Teen angst ain’t what it used to be, at least not always. Understandably morose, peeved, self-centered music has forever been created in, and will doubtless continue to spill from, the bedrooms and laptops of young people with things in their minds that they want to put into song. But the L.A. quartet known as The Linda Lindas, whose debut full-length Growing Up is our #RecordoftheWeek, makes a righteous racket that draws its empathetic inspiration from what others endure, too.
This collection of 10 songs, released on the storied punk label Epitaph, ranges from melodic and hopeful pop-punk, to scream-y near-hardcore, to a sweet Spanish language confessional (“Cuantas Veces”). What’s evident from listening closely to the whole of Growing Up — a release that’s reaching a much broader audience since the adolescents broke the internet last May with their performance of “Racist Sexist Boy” inside the L.A. Public Library — is that these 21st Century rockers aim to shred and sing out about shared human experience.
Talking with Lucia de la Garza (aged 15), her sister Mila de la Garza (11), their cousin Eloise Wong (14) and longtime pal Bela Salazar (17) on a recent Friday evening was like chugging a case of Red Bull. The girls bubbled over with excitement for releasing this album after the wildest year possible — one marked by “total lockdown” and virtual schooling in California, writing separately, becoming viral video famous, signing to Epitaph, then recording their combined efforts with Lucia and Mila’s father, Carlos de la Garza. Not at all irrelevant is that de la Garza’s award-winning record production credits include work with rock icons Paramore and Bad Religion, and indie favorites Best Coast and Bleached. In other words, these girls have been surrounded by the coolest sounds and musical mentors possible, but the path they’re blazing is all their own.
The bandmates explained that the songs on Growing Up illuminate their individual styles and influences, since the COVID-19 quarantine siloed their creative bursts, and you can certainly hear those differences in their deliveries. The vocals often ping-pong between Eloise’s powerful shout-singing and Lucia’s honeyed notes. The superglue uniting the tracks is thematic: observing and navigating a world that has its bright spots but is far from “Fine.” The Linda Lindas rip power chords, pound the drums and smile while singing about Bela’s savage cat (“Nino”), mutual reliance (“Growing Up” and “Talking to Myself”) and, yes, issues with kids at school (“Oh” and “Racist Sexist Boy”).
But when I say something“Oh!”
Nobody backs me up (oh!).
When I try by myself
I’ma mess it up (oh!).
Oh when they say something
You always suck it up (oh!).
And when I try to help
It never is enough.
These Bikini Kill acolytes (and openers) embody the riot grrrl ethos of channeling frustration and calling out injustice. But they are also so grounded amid the widespread attention, the expanded eyes and ears. They accept being labeled a “punk” band since, in Eloise’s words, “punk is whatever you want it to be.” But they are still figuring out what it can mean to the four of them.
And bearing witness to this evolution, as a Linda Lindas fan, is pure joy.
On the Record: A Q&A With The Linda Lindas
Mila: I’m Mila, I’m 11 and I play the drums.
Celia: I’m Lucia, I’m 15 and I play guitar.
Eloise: I’m Eloise, I’m 14 and I play bass.
Bela: I’m Bela, I’m 17 and I play guitar.
Celia: Awesome, and together you make a beautiful racket. We’re so excited about Growing Up, especially because I got the skinny on these songs and you’re all represented songwriting-wise and vocally. It’s a really cool mish-mash of sounds. Everybody wants to say “this band is ____.” And for you guys, it’s always “teen punks.” You don’t have to dispel that notion if you really identify with that label punk, but maybe you define what you think The Linda Lindas are for listeners that might just be acquainted with your music right now.
Lucia: This is tricky. I think it’s mostly tricky because we are four different people with four different music tastes and we all write and we all sing. I think that’s the reason that it’s hard to define our sound. I don’t think we’ve really found our sound yet. This is only our first record. And I really I want to find it because I love writing with these people. What do you guys think?
Bela: I think, right now, “punk” is what best describes us, but it’s a loose interpretation.
Eloise: Punk is whatever you want it to be. It’s doing what you want and it’s doing it with people that you love. And it’s amplifying your own voice when no one else will, you know? And so I think that that’s what we strive to do.
Mila: Yeah. Punk isn’t just one thing. You can just do whatever. And so I think for me, that’s what’s cool.
Celia: Is the inability to define it? Like, “Don’t tell me what punk is. I’ll tell you what punk feels like to me when I’m playing it right now.”
Lucia: There’s so much freedom in writing and performing because it doesn’t matter at all if you make mistakes or if it’s not perfect, because that’s what makes it you. That’s what makes it, in a sense, more authentic.
Eloise: As long as you’re passionate about it, and as long as you’re doing something that matters to you, you’re doing it right.
Celia: Maybe you can go back to the beginning of writing songs together and then working them out. Are you jamming or are you all contributing ideas for individual songs, even if one of you wrote the lyrics? Is it a collaborative process to come up with these songs [that end up on the] total finished product?
Bela: Actually, most of the songs on this record were written during the pandemic, when we were, like, shelter-in-place
Lucia: Total lockdown, all apart.
Bela: So we couldn’t write together at that time. But we’re starting to now that we can meet every day or almost every day. But “Oh!” was one that we all collaborated on.
Lucia: “Oh!” was the song on the record that we were all able to write together. Bela first brought in the cool riff thing and then Eloise wrote the lyrics and we wrote the chorus. And I think that was really exciting for me, because we all learned songwriting separately, which kind of gave us room to explore what works for us, what makes us inspired. On this record, pretty much all songs were written separately and apart from each other. And you can hear that.
I think it’s cool, because it kind of gives you a sense as to who each of us individually are. And so hopefully in all the future music that we put out, you can see who we are together a little bit more. Despite being four different people with four music tastes, we can still blend those all together and we can still create something different and new and something that means something to all four of us. Because even though we are four different people, we still stand for a lot of the same things and we still go through a lot of the same experiences.
Celia: Speak to some of those things that you feel like you do have in common that maybe when you looked at this track list, you’re like, “This is our first album and the through line is…” I mean, is it growing up? Is it just the struggles and the realities that come with that? Because I see a lot of hope and love yourself and be happy to be around each other.
Bela: I think it for sure is about growing up.
Lucia: A lot of figuring out who you are, feeling out of place a lot of the time. I think that feeling is always going to be there. It’s not like you after you grow up — well, there is no after you grow up, really — suddenly you don’t relate to the songs anymore.
Eloise: What we write about is a reflection of the world around us. We write about everything that’s going on around us and everything that feels real to us.
Celia: Eloise, I want to know about your song — what is not “Fine”? What were you thinking about and channeling when you were screaming, “It’s not fine”?
Eloise Oppression in general is not cool — it’s a big part of our society right now, which is not fine. And war is not fine. Or like the language that some people in my class use all the time, that just puts people down. It’s not fine. The way that people try to categorize other people is not fine.
Lucia: A lot of the things that she’s talking about, as someone that sees it every day, it’s hard to feel like you can do anything about it. It’s easy to feel helpless, and it’s hard to feel like there’s nothing you as an individual can do about it: What’s really going to happen if I step in and try to do something about it, or can I even step in at all?
Eloise: Being in a world where so much happens, it’s just hard to take it at some point. And so that’s why I have to take it all out in a song like “Fine” or “Racist, Sexist Boy.”
Celia: Bela, I wanted to ask you, your song [“Cuantas Veces”] is the only Spanish language song on the album, and it’s musically different, too. When I got to that, I gasped audibly. It’s such a nice break in the action. Can you tell me about writing that song?
Bela: Sure. I have always been really interested in Latin music or Brazilian music. And I wanted to mix what I listen to into what we’re doing. I decided to write a song that’s bossa nova-y in the verses and, like, soft rock or something in the choruses. And I wrote it in Spanish because I’m not very good at sharing my feelings. I just hate doing that, because I don’t think it’s anybody’s business, really. But there were some things that I needed to get out and I felt like Spanish was the best way for me to do that, because I grew up speaking Spanish and English, and I learned both at the same time.
It’s really close to my heart because that’s how I was able to communicate with my mom or my grandma or whatever. And I also did it because it felt more personal. I wasn’t completely ready to share what I was feeling. And that was like the best way that I felt like I could do it. And it was still a little bit more intimate. You can figure out what I’m saying, but I just wasn’t completely ready to write a song like that in English.
Celia: That’s really lovely. And so even singing it live, if you get to, does it feel like a safe space to be able to sing in Spanish?
Bela: We actually haven’t gotten to sing in front of a crowd yet. So I’m hoping to in a few weeks when I can actually see the reactions to it.
Lucia: That’s going to be really fun. I know people are going to love that one.
Celia: I know your family has been really influential in bringing you all together in the first place, so there are family ties musically. I imagine that’s a huge support system for you to pursue this dream and see this come together. But what are your peers thinking about this wild ride that you guys are on, because you’re still young people in school in the middle of a pandemic and you’re writing and recording your first record on a major label! What’s the impression you’re getting from some of your friends that maybe have known you your whole lives?
Bela: A lot of my friends think it’s crazy. I think it’s really interesting because they were all applying for college. And I’m just like, “I’m not going to college just yet. I’m just kind of coasting doing this, having fun.” Every week they see something on Instagram and they’re like, “What the heck? Do you realize, like, what your life is?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. This is kind of happening really fast.” It’s surreal at times. There are a lot of things that I would have never thought that I would have been able to do, because I didn’t pay attention in school. I was told I couldn’t go to a four-year college or anything. My friends are going to college for their career or something. And I’m kind of doing that in a different way, and it’s cool because it’s like, I don’t have to go the same route as everybody else and I can…
Mila: Make your own path.
Lucia: Do something you’re passionate about. I just transferred to a new school at the beginning of the school year back in August, and they didn’t know for a long time. I kept [the band] secret. And then they found out a few months ago and they were all like, “What?! My mom showed me the video.” I think that kids don’t actually pay attention to punk rock bands. But they’re all really cool about it. They all think that all we’re doing is pretty, pretty cool. And I’m really grateful for my friends that are supportive of what I do. I’m really lucky to have family and friends that want to see me go somewhere, and I do, too.
Lucia: Mila, what’s it been like for you?
Mila: OK. So I’ve had the same class since second grade, so they all know me and they all know about the band. A lot of them treat me differently. I have a classmate that literally bows down to me every time she sees me.
Celia: That’s obnoxious.
Mila: It’s a little much. But it’s so weird to me because I’ve known them since I was seven, and I’m 11 now, some of them since even before that. And I don’t think I’ve really changed. But, for whatever reason, they treat me differently now.
Celia: Because your circumstances have changed.
Mila: My closest friends at school, they’re the ones that know not to ask me about it because at home, here, it’s really cool that we have the band, you know, because it’s like a creative outlet for you to express your feelings. But like at school… it’s cool that we are in a band, but that doesn’t define who we are.
Lucia: I mean, we can be multiple things. We can be musicians, like serious musicians.
Mila: But also, I just want to get away from it sometimes.
Lucia: I think it’s cool, for me, to be able to go to school and have a sense of normalcy, if you want to call it that: Here is where I can listen to music or just learn something about World War II or I could learn about present participles in Spanish. And then I come here and I’m able to just do music.
Bela: Sometimes it’s kind of fun because I can get people to kiss my butt, so I can get away with a lot, like if I don’t finish an assignment, it’s totally OK. It has its perks, for sure. I’ve gotten out of a lot of essays and stuff.
Mila: Just two months left, anyways.
Bela: Yeah, I’m almost done. I’m graduating, who cares.
Celia: Do you have senioritis?
Bela: Oh yeah, I have major senioritis.
Celia: Is there any other song you want to talk about?
Lucia: Let me set the scene for you. We’re in Zoom school still and somehow in English class, we got off topic, as we do in English class. And we talked about how people have conversations with themselves and their brains. And then I was talking about it with Mila and I was like, “I don’t actually do that.” And she said, “I do that,” and I was like, “You should write a song about that.” And it became a whole metaphor.
Mila: And then next day in Zoom school during our 25-minute break, I went over to Lucia in my bed and said “Hey, I started that song you were telling me to write,” and she was like, “Oh, really?” So then that day we wrote like the basic gist of the first verse and the chorus. We wrote the second verse all together and the bridge.
Lucia: [The song “Talking to Myself”] — I think it’s about doubting yourself, needing other people to talk to a little bit. A lot of the times when you have a conversation with someone, you keep going back to it hours later and you’re like, “Oh, I should have said this, I should have said that, should have done that.” And that feeling can kind of consume you a bit, because even though it’s just one thing, you just can’t stop thinking about it. You have to remember that sometimes it doesn’t matter. You have to move on with the people that are there with you.
Celia: I think that’s timeless advice. So thank you for it. I maybe needed to hear that today, actually. Speaking of advice, is there any piece of advice specifically you feel like you’ve gotten and it was an a-ha moment? As your lives are changing so rapidly with this record, maybe it’s from a fellow musician or a parent or an older friend or classmate?
Eloise: Adam Pfahler from Jawbreaker told us that we should just enjoy the moment that we’re in — don’t worry about if it’s going to end or whatever, just enjoy it, you know? Because he said that when he was younger, he didn’t really get to enjoy the time.
Lucia: When he was younger and in the band, he didn’t focus on having fun, so the memories he looks back upon were about him worrying.
Mila: Like, “What if this happens?” All the what-ifs.
Lucia: That was actually really helpful for me because I think about that a lot.
Eloise: Back to your question about what’s not fine. Basically, what’s not fine is oppression and how it’s normalized in society, you know, like how the things we say and the things that we do is that can oppress other people, it’s so normal that people just don’t like blink an eye or expect it almost. And that’s definitely not fine.
Celia: Agree! Also disagree that one person can’t change things, because even if we feel helpless, you are making music about things not being fine and potentially millions of people are hearing it. That starts a conversation, right? So then it’s bigger than just the thought you have.
Eloise: We’re just four people. But then it’s so cool to see that songs like “Racist, Sexist Boy” and “Vote” [recorded before the 2020 election] can actually make an impact. You can actually do something.