By Joshua M. Miller
Los Angeles-based The Linda Lindas are punk to the core. So when the Cypress Park branch of the Los Angeles Public Library asked the band if they wanted to perform there as part of their Asian American Pacific Islander heritage programming, it was an easy decision. They saw it as a fun way to raise awareness of racial issues (the band members are Asian American and/or Latinx) and promote equality, as well as a way to support one of their favorite libraries.
“We immediately said yes because we love the library!” says 14-year-old bass player Eloise Wong.
The band also features Wong’s cousins, sisters Mila de la Garza, 11, on the drums and Lucia de la Garza, 15, who plays guitar. 17-year-old family friend Bela Salazar also shreds on the guitar. On the cusp of releasing their debut album, Growing Up, they look back at the gig that made them a viral sensation.
“We always check out a lot of books anyway,” says Lucia, “but during the pandemic, Eloise and I were reserving and picking up books stacks at a time.”
During their performance, surrounded by some of these same novels, the band launched into a fiery version of their song “Racist, Sexist Boy,” which was inspired by a negative experience Mila had with a classmate.
“Mila and I wrote it because she was mad at her classmate who said something racist and I was fed up with all the sexism I’d seen since I was in kindergarten,” says Wong. “It was a way to process our feelings, and the song came out really fast — just a few hours over Zoom.”
Mila says it was a “perfect opportunity to play loud music in a place that is usually quiet.” As an added bonus, they got to eat there.
None of them ever fathomed the video of the performance would go viral, much less the sheer reach it would have worldwide. In the days and weeks ahead, it received over 4 million views on Instagram, Twitter and other social media. It also garnered praise from Hayley Williams, Questlove, Flea, and members of Rage Against the Machine and Sonic Youth.
“None of us expected the video to blow up,” says Salazar. “I mean, it’s a library! I’ll never forget that day at school when my phone wouldn’t stop vibrating only to find out it was our band that was taking over my feed and that musicians like Flea and Questlove were sharing the video.”
Mila adds, “It was amazing to see all the support we got, and it was also a little sad to see how many people could relate to it.”
The members say they have a blast playing the song at their shows, especially since it’s taken on added, more inspiring meaning. “As we keep playing it, it’s gone from being an angry song to being a joyful and empowering one,” says Wong.
Almost a year after their performance at the library, the band is releasing Growing Up digitally tomorrow (April 8), with physical formats out June 3 via Epitaph Records. The full scope of their rising popularity hasn’t quite dawned on the group quite yet (“Everything kinda happened online so we haven’t completely experienced all of it,” Bela says), but now that they’re promoting the LP, it’s begun to sink in.
“Now we’re doing more interviews and photoshoots and will be going on tour soon,” says Lucia. It’s been a fun process so far, and as Mila adds, the snacks and Boba help.
After striking viral gold in May, the band set a goal of finishing their album during their summer break. Most of the songs were written while the members were attending school remotely during the COVID-19 lockdowns. “They were a way for us to process what was going on,” Lucia says.
In addition to the pandemic, the movement for Black lives picked up, but so did hateful rhetoric toward people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. These weighed heavily on their minds as they composed tracks. “And just growing up, which is hard anyway but even more difficult when you’re away from friends, family, and normalcy,” says Salazar. “We were lucky to get to go through it together.”
Over the course of the album’s 10 songs and roughly 26-minute runtime, the band captures the complexities of getting older, the good and bad, and figuring out one’s identity.
In “Talking to Myself,” the band examines the maze that anxiety and stress force us to navigate, often “about things we cannot help.” Nonetheless, the band remains hopeful, singing, “I’m still here and I’m still livin’.” Meanwhile, on “Oh!”, the band examines the tug of war of deciding the right time to say something personal. The song begins with the lyric, “Oh when I say something / I wish I had shut up (oh!) / And when I try to help / I always screw things up (oh!).”
The band feels these themes of growing up are a universal message that applies to everyone. “We hope it resonates with everyone and not just kids,” says Lucia. “You don’t stop growing up after you’re a kid!” They filter this message through a dynamic range of influences, including punk, post-punk, power-pop, and new wave. Everyone in the band takes turns singing on the album, allowing more diversity in their songs.
For example, on “Sexist, Racist Boy,” Wong and Mila deliver spitfire vocals on top of a charging melody that would fit snuggly next to riot grrrl classics. And in “Growing Up,” Lucia vocals pair well with the band’s triumphant power-pop romp.
“I think that it’s great for us to have four vocalists,” says Salazar. “We get to show the types of music each of us listens to as individuals, and it all works together to form a really cool depiction of ‘punk’ or our definition of punk. Like I grew up listening to a lot of rock en español.”
Lucia found inspiration in bands such as The Beths and The Breeders. Mila admires Blondie, Best Coast, and Go-Go’s, while Wong drew from bands like Avengers, Adolescents, and Black Flag. And in the studio, the band had a familiar face helping them: Grammy-winning producer Carlos de la Garza, who is Mila and Lucia’s father. Besides making the songs “more rockin’,” his presence put them at ease while recording.
“It’s great to be able to have a producer who we trust and are comfortable with, especially for our first album,” says Lucia. “It’s also great to get to know him in a different way now.” Mila adds, “Before, we didn’t really know what he did for work!”
The band has come a long way since forming a few years ago. In 2018, they started playing together in a new-wave cover band of kids assembled by Dum Dum Girls member Kristin Kontrol for the women-led agency Girlschool, which provides various means of empowerment and encouragement to young women in music.
“I’ve been going to punk shows since I was just a baby, and often went with Lucia, but the Girlschool project was the first time I was asked to be in a band,” Wong says. “Of course, I said yes to Kristen and of course I asked if my cousins Lucia and Mila could be in it, too.”
For Mila and Lucia, instruments were always easy to find around the house growing up. However, they hadn’t thought until then that they could actually play them. “After the first practice with us and some other kids, we invited our family friend Bela to join us because we knew she was taking guitar lessons,” Mila says.
While their energized and eclectic covers were far from perfect, Salazar says that she had so much fun that she wanted to keep playing as a band. “I was invited to play another show that summer and asked Lucia, Eloise, and Mila to be my band,” she explains. “After that, we didn’t want to stop! The Linda Lindas formed after that.”
The band’s name was inspired by the 2005 Japanese film Linda Linda Linda and the Blue Hearts song “Linda Linda.” They built up their chemistry through gigs at all-ages matinees in Chinatown. They eventually opened for riot grrrl legends Bikini Kill and Alice Bag, as well as Best Coast and Bleached. “It was still just for fun, but then we were asked to open for Bikini Kill, got to appear in [Amy Poehler’s movie] Moxie, and did the library video,” says Lucia. “The band being more than a hobby just kind of happened.”
“Getting to play the small punk benefit shows in Chinatown for my school’s music program when we started helped us a lot,” adds Wong. “It was a real small stage, but we got to play with and get to know lifers like Phranc, Alice Bag, The Dils, the Alley Cats, and Mike Watt. And Best Coast and Bleached have been coming to our shows since the beginning, too. It was awesome to play The Smell, the DIY club where they came up from! Being part of a multigenerational underground music scene like that is a real honor and exciting to be a part of.”
The band is currently in the midst of a national tour and will be on the road much of the year. They’re opening for The Beths, Jawbreaker, and Best Coast this spring and are part of the When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas in October. As for what’s next, it’s quite simple.
Wong: “Playing more shows.”
Salazar: “Traveling the world.”
Mila: “Getting Boba in every city.”
Lucia: “And then making more new music!”