After meeting online in 2015 and collaborating remotely for three years, the members of punk trio Meet Me at The Altar went on their first-ever tour in 2018. Band members Edith Johnson (vocals), Téa Campbell (guitar and bass) and Ada Juarez (drums) had hardly ever met in person before, much less performed together, and were thrilled to finally join the punk scene they fell in love with in their early teens. But as an all-women-of-color group with two gay members in a genre heavily dominated by white cisgender men, they found that the scene didn’t always show them the same love.
“We’d walk into a venue early for load-in, and the venue owner is like, ‘You guys can’t come in; doors aren’t open yet,'” recalls Johnson, 20. “We’re like, ‘We’re literally playing the show!'” At another gig in Orlando, a man working at the venue nearly kicked them out of the green room, reminding them that the backstage space is for performers only. “We’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re aware,'” quips Campbell, 19. “‘How do you think we got here in the first place?'”
Rather than push the band away, those struggles have become essential to their urgent goal as music-makers: To diversify the punk and alternative music space, and be the role models they didn’t have growing up. It’s a message the band seeks to amplify by signing their first record deal, announced Friday (Oct. 9), with Fueled By Ramen, the storied Warner Music-owned alternative label, housed under Elektra Music Group, which has launched acts like Paramore, twenty one pilots and Fall Out Boy.
“I don’t want to sound cheesy, but we do think that we’re going to be one of the biggest bands in the world,” Campbell says. “We know that Fueled By Ramen will be able to take us there and give us a platform for us to be the representation for a bunch of people.”
The signing is one of many full-circle moments for the group, whose members were each inspired by the FBR roster — and especially Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams. “For Hayley, it was like, ‘There’s a woman, and she’s doing what I want to do,'” Campbell says. “‘I can do that [too].'”
A Florida native, Campbell met Juarez circa 2015 on YouTube, where Juarez was posting video covers of rock songs from her New Jersey home. “We became friends immediately,” says Juarez, 21. “The first thing we did was say, ‘we should get a singer,’ so we held [online] auditions, and that’s how we met Edith.”
Funny enough, they initially passed on Johnson’s audition video (a cover of Paramore’s “All I Wanted”), but Johnson, who lived in Georgia, says she texted Campbell “every day” until Campbell finally gave her the vocalist gig in September 2017. The band’s name, abbreviated as MM@TA, stems from a text message Juarez sent Johnson in a bonding moment: “I was like ‘marry me!'” says Campbell, “and she typed, ‘meet me @ the altar.'”
While many artists have struggled to adapt to making music remotely amid the pandemic, MM@TA have only ever collaborated this way. Spread across three states, the trio have written most of their songs over iMessage: Campbell will send a guitar riff in a voice memo to the group chat, and if Johnson gets a vocal melody idea right away, they know they’re on the right track.
“A lot of people don’t understand how we do that, but honestly, it’s so easy,” says Johnson. “We’re young, and we were born on electronics, so it was second nature to us.”
Rather than attempting to practice for gigs over video chat, which lag time makes nearly impossible, the women each practice their parts individually, so that when they finally get together in person — often on the very night of a show — “we’re mainly focusing on the stage presence,” Campbell explains.
The self-managed band has always booked gigs themselves and done “absolutely everything” with an urgency they all agree is not emulated by their white peers, says Campbell, the self-appointed “mom” of the group.
“Growing up as women of color, I know all of us were taught in our households that you have to work for everything and things aren’t just going to be handed to us,” Johnson adds. “That was just a subconscious thing.”
Along the way, they have released two EPs — Changing States in 2018 and Bigger Than Me in 2019 — and developed a vibrant, high-energy sound with lyrics that radiate positivity: On their latest single “Garden,” released in May, Johnson’s warm vocals urge listeners that “your flowers will finally grow.”
Those EPs caught the ear of Elektra Music Group vp of A&R Johnny Minardi, who has kept in contact with the band over the years.
“Them coming together through YouTube Fueled By Ramen covers felt very serendipitous,” Minardi says. “Every time I would have a conversation with them, they would tell me a tidbit about their biggest inspirations or doing drum covers of Paramore. I kept being like, ‘This is the most obvious thing in the world in the best way possible: To connect and go and try to take on the world together.'”
The week “Garden” was released, All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth and The Wonder Years’ Dan “Soupy” Campbell both reached out to Minardi to ask whether he’d signed the band yet. He told them he was working on it. “The band fits so much into the classic, vintage Fueled By Ramn sound, but is also moving it forward,” he says. “They add this mixture of other cool stuff, including these incredible breakdowns and melodies.”
Collaborating remotely is one thing, but for an A&R to sign a band remotely is another challenge entirely. To this day, Minardi has never met any of the band’s members in person, and has only seen them perform live through shoddy iPhone videos of past shows. Even so, after “three or four” FaceTime calls during which he introduced MM@TA to each Fueled By Ramen department, he says, he was ready to offer them a deal.
“When you could meet with someone for two hours over dinner or before or after a show, you could get a sense of ‘I think we click’ or not right away,” he says. “Over Zoom and FaceTime, everyone’s energies are different. But [MM@TA] jumped through the screen in the best way possible. You feel this positive force.”
Going forward, Minardi says he hopes to build on the band’s strong connection with their core fans online, so that they can “shoot right out of the gate” once touring resumes. MM@TA frequently use the Netflix Party Chrome extension to host virtual movie nights with fans, and text with fans almost every day through the celebrity texting app startup Community, in addition to engaging often on Instagram (where they have 10,000 followers) and Twitter (5,000).
“We like to say ‘supporters,’ because [with the word ‘fans’] there’s that power dynamic, which we don’t want,” Campbell adds. “We want our supporters to feel like our friends and our family. Obviously, we can’t play shows, which sucks, but we want to engage with everyone as much as possible and make them feel as much of a part of our band as we are.”
To celebrate the signing, the band and Fueled By Ramen have re-released “Garden,” along with a music video creative-directed mid-pandemic in Orlando by one of Williams’ frequent collaborators, creative director Lindsey Byrnes.
Meanwhile, this month, the band members moved into a townhouse in Florida, where they plan to live and write music together for the first time — “as long as we don’t kill each other” first, Campbell jokes. But in her mind, the band is already having an impact.
“For us to be able to [show fans], ‘Oh, there’s a woman of color who’s doing what I want to do,'” she says, “it’s going to make it a lot easier for the little girls now that looked up to us.”