Album review: Meet Me @ The Altar – Past // Present // Future
Exploding pop-punk trio Meet Me @ The Altar blast internet trolls and take a deep dive into their reputation on long-awaited debut…
It’s been a long time coming, but Meet Me @ The Altar are finally releasing their debut album. With all eyes on them, waiting to see if they can live up to the hype as the future of pop-punk, we sit down with a surprisingly relaxed Téa, Edith and Ada, who are simply taking global domination in their stride…
Recently, Téa Campbell was looking around at the patrons of the restaurant she works at, quietly bursting with excitement. Unbeknownst to anyone but the guitarist/bassist, the sounds of her band Meet Me @ The Altar were lighting up the airwaves on a nearby TV – their 2022 “diss track” Say It (To My Face) soundtracking a Taco Bell advert in the background.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, none of these people know that’s my band,’” she grins, her eyes fake-scanning customers. “Something that we’ve always wanted was to be in commercials, to be in movie soundtracks, to be in show soundtracks. And now we’re getting a little bit of a taste of that. It’s so cool…”
This is where Meet Me @ The Altar – completed by vocalist Edith Victoria and drummer Ada Juarez – are at right now. 2021’s emphatic, 4/5-rated Model Citizen EP threw their momentum into full-throttle mode; now, they’re on the cusp of a genuine breakthrough. And they know it (even if Téa’s customers are still a bit oblivious).
“I feel like this is gonna be the year of so much growth for us that this is the calm before the storm,” Téa beams today, as we catch up ahead of the recent announcement of their long-awaited debut album Past // Present // Future. “I can just feel it. We don’t know what’s coming, but when it does it’s not gonna stop. We’re gonna hit the ground running and it’s gonna be like that forever. So right now we’re chilling!”
‘Chilling’ is indeed the word. Waking reasonably early to chat with Kerrang! for their second-ever cover story (they made their debut in summer 2021, when we proclaimed that the band were ‘changing the face of pop-punk for the better’), the Fueled By Ramen-signed trio of Téa, Edith and Ada are in relaxed – but overwhelmingly happy – spirits.
“When we’re off tour, I’m not getting up if I don’t have to,” jokes Edith. “That’s just how it is! If I have to be an early bird then I am. But if I don’t have to, then I will not be…”
But this is important business – the stuff that’s worth waking up for. Because Past // Present // Future is finally on the way, and there’s no doubt in their minds that it’s going to change their lives forever.
“We’re just waiting on releasing it, and that is so painful for me personally,” groans Edith of their debut’s year-and-a-half-long journey. “I’ve listened to it so many times that I’m like, ‘Do these even sound like songs anymore?!’ But then I’m like, ‘What am I talking about?! They’re so good!’ It’s a cycle that never ends.”
“It’s the opposite for me, actually,” chimes in Téa. “Since we got done with it a couple of months ago, the album as a whole is kind of new to me. Now I can actually listen to it and be like, ‘This is what the album sounds like.’ And I feel like all the songs sound like the same body of work, and that was something that we were super-set on: having an album that sounded like an album, because we listen to so many albums that have, like, two or three good songs and then the rest is like, ‘How did we get here?!’ We didn’t want our album to be that. And I feel like we pulled it off!”
This is, the band stress, because it all comes down to the music. In just a few short years, Meet Me @ The Altar have had pressure piled on them from all angles – and yet they’ve so cooly dealt with it, from supporting acts as wide-ranging as Green Day, MUNA and Coheed And Cambria, to being labelled as one of the bands bringing a much-needed injection of diversity into the scene. They’ve learned to brush it all off, though. Because for them, the songs are the most important thing.
“At the end of the day, we’re a band,” explains Téa. “We want the music to speak for itself and shine through. Obviously we represent so many different types of people and that’s always gonna be there. And we feel things changing, where we’re helping normalise people of colour and women and people who are part of the LGBTQ community being in rock. Of course representation is so important, because it helps further normalise other bands of colour or being LGBTQ in the scene. We’ve talked about it a lot because it’s important to talk about – but it’s important to talk about so that it becomes less important to talk about! I feel like we’ve talked about it enough to where we can chill out and really just focus on the music. That’s what’s super-important to us for this album.”
Things didn’t get off to a flying start, though. Or rather, in Téa’s words, Meet Me @ The Altar were “stressing” a little bit.
It was summer 2021, and the trio were making trips to Los Angeles to begin work on their debut. It was there they were thrown into the wild world of songwriting, meeting other creatives and partaking in various sessions to start laying their album’s foundations.
“At first it’s all about finding who you gel well with, and whose ideas you can bounce off of the best,” Téa remembers. “And we definitely had some sessions where we were getting miss after miss after miss, and we were like, ‘What is this album gonna be?’ We had to really think: ‘What do we want Meet Me @ The Altar to sound like?’”
A genuinely lovely – not to mention talented and ambitious – bunch, you have to wonder why Meet Me @ The Altar couldn’t make things work with their initial colleagues. (Hint: it wasn’t really anything to do with them at all.)
“I learned that if you can’t imagine yourself sitting and eating lunch with someone, then you’re not gonna write a good song,” explains Edith. “If that person isn’t listening to you, that’s gonna suck. And I also learned that if you don’t have the same vision, and if they don’t understand what you’re trying to do, then the song’s gonna turn out nothing like you. It’s gonna sound like something you didn’t even want to make.”
“We’re all about not wanting to sound like anyone else – we want to be us, and we want people to compare other things to us,” adds Téa. “So if you’re working with people who just stick to the formula, it doesn’t line up well.”
Thankfully, having persisted and trialled things out with more songwriters, Meet Me @ The Altar eventually began formulating meaningful partnerships to help realise their musical ambitions. Immediately, what came out was Past // Present // Future’s “circle-pit anthem”, Try.
“We hit it out the park the very first time,” Téa says proudly. “That was our first time writing with John Ryan. He’s such a creative, chaotic person, and that’s how we are, and we worked so well together.”
“He’s literally the best,” grins Edith. “I love him so much! He just gets us. And then after we found John Ryan we found a whole group of people that he knew that were also writers, and we gelled with them because we had gelled with him. He was the start, definitely, and we wrote most of the record with him, and I’m really thankful that he was part of it. He really understands what we’re trying to do, and that’s the best when you have someone who actually gets it.”
With Try in the bag and the right team now behind them, Meet Me @ The Altar spent time looking back over their teenage listening habits, and those formative influences that most of us never really grow out of. In the trio’s case, that’s the likes of Avril Lavigne, P!nk, Kelly Clarkson and Demi Lovato. Edith also scoured her homemade “2000s radio-rock” Spotify playlists to see who could helm the whole thing. There was one clear winner: this album had to be produced by John Fields.
“I knew that I wanted us to find someone from that time period who actually worked on the stuff that we loved so much growing up,” says Edith. “I was like, ‘Okay, I need to try and find someone who’s still alive and not expensive!’ (Laughs) I looked at the producing credit for Demi Lovato’s Get Back and Here We Go Again, and those were two of my favourite songs ever when I was younger, and it said John Fields. And then we had a dinner meeting with [Vice President of A&R at Elektra] Johnny Minardi and he was like, ‘Okay, so who do you want to produce the record?’ and I was like, ‘I saw a name and it’s pretty far-fetched, and I’m pretty sure he’s like a million dollars a song…’ But Johnny was like, ‘Okay, I can reach out and let me see what I can do.’ And then John really wanted to do it, and he really liked us! He was the perfect guy to do it.”
Not only did John act as a supportive “dad” to the band in the studio (“He’d be taking pictures of us like this,” jokes Téa, lifting two hands up in the air and pointing down an imaginary camera as her bandmates burst out laughing), but he helped bring to life the nostalgic-yet-modern sound they were seeking – from the snotty pop-punk of It’s Over For Me to the “P!nk vibes” of Thx 4 Nothin’ to the “aggressive” riffs of closer King Of Everything. So too did John provide Meet Me @ The Altar with an environment in which they could thrive and wholly be themselves.
“I remember when we were recording [the song] Kool, John Fields was like, ‘How do you want to record these vocals?’” Edith explains. “Kool is such a specific groove that I was like, ‘I just wanna sing it through multiple times, without stopping.’ Like a live take, basically. I like it to be vibey when I record, so I had him turn all the lights off, except for one lamp, so it was really dark. And the vibe was just so good, and I sang it maybe only three times and was like, ‘I think I’ve got one I like.’ And that was it!”
On the vulnerable TMI, meanwhile, Edith felt comfortable enough to express her more negative feelings. It was a therapeutic experience.
“That song is about me hating myself, basically, and I think that it’s good that we were able to get that out and they were willing to let me get it out, and they did it with me,” she shares. “It made the experience a lot easier! I feel like a lot of people are going to relate to that song, and feel less alone in those feelings.”
“I think that’s something that’s a little bit different now that we’ve grown a bit, not only as artists but as people,” adds Téa. “Because in the past we’ve always talked about positivity and how important it is to stay positive all the time, but realistically that’s not always possible. Humans go through every single emotion, and there’s gonna be bad days, and it’s important for people to hear that – even if it’s not necessarily positive, but it is positive for them to know that there’s other people out there who feel like that. You could just not be talking about it at all, and that would make people feel alone. So I think that’s something that we focussed on with this album: not hiding any feelings and putting it all out there.”
So what is Past // Present // Future really about, then?
“I would say that it’s about life experiences and all of the emotions you feel in life,” says Edith. “The album is about heartbreak, it’s about love, it’s about insecurities, it’s about not letting life get to you… it’s about so many different things. A song like A Few Tomorrows… I feel like it could be about a break-up, it could be about someone passing away… there’s a few different ways someone could interpret it.
“Past // Present // Future is just about life, and all the different things you can feel and go through. It’s such a wide spectrum of life experiences.”
Almost a year ago, Meet Me @ The Altar were on tour with Knuckle Puck when the title Past // Present // Future seemingly just fell out of thin air and straight into Téa’s brain. The same thing happened with Model Citizen, too. She really didn’t need to spend long questioning if it was right or not.
“I was in the back of our van and we were on our way to some venue, and the words ‘Past present future’ just popped into my head,” she remembers. “And it made sense. Like, we constantly go back to the music from our past because it’s what has always stuck with us, and it was just so good. We knew that we wanted to pull from that in the present, and make our own modern sound out of it, which is helping set up our sound for the future.”
For such a young band, the future is something Meet Me @ The Altar are unashamedly laser-focused on. They boldly look at a band like Paramore whose footsteps are ones to be keenly followed in, having done things their way while maintaining the core of who they are. Not to mention Hayley Williams is already a fan, having written the band a letter praising them for “carrying the torch” at last year’s When We Were Young fest (no big deal, eh?).
“They’re a band who changed up their sound so successfully, because each album they put out is Paramore,” explains Téa. “And that’s how I want us to be, for each album to be Meet Me @ The Altar, no matter what it sounds like, you know? Most of our fanbase doesn’t know that we exist right now. Past // Present // Future is what they’re gonna find, and because there’s so much variety and range, we’re really setting ourselves up to be able to do whatever we want. That’s one thing that we’re super-conscious of: we don’t want to put ourselves in a box and be trapped, which happens a lot. Model Citizen was a little bit more niche – it was very easycore. But we wanted to broaden our sound so that we can go anywhere.”
“There’s a lot of excitement,” adds Ada – the [email protected] member who speaks the least in interviews, but is just as self-assured as her chattier bandmates. “I feel like people don’t know what’s coming, and I don’t know what they’re expecting but I don’t think they will expect this maturity and this body of music that’s different than Model Citizen, but it’s still us. If you just read it like this it doesn’t make sense, but when you listen to the album you’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s literally Meet Me @ The Altar, you can’t expect anything else!’”
“As artists we never want to create the same thing for the rest of our lives,” agrees Edith. “Some bands are like, ‘Okay, I wanna do something different now,’ and their fanbase completely freaks out. The reaction is so terrible – like, ‘Oh, they sold out,’ or, ‘Oh, I hate this and I wish it was like that…’ Because the bands have boxed themselves in by creating two or three records that sound the same and that are very niche in a way, and then when they want to try something else most of their fanbase doesn’t fuck with it, and that sucks. I feel like our first record is so diverse, and people won’t be surprised as to where we go to next because it’s such a foundation of everything.”
Clearly, Meet Me @ The Altar are thinking about those dreaded social media comments. Not because they’re worried about the future music they write – but because online negativity and skepticism is something they’ve had to face already.
“After Model Citizen was really when we started getting comments of, ‘Oh, you’re industry plants, blah blah blah,’” shrugs Téa. “So we’re like, ‘That’s literally not true… but hey we’re back and we saw what you were saying the entire time!’”
Do you find that stuff easy to ignore?
“No, it’s not easy,” admits Edith. “And I think that it’s getting harder. I think we’re going over the bump of figuring out how to ignore stuff and not read things because we’re growing. I think once we have skyrocketed – and I feel like we’re going to skyrocket after this album drops – then we’ll learn quicker, and we’ll be steady, mentally, when it comes to all of that, and we won’t have to figure out what not to read and look at. Right now we feel ourselves going up in popularity and so we want to see what people are saying, but once we get there, then it’ll be a little bit easier to be like, ‘Okay, I know where we are right now, so I’m not going to look at this or that.’”
“I always have to remind myself that mainstream artists get so much hate,” continues Téa. “It sucks that this world is so negative that that is what you have to go through to get to the top, but that’s just the reality of how it is. Every person who is successful gets hate. Over the next few years, we’re really gonna have to learn and navigate how to block that out. But it’s hard – especially at our size, because we see everything. We get the notifications. And the 13-year-olds on TikTok don’t think about there being humans on the other side.”
“I literally saw the most vile comment on TikTok the other day and I was like, ‘This is so bad,’” Edith sighs. “But like Téa said, you know you’re making it when people are just talking shit for no reason.”
The ability to block all that stuff out will soon come – as will arena tours, awards, and more soundtracking work, in the hopeful and excitable dreams of Meet Me @ The Altar. Not that they’re arrogant about it…
“I feel like I’m always gonna feel like an underdog, and I feel like that’s a good quality to have so that you don’t lose your mind and you don’t get cocky,” laughs Edith. “I don’t even know if I’ve even realised what we’ve done so far – it still just feels fake! I wonder when that’s gonna hit me.”
“I constantly think about how we’re so young,” ponders Téa. “Like, you think back to when blink-182 started out: they were 20-something-year-olds just doing their thing, and we’re at that point right now, and it’s super-important to stay present in the present. Life’s gonna fly by just like that, and this is our debut album, which is so exciting. This is the only time we’re gonna experience this.”
Téa ties it back to that all-important album title.
“I think that the present is going to change absolutely everything for us in the future.”
Past // Present // Future is due out on March 10 via Fueled By Ramen.
Get your copy of the album with a hand-signed lyric sheet now.
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