The Linda Lindas have a lot going on. Between class, homework and science tests, the punk-powered all-girl four-piece – with fans in Bikini Kill and Yeah Yeah Yeahs – are playing gigs and appearing on late-night talk shows. “At least it’s the weekend,” huffs Mila de la Garza over Zoom. At 11 years old, she’s the youngest member. Squished up next to Mila is her sister and bandmate Lucia, who dutifully reminds her that actually they’ve got shows to play this weekend. Relaxing is not on the agenda. That’s rock’n’roll, baby.
Or more accurately, that’s punk. The group – made up of Mila, Lucia, their cousin Eloise Wong, 15, and their family friend Bela Salazar, 17 – made their mark in suitably Gen Z fashion: they went viral. Last year, their performance of “Racist Sexist Boy” introduced the world to The Linda Lindas. Dressed in plaids, knee high socks, and graphic tees, the four girls let rip a galvanizing war cry against the anti-Asian hate they saw surging amid the pandemic. (The band are Los Angeles natives of Asian and Latinx descent). Their shouty vocals and serrated guitars got the attention of nearly a million people; Sandra Oh, Natasha Lyonne, Jimmy Kimmel, and underground indie elite Best Coast and Jawbreaker among them. And by then, they already had Amy Poehler in their corner. The Parks and Recreation star was in the crowd at a Bikini Kill gig in 2019; The Linda Lindas closed the show with a blistering cover of Le Tigre’s “TKO”. So taken with them was Poehler that she gave the band a cameo in her 2021 feminist high-school romp Moxie on Netflix.
“Racist Sexist Boy” could have easily been a one-off. But on their debut album, Growing Up, which was released on Friday, The Linda Lindas put pedal to the metal and don’t let up. “What we write are just reflections of what’s happening around us,” offers Lucia, looking up from beneath a heavy full fringe. It makes sense then that many tracks share the same barbed ferocity as that breakout single; “What was happening around” the girls when they were writing Growing Up was difficult to witness, whatever your age.
Much of the album was written in Covid isolation. Restrictions in LA have long been lifted, but today the bands are sequestered in their familiar digital boxes. Only Mila and Lucia are together, speaking from the blue-painted bedroom they share. A framed drawing of a tiger is visible behind them. “The pandemic, the presidential election, stuff with Stop Asian Hate and Black Lives Matter,” continues Lucia. “It was really difficult to sit at home feeling like you can’t do anything about what’s happening. It’s hard not to be your own worst enemy so you have to figure out what’s going on in your mind – how to make sense of something internally. And that’s what songwriting did for us. ” There are pockets of joy on Growing Up too; The title track is a tender but rowdy ode to friendship, and “Nino” is a love song to Bela’s cat (not the group’s first track dedicated to a feline friend).
Even before their viral moment – the details of which Bela, being the only one on social media, had to relay to the others – The Linda Lindas had been quietly ascending to rock’s feminist front. But the effect of “Racist Sexist Boy” was more immediate. Messages flooded in from strangers who had likewise suffered the ignorance of, as the lyrics go, a “jerkface”. Mila chirps up, “It was amazing that the song brought people together but it was really sad that so many people could relate to it.”
She and Eloise wrote the track in response to an interaction Mila had with a classmate a week before lockdown began in November 2020. “He said to me that his dad told him to stay away from Chinese people,” she says, head peeking out from a big pink tie-dye hoodie. “I was so confused why anyone would say that. I didn’t know what was happening so I told him I was Chinese and he started backing away from me. ” Mila went home and told her family and her bandmates; “Racist Sexist Boy” was born one Zoom call later.
The Linda Lindas feel comfortable with agit-pop, but it’s also brought on certain expectations. “I feel like we’ve been put in a position where we are expected to talk about this kind of stuff,” says Lucia. “And I don’t think we owe anybody a story for being who we are.” Admittedly, it’s easy to forget their age when they rattle off terminology like “culture of power”. Eloise – who is responsible for the band’s most hot-tempered tracks – chirps up, “Right after ‘Racist Sexist Boy’ blew up, people would ask us questions about what it’s like to be Asian people in a band…” Four pairs of eyes roll in unison.
There’s plenty of anti-establishment attitude on Growing Up, but the girls are effusive about at least one authority figure in their lives. Lucia and Mila’s dad, Carlos de la Garza – a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with Paramore – mixed The Linda Lindas in his backyard studio. At one point, he pokes his head into his daughters’ room to say hi, laundry basket in his arms. Their mum, Angelyn de la Garza, a children’s designer and the band’s manager, is also nearby supervising.
The Linda Lindas admit they aren’t as punk as their music might suggest. “I wish I was,” Eloise blurts out. The bassist responsible for the snarliest vocals is brilliantly over-the-top in conversation, pulling faces and casually exhibiting an encyclopaedic knowledge of punk’s past and present. It’s hard to imagine she cowers to anyone. Maybe her parents. “I go to nerd school,” Lucia mumbles, with the others piling on good-naturedly. (“It is definitely a school for nerds!”). Bela is the exception. “I think I’m pretty punk in my daily life,” she says. Bela is dialing in from her phone, the camera looking up at her chin to reveal a Tyler, The Creator poster on the wall behind her. “I don’t pay attention in school. I’m only there for the social aspect. ” She laughs. “But musically, I don’t think I am.” Bela wrote “Cuantas Veces” in Spanish. “I’m not good at sharing my emotions so that was a way of relaying my feelings but not necessarily letting everybody in.”
Political statements aside, The Linda Lindas are enjoying their youth – and a life outside lockdown. In February, they performed on Late Night with James Corden (“Eloise stole all the tea packets from the green room! Every flavor!” Lucia recalls, sending the others into hysterics.) But the best thing about fame, they agree, is having a rider. The way to The Linda Linda’s hearts is simple: snacks! Flamin ‘Hot Funyuns and M & Ms are a priority. “Sometimes we’ll get chips and salsa,” says Lucia. “You know, to be healthy and all that.” Talk about growing up.
‘Growing Up’, the debut album from The Linda Lindas, was released on Friday