The Linda Lindas: “Punk is about freedom and doing what you want to do”

Breaking through with an unexpected viral video filmed in a library, there’s so much more to The Linda Lindas. As their debut album drops, they might be the future of punk, but they’re ready for the here and now.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Zen Sekizawa.

When asked how they feel about being called the future of punk, all four of The Linda Lindas break into uncontrollable laughter.

Lucia de la Garza is the first to compose herself. “That’s funny. It’s really cool but also really weird – I mean, we haven’t released an album yet.”

She continues: “I guess it’s not about how many songs you’ve released or how long you’ve been around; it’s about what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to say. We are doing all we can to change what needs changing.”

“I don’t know about the future,” adds Eloise Wong. “But we’re here right now.”

The Linda Lindas went global in 2021 with a live performance of their blistering punk track ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’ at the LA Public Library. Written by Mila de la Garza and her cousin, Eloise, after Mila was informed by a boy in her class that his dad had told him to stay away from Chinese people like her, it was the ten-year-old’s first proper encounter with racism.

“I wrote it originally to vent my anger. It definitely used to be more hateful,” explains Mila over Zoom. But after connecting with people, first at local shows and then a global audience, that song is now “about bringing people together and being proud of who you are.”

“I’ve always liked music that not only sounds cool but really makes a difference by having a message,” continues Eloise before namechecking The Clash, Public Enemy and Bikini Kill. “It’s so cool we can be a part of that.”

“It’s so important that people who have gone through similar experiences know they’re not alone,” adds Mila. “But it’s so, so sad that so many people can relate to that song.”

“For all minorities, there’s such a history of oppression and hate; it really does make you feel like you can never overcome it,” explains older sister Lucia. “You feel like you can’t make anything better because it’s not in your power to do so. As young women of colour, we’ve all experienced that.”

However, the overwhelmingly positive reaction to ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’ “made us feel more confident in what we had to say. It feels like people really needed to hear a song like that, and it’s gone on to make them feel empowered too. That’s been really beautiful to watch.”

“It’s nothing new, though. People have been trying to have these conversations since forever,” adds Mila. “But you can still try and change things.”

The Linda Lindas – Mila and big sister Lucia, Eloise and family friend Bela Salazar – originally formed in 2018 for a one-off performance at a local festival. A few months later, Bela was asked to play a gig and needed a backing band. From then on, the four-piece played gigs, wrote songs and pushed each other to get better at their instruments. They supported the likes of Best Coast and Bikini Kill before going on to write songs for Amy Poehler’s Netflix film Moxie, as well as contributing to The Claudia Kishi Club, a Netflix documentary exploring the impact of The Baby-Sitters Club’s Japanese-American character.

All of their parents were very supportive of the group making music. Eloise’s parents put on punk shows to raise money for her school’s music programme, and she grew up in a house “surrounded by punk and DIY culture.” They were constantly making mixtapes or going to matinee shows at local record shop Amoeba. “I always felt like I could be in a band. It never felt out of reach.”

“We are doing all we can to change what needs changing”

Lucia de la Garza

Likewise, Lucia and Mila’s dad is Carlos de la Garza. A former member of ska band Reel Big Fish, he’s now a Grammy-winning record producer, having worked with the likes of Wolf Alice, Paramore, Charly Bliss and Jimmy Eat World. “He doesn’t like to talk about it, but it’s pretty cool,” beams Lucia. “When we were younger, we would visit him in the studio, but I was constantly worried about what I could and couldn’t touch. Now we know our way around the space.”

The Linda Lindas had actually been in talks with legendary punk label Epitaph Records for a few months before ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’ went viral, and, a few weeks after it did, the deal was done. Now, they release their debut album ‘Growing Up’.

According to Mila, “We didn’t expect any of this. At first, it was just playing music and having fun with your friends. It’s still that now; it’s just now we have more people listening. The music hasn’t changed, but our perspective has.”

‘Growing Up’ is named after the song of the same name, written about growing up in and out of COVID-enforced lockdowns. “It was hard to be at this point in my life where I’m meant to be figuring out who I am and what I want to do, without so many of the people that I love around me,” says Lucia about the wistful, nostalgic track.

The album itself is a celebration of their friendship, all camaraderie and community. “I feel like I should be more scared of releasing it and of what people are going to say,” she continues. “But I’m just really excited.”

The group went into the studio with understandable hyperactive energy and wanted to record as many songs as possible. They soon realised they needed a plan, though, and the band took a much-needed step back, asking themselves, “Which songs am I emotionally ready to put out, which ones are actually finished and which ones have I held onto for long enough, that they belong on an album called ‘Growing Up’.”

All the songs apart from album opener ‘Oh!’ were written before ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’ went viral. “We’ve definitely matured since the songs were written,” explains Lucia. “Not that much, though. We’re just kids still.”

Still, she’s been wrestling with this sudden explosion in popularity. “We have an incredibly supportive fan base – from little kids to adults. Making this album, I had to think about what I wanted to say to all these people, but I never wanted to censor myself. There were days when I was worried about excluding certain sections of our fanbase because of what I was singing about or the music we were making, but at the same time – I’m always just going to write what I feel. When I write a song, it helps me figure out what is happening in my brain. It helps me realise how I feel about something. I think that’s really special, and I want to share that with the world.”

“I hope this album shows people that we’re not just the kids who did that thing in the library,” Lucia continues. “I want people to know we actually have something to say. We want people to listen to our music, not because we’re kids or because we’re women of colour, but because we’re good artists.”

Across ten tracks, clocking in at under half an hour, The Linda Lindas’ debut album is a furious punk record that tackles coming of age in the midst of a pandemic, the helplessness that comes from watching the world tear itself apart via social media and Bela’s cat Nino – gentleman by day, hunter by night. It’s inspired by classic punk acts like The Go-Go’s, Jawbreaker, The Breeders, Sleater Kinney, Bikini Kill and Blondie, as well as more contemporary, rebellious bands like Paramore, Wolf Alice and The Regrettes.

“We’re not just the kids that did that thing in the library, we actually have something to say”

Lucia de la Garza

“We’re four different people, and all the songs are going to sound a little different because it’s all our music tastes combined,” explains Lucia. “But it works together really beautifully.”

At 17, Bela is the older member of the group, while Eloise is 14, Lucia is 15, and Mila is 11. Most bands get questioned when it comes to speaking out about real-world issues, but as you might imagine from a band of people still in school, The Linda Lindas are constantly asked what a bunch of children know about life, politics and meaningful change.

“Why does our age matter?” asks Mila, as Eloise adds: “Just because we’re kids, it doesn’t mean that we don’t like understand what’s going on.”

And crucially, “If we don’t understand something, then we’ll ask questions and find out about it,” continues Mila.

“We’re so willing to learn and listen to what people have to say. That doesn’t mean that we’re just going to stay quiet in the corner with our mouths shut. We’re just as aware and clueless as everybody else is,” says Lucia.

“You can’t tell us that because we’re this age, we’re not allowed to have opinions. We see what’s happening in the world; we see what everybody is going through. We see it online, we see it at school, and we want to do something about it. It’s not about your age; it’s about what you want to offer the world – and we want to do something positive.”

Among the snotty punk and community spirit is ‘Cuantas Veces’, a rumbling rock’n’roll track sung entirely in Spanish. Bela is half Mexican and half Salvadorian, while the rest of the band also have Mexican heritage. “The Spanish language is a little part of who we are,” explains Bela. “The other two songs I’ve written have been about my cats. I’m not usually that comfortable sharing my feelings, but I wanted to push myself to open up a little more, and singing in Spanish seemed like the best way to do that. Not everybody will understand it, but hopefully, it’ll mean something to the people that do.”

In every one of their social media bios, it says The Linda Lindas are “Half Asian / Half Latinx”. The group haven’t spoken a whole lot about the Latinx part of their identities yet, “but hopefully the song will open that door a little more,” says Lucia. “We’re trying to show people that it’s about who you are as an individual person, not the lazy stereotypes that we’re often reduced to.”

That said, they know how important representation is. “It is hard not seeing yourself represented in the media or on the big stages at festivals. When you don’t see people that look like you, it does sometimes feel like it’s something that only white men can do.”

“People like us have always been part of punk, but a lot of people just refuse to recognise that. It really sucks that so many people of colour, women of colour, queer people of colour and queer people just don’t get the same platform because of tradition.”

“You can’t tell us that because we’re this age, we’re not allowed to have opinions”

Lucia de la Garza

Of course, the band still get asked about the original racist, sexist boy. “People want to know if we’ve heard from him. No. We don’t really want to either,” starts Lucia. “But also, it’s not about that boy. It’s about all the people that have come together because of a long series of events that have been happening for so long. It’s about the people that we can bring together and the people that can rise up against that kind of hate,” she adds before letting out a sigh.

“I hate to say it, but there are always going to be people that have been taught to be racist or sexist. It’s going to be hard for them to unlearn that because it’s a whole belief system – you grow up believing that you’re entitled to act a certain way. But really, no one’s entitled to hate other people based on something they know nothing about.”

Alongside the revolutionary rock of ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’, ‘Fine’ and ‘Oh’, ‘Growing Up’ features more personal tracks, from outsider anthem ‘Remember’ through the joyful escape of ‘Magic’. As much as it’s a record of rebellion, it’s also designed for dancing.

“It’s important that we’re kids,” says Bela, talking about the spread of lyrical content on the record.

“A lot of the songs are happy songs,” continues Lucia. “But a lot of the songs are also about what we’re going through. It’s not always easy, but it’s not been easy for anyone to exist through a pandemic. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find happy moments in it all.”

“I think that our songs are just reflections of our lives. We think about serious stuff, like ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’, but we also enjoy singing about things like Bela’s cats,” says Eloise. They all agree that it’s important they show off every aspect of their personalities.

“It’s the same when it comes to our genre,” continues Lucia. “You know that people are going to come out and say, ‘that’s not punk’, ‘that’s too pop’ or ‘that’s not pop enough’. It’s totally fine with us. You can’t please everyone, and it’s just gonna happen. Punk is about freedom and doing what you want to do, though. And that’s what we’ve done with this album.”

The band have received a lot of similar advice from bands they’re on first name terms with. Adam Pfahler from Jawbreaker, Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill, Beth Cosentino from Best Coast and Hayley Williams from Paramore have all told The Linda Lindas that they need to do what they want and they can’t really worry about what’s going to happen in the future. “If you worry about how long it’s going to last, you’re not going to have any good memories to look back on if it does then end,” starts Lucia before stopping. “Oh my god, I just got goosebumps talking about this ever ending.”

“We don’t want to be worrying about things like that,” continues Mila. “We just want to keep having fun with our friends and share our music with the world. Whatever feels right is what we’ll do.”

“A lot of the time, you can feel like you owe people something after you’ve got a certain level of success. I spend a lot of time thinking about whether we, as a band, deserve all the people that have been following us. But ultimately, I don’t think it matters,” explains Lucia, working things out in real-time. “Yes, we have this platform now, but we’re just going to keep talking about stuff that matters to us and making music that feels right.”

“I hope that this record inspires people to realise they can do whatever they want – regardless of age or where they are in their life,” she continues. “If you have something to say, there are going to be people who want to listen. I know we all want to listen. Whether it’s someone that wants to be a teacher, a doctor, a musician or a fruit taster, you can do whatever you want.”

There’s more laughter as The Linda Lindas break off into an argument about whether professional fruit taster is a real job. The future of punk has never seemed more joyful.

The Linda Lindas’ debut album ‘Growing Up’ is out now.