The Linda Lindas have proven themselves not just one of the most arresting bands on the scene, but the coolest band on the planet.
In anticipation of the release of their new album, The Linda Lindas – that is, Bela Salazar, Eloise Wong, and Lucia and Mila de la Garza – spoke to Rolling Stone Australia about their rise to fame, their new album, a potential visit to Australia, and how they’re just here to make music and have the time of their lives.
I’ve been asking a lot of people how COVID has affected their plans, but for The Linda Lindas, it seems as though you’ve really flourished throughout the pandemic. And I guess that wasn’t something you were really expecting, were you?
Lucia: When COVID shut [everything] down, we had to cancel all these shows that we were looking forward to. But since all that time was going into practising for the shows, we kind of gained some time to write songs, which is something we didn’t really get a lot of time for before.
Before we go into the new album in a sec, I’d love to just touch on the early days of the band. So the story of how you all got together and your first shows are sort of well known, but when you got together, what sort of musical influences did you share?
Eloise: We all listened to a lot of different bands.
Lucia: Yeah, but like, the ones we had in common, were like The Go-Gos, Blondie, The Pretenders…
Bela: Joan Jett…
Eloise: We were doing covers of X-Ray Spex, the Ramones, and The Bangles, too.
You’d already been making waves before it, but it was definitely due to the performance of “Racist Sexist Boy” that you all suddenly just blew up. How did it feel to sort of suddenly have all these eyes on you? Was it a bit daunting, or was it just sort of cool that everyone was listening to this song that had such an important message?
Eloise: Kind of both?
Mila: I mean, it’s cool, but at the same time, it was weird and strange and a little scary to think that so many people see this. So many people would see us.
Lucia: I mean, although it was scary and it still is scary, it made us feel like what we are doing can have a difference and it can make an impact. And that’s kind of what we wanted to show others. We want to show others that even though they might feel really helpless sometimes to do anything about all the problems in the world, that they’re not alone in that, and there are other people that want to help them, and there are other people that know what’s going on.
It also feels as though you’ve all really resonated with people for the right reasons. Y’know, people aren’t listening to your brand of punk and hearing old white dudes sing about things they don’t know about, they’re listening to a young band like yourself, who are providing much-needed representation, and showing it’s possible to have fun while you make music. And I guess that’s something you all feel is really important to do with the band?
Eloise: Yeah! Having fun is a really big part of it. Like, we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun for us. But being able to have a platform to speak out on things like racism and sexism in the public eye, it’s cool to see that we’re just four people that can actually make a difference, and it feels like our music can resonate with other people.
Lucia: And empower people who want to bring change as well.
And of course, that’s what punk music is all about, isn’t it? But you also had a lot of famous musicians saying how they were huge fans of you as well. Has that felt strange to have so many big artists say how much they love your music? Or to have so many people calling you an inspiration? Because I assume you didn’t get into music solely hoping people would praise you?
Lucia: [Laughs] No, it was about us loving it. But it’s been really cool to see how people like Kathleen Hanna and people like Bethany from Best Coast or people like Karen O from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have now said things that really make us feel like we’re a part of this community. Because we grew up listening to those artists, listening to Bikini Kill, Best Coast, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Being a part of that and making music and taking inspiration from everything that we’ve known and are going through now is something that we’re really lucky to be able to do, because we have found something that we really love at a younger age, and not everyone gets to do that at our age.
Plus being accepted and respected by all these musicians you look up to must be so important to you all as well.
Lucia: Yeah, it was always a big deal to us. Like, Bikini Kill, when we opened for them in 2019, something that really resonated with us was that they treated us like adults, like musicians, like people that could be respected. And that’s always something that we remember from that day.
Eloise: Yeah, like, Kathleen Hanna just walked into our green room and sat down and started talking to us. We’re all like, “Yeah!” [laughs].
So you’ve got the debut album coming out. When did you all start looking towards writing and making this full-length album? I’m assuming it was in the last year or so, judging by the timeline?
Eloise: Most of the songs were written actually before we did the library performance. And so we had all these songs and we were like, “Well, we should release them”. So the day that we got into summer break, we all just went into the studio, we started recording, and then we finished around the time that summer break ended.
Lucia: The album’s been finished for almost three or four months at this point. So it’s felt like a really long time since we recorded. But listening back to the songs again, it’s been really fun because we are really, really proud of like… We made an album! That’s kind of huge. It’s something that you can see our progress with. Like, you can see the difference from listening to the album, from watching videos from three years ago that we played that were not good. But even in those videos, we were having fun and even in this album, you can hear the fun.
So if a lot of the songs were written prior to the library performance, I’d assume they were written during COVID isolation?
Does that make it difficult to write songs? Because you can’t really jam and play music during isolation.
Bela: Yeah, when we wrote the songs, we wrote them separately.
Eloise: We all kind of learnt to write separately because we couldn’t get together. So I don’t know if it was harder because we haven’t really had experience writing together.
When it came time to putting an album together, was it a little bit daunting? Because you’ve got Epitaph in your corner, there’s attention from critics and everything, whereas before all that, it was sort of like, “Let’s just make music that we want to without any restrictions.” Does it all still feel the same when you get together and write music?
Mila: I think so, yeah.
Bela: Honestly, we’ve actually been really lucky. Like, there’s no stress. It’s kind of like whatever we want to do. Epitaph have been really cool with letting us be creative and do whatever we want.
Mila: They’re not, like, telling us what to do and what not to do.
Lucia: They’re obviously advising us.
Mila: They definitely help us.
Lucia: Yeah, they help us so much.
Bela: But there’s no pressure.
That’s one of the reasons why Epitaph has always been great. They always know how to help the artists.
Lucia: Even like, letting us do like making music videos that we want to make, and even the album art. That was really cool because Eloise cut out the…
[At this point it’s announced that Eloise has a spiderweb with a spider in her hand. She briefly leaves to get rid of the spider.]
When “Racist, Sexist Boy” went viral, there were a few people who commented saying they figured The Linda Lindas might just be a brief fad. You’ve obviously stuck around since, so has it felt good to sort of just prove people wrong by doing so well?
Lucia: No, because a lot of the times when there are people that say stuff like that, it’s kind of like your own insecurities as well. A lot of what I was worried about was that I was like, “Whoa, we just got so many followers in such a short period of time. Do we even deserve it?” It was a very mixed bag. I kind of didn’t know what to feel at first because I was very confused.
But at this point, the album is already recorded, it’s coming out, and I can’t even worry about it that way. Like, it doesn’t matter if we deserve it or not at this point in time because we’ve already made the music. [Laughs]. We are just going to keep making music and having fun for the people that do want to listen to our music.
Mila: But if you don’t want to listen to it, that’s fine [laughs].
That’s the perfect attitude to have. I also do want to take a look at some of the songs as well. You’ve got such powerful songs on here like “Oh!” And “Fine”, and then there’s the likes of “Nino”. As a cat-lover, I adore this song, but I have to ask, how does a song like that – or a song like “Monica” – come about? Are you just jamming and say, “Hey, Nino or Monica deserves a song, let’s write that”?
Bela: Well, my cats are kind of like a really crucial part of my life [laughs]. So I was like, “Why not, man? They’re here all the time, they’re right next to me, and I might as well write a song about them”.
Lucia: I remember when Bela brought that song in, it was during COVD, and she played it outside on acoustic guitar, and we’re in our backyard. But I remember that and I was really confused. Like, “Bela, you’re writing a song about your cat? That’s kind of awesome.” I don’t know, Eloise always says when people ask like, “Where do you get your inspiration from?”, and we’re always just like, “It’s kind of whatever it’s around us, whatever whatever is making us feel something at that point in time.”
Eloise: Yeah, our songs are just like a reflection of our life and the world around us.
I guess on that same line of thinking, you’ve got songs like “Growing Up”, and I guess if you’re writing about things around you or things that make you feel something, well, as a young band, growing up is an important topic. Is that how that song came about?
Lucia: It was hard because I felt like I was supposed to be doing something during the pandemic. I was supposed to be, like, figuring out who I was, because I know this is an age where you’re supposed to grow up and you’re supposed to know what you want to do with your. And I was just about to enter high school, but I didn’t want to do that without some of the people are most important to me. Like, you can’t even see some of your closest friends, what’s the point of growing up? Because growing up is about the people that make you want to stay young, I think.
Anyway, I think that song came from a place of nostalgia, and I was feeling really sentimental about all the time that we would play or when we were just really little. And I don’t think I fully appreciated how much music in the band meant to me until I couldn’t do it, or they weren’t as accessible anymore. So I retreated, and I was just listening to music almost 24/7 during Zoom school, and a lot of that gave me inspiration to write, and writing was how I could make sense of what was happening in my head.
So you’ve already played with a lot of cool bands so far, and even just this week you’ve got shows with the likes of Jawbreaker and The Lemonheads. Of course, I’m sure it’s a while off, but when will we see you all in Australia? Because however long it takes is far too long.
Bela: Hopefully soon!
Mila: We want to come!
Bela: As soon as possible.
Lucia: I don’t know, because Australia’s like usual festival time is like, during our usual school time. I don’t think we would turn down a festival to say, “No, sorry, we got to go to school”. [Laughs] So if you know any festival people…? [Laughs]
The Linda Lindas’ Growing Up is out now via Epitaph.