• Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

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Homework by day, punk rock by night: The Linda Lindas navigate growing up on the road

Punk-rock band the Linda Lindas may be playing shows all over the country (and in Mexico and Canada), but when they’re not performing, they’re also not partying or living the glamorous musician lifestyle. Instead, they’re doing homework.

“Backstage, we’ll just be, like, doing math homework, or writing our essays on the airplane,” band member Lucia de la Garza told NBC News.

The four members of the Linda Lindas are all still teenagers or younger: The youngest is 12 years old, and the oldest is 18.

“We’re not grown-ups,” de La Garza, 15, said.

To which her fellow band member Bela Salazar, who just turned 18, responded, “I technically am.”

Mila de la Garza, 12, chimed in, “You’re a grown-up legally, but you’re not grown up.”

Eloise Wong, 15, made an X with her arms in support.

The Linda Lindas.
The Linda Lindas.Zac Farro

That notion of being in process, and still learning about the world and themselves, permeates the band’s debut album, “Growing Up.”

The group, whose members are from Los Angeles and are Asian American and Latinx, is taking the album on tour. On Saturday, they’re set to play the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York, with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Japanese Breakfast.  There are also stops scheduled for the West Coast — in cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas — and one in Mexico.

An album, a tour and gigs with Karen O are a long way from their ad-hoc origins as an after-school cover band.

“We never sat down and were like, ‘You know what? We should be a band,’” Lucia de la Garza said. “It kind of just happened.”

Mila and Lucia de la Garza are siblings. Wong is their cousin, and Salazar is a family friend.

Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs at the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival on July 29, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec.
Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs at the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival on July 29 in Montreal.Mark Horton / Getty Images file

In fact, the members of the Linda Lindas didn’t think they would be musicians when they grew up (though Mila and Lucia de la Garza’s father is Grammy-winning producer Carlos de la Garza). Salazar wanted to become a doctor, Wong wanted to be a paleontologist, and Mila de la Garza (the youngest and most playful of the group) wanted to be “Olaf from ‘Frozen.’ Nothing but good times.”

“Being passionate about an art form isn’t the most safe career option,” Lucia de la Garza added.

The Linda Lindas’ first gig was with the Dum Dum Girls in 2018, when Kristin Kontrol invited local girls to play with her at a concert called Girlschool L.A. From there, the band began playing at local gigs in Chinatown, and before long, their profile increased. They opened for Bikini Kill, Alice Bag, Money Mark, the Dils and Alley Cats. Amy Poehler reached out to them to perform a mashup of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” and The Muffs’ “Big Mouth” in her film “Moxie.”

But it wasn’t until 2021 that the Linda Lindas went mainstream. Their performance of their song “Racist, Sexist Boy” filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month went viral. Mila de la Garza and Wong wrote the song, and it was inspired by an incident where a boy in Mila’s class told her to stay away from Chinese people because of Covid-19. After she told him that she was half Chinese, he backed away from her.

It was cool that what started out as a very angry song turned into such a powerful, like, let’s all be angry together.

Lucia de la Garza

“Racist, Sexist Boy” contains a mix of anger (“Riffraff! Jerkface!”) and defiance (“We rebuild what you destroy”). After the video went viral, the Linda Lindas performed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” And they got a deal with Epitaph Records, which specializes in punk-rock bands.

“We didn’t expect it to be that widespread,” Lucia de la Garza said. “But it was cool that what started out as a very angry song turned into such a powerful, like, let’s all be angry together.”

For Wong, who wrote the song with Mila de la Garza in a day, the widespread embrace of that song and of the Linda Lindas made her feel less alone, especially during the pandemic, when the band members were isolated and she was going to school via Zoom.

“Even though we’re just four people, we can actually make a difference,” Wong said. “People actually care about what we want to say. People might actually be listening. And it’s kind of cool to know that. That we sort of matter.”

On “Growing Up,” the band wrote their own songs, played their own instruments and took turns singing. The songs are inspired by events in the band members’ lives, such as a bullying incident that inspired the opening track, “Oh!”; their personal feelings, such as feeling invisible in the song “Magic”; or more whimsical sources, like Salazar’s cat in the song “Nino.”

Most teenagers would be mortified at their innermost thoughts spilling out in public. But for the Linda Lindas, having each other for support has given each of them courage not only to record those songs, but also to perform them in public.

“We have to share the songs with each other first,” Wong said. “Once we share the songs with each other, I think that it’s easier to share with everyone else, because you’ve already kind of broken that film.”

It’s OK if I mess up. Like, that’s punk rock.

Lucia de la Garza

To Mila de la Garza, being able to see her songs resonate with other people has helped alleviate some of her own self-consciousness.

“It was definitely scary at first,” she said. “But it’s also kind of cool because you know that there are going to be other people that relate to it, too.”

Many of the songs on “Growing Up” were written by individual members, but the band worked together to create an arrangement. The group has an open, collaborative environment where every member can bring in their personalities and creativity. “If you come up with something, you can do it,” Salazar said.

It’s that playful environment that has also allowed the band members to learn how to play their instruments, and make mistakes along the way. Salazar and Lucia de la Garza play guitar, Mila de la Garza plays drums, and Wong plays bass. Aside from Salazar, who had been taking guitar lessons before she became a member of the Linda Lindas, the other members had never played their instruments before they joined the band. Mila was placed on drums because her hands were not big enough to handle a guitar. And Wong played bass because it was the only instrument left over when she showed up to practice.

Not only are the Linda Lindas growing as people, they are growing as musicians as well. But they’re also wise and self-aware: The title track on “Growing Up” is a reminder to them, and to listeners, that they are still young, and to enjoy the moment and not take everything so seriously.

“I get on stage and I just have fun,” Lucia de la Garza said. “And it’s OK if I mess up. Like, that’s punk rock.”