In May, the US punk band the Linda Lindas went viral with a performance of their no-holds-barred track Racist, Sexist Boy. Written in response to a real-life incident in which drummer Mila de la Garza was racially harassed by a classmate, the song alternates between sludgy punk and brisk, hardcore thrash, topped with cathartic, defiant lyrics: “You have racist, sexist joys / We rebuild what you destroy.” What made the performance even more striking was its setting among the usually hushed bookshelves of the Los Angeles Public Library.
On the back of that viral hit (currently at 4.3m views on Twitter), the teenage Los Angeles quartet – Mila and her sister Lucia (guitar), their cousin Eloise Wong (bass), and longtime friend Bela Salazar (guitar) – have signed to Epitaph Records, recorded their debut album, due in 2022, and released a snappy, and snappily titled, punk-pop single Oh!.
The latter is not a cover of the 2002 song of the same name by Sleater-Kinney, the revered riot grrrl and indie rock band fronted by powerhouse guitarist-vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. However, like the Linda Lindas, Sleater-Kinney have always found solace in self-empowerment, and favoured stirring lyrics about real life concerns, from mental health issues to feeling marginalised due to their gender. As such, Brownstein – whom you may also know as one of the creators of riotous hipster satire Portlandia – feels like the perfect person to pair with the Linda Lindas for a cross-generational conversation.
The younger band’s excitement over their burgeoning career (their eldest member, Bela, is 17, while youngest member Mila is still only 11) is infectious: at one point, Eloise and Lucia demonstrate the coordinated kick they used to perform on stage while covering X-Ray Spex’s Germ Free Adolescents. And they’re clearly thrilled to be in conversation with a punk rock pioneer. The feeling is mutual: near the end of the chat, the band collectively and spontaneously launch into a robust rendition of Happy Birthday for Brownstein, who has just turned 47. “You’re going to make me cry,” she responds, clearly touched.
Carrie Brownstein What have the last few months been like for you, post-LA Public Library social media explosion? Describe how you’ve been feeling and some of the highlights.
Mila de la Garza It’s been fun, exciting and overwhelming at the same time.
Bela Salazar The day that everything was happening, it was very surreal to see. It’s all happening on a virtual … you know, like on our phones.
Mila It doesn’t really feel real.
Bela Yeah, it’s very surreal, because we haven’t exactly experienced everything that comes with this yet.
Lucia de la Garza It feels like it’s been happening so fast. But, at the same time, the library event seems so long ago. When we got the offer to play the public library, we were kind of confused. We were like: “Oh, let’s do this. It’s gonna be fun.”
Eloise Wong And we love the library. We use it a lot.
Mila I go to the library every day after school.
Eloise It’s cool because it wasn’t planned out. I feel like in your career a lot of things have happened, where it wasn’t planned out. And you’ve done so much! Can you talk about just letting things happen and going with stuff?
Carrie In the 90s, obviously there wasn’t social media. But there were these rock-critic gatekeepers who really informed what people listened to. A couple of very important critics, Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus, started writing about us. Robert Christgau came to our show at a tiny liberal arts college on the east coast. We played to, like, 10 people and he wrote this big piece on us in the Village Voice. All of a sudden, Time magazine named us best rock band in America. And no one knew who we were. I remember [on] one of those morning shows [NBC’s The Today show], the host, Bryant Gumbel, was like: “Who is Sleater-Kinney?” We just couldn’t believe it.
I think it’s exciting when it’s not planned, because at the end of the day, it’s still your band and your friends. When you’re writing, you don’t know that people are listening. And then all of a sudden [for you guys], it’s like all these eyes are on you. Does that change what you’re writing about? Or do you still feel that freedom to write and do whatever you want?
Lucia We originally started the band because it was fun. We weren’t like: “Oh, this is gonna be a career for us.” We weren’t expecting that. We weren’t expecting to be here talking to you. [Laughs]
Carrie I didn’t expect this, either. I’m happy to be talking to you. And Amy Poehler [who used the Linda Lindas’ music in her high-school comedy Moxie] and Jimmy Kimmel [who invited the band to appear on his late-night talkshow]. I mean, it’s like checking off a list.
Lucia And [riot grrrl pioneer] Kathleen Hanna: Oh my God!
Mila They’re all so nice.
Bela Everybody’s been super cool.
Carrie What were each of you listening to growing up?
Bela Their [Mila, Lucia and Eloise’s] families were listening to a lot more punk, and I grew up listening to a lot of Latin music or Talking Heads. It was two different things that do not connect at all.
Lucia That helps balance our band a lot. We grew up going to shows since we were little …
Eloise My parents put on these punk shows for my school’s music programme. So we were always going to those. And there was always a record on in my house and we were constantly making mixtapes. I was, like, surrounded by punk.
Carrie On a song like Racist, Sexist Boy, what’s your relationship to anger and those kind of emotions? Was punk a way for you to access some of those darker emotions that are less approved of at school, for instance?
Bela I feel like it’s a healthy outlet to release those emotions. Sometimes I have a little bit of a short temper. [She looks at bandmates] I don’t know if I ever do with you guys. But I get mad a lot. So that helps at least me a lot to not get really angry. It helps to calm me down.
Carrie What about you, Mila? When you were writing that song, did you feel angry? Or was it written with a sense of humour? What was the approach when you wrote it versus when you sing it now? Does it feel different to sing it now?
Mila It does feel different singing it now than when we wrote it. Now, it’s fun to sing, because you get to scream and yell.
Bela We can also see that we’re not alone in our emotions. There’s a lot of other people that feel the same way or have been treated the same way.
Eloise Before it was an angry thing, where we were angry, so we were writing the song. And now it’s more of a being proud thing, because so many people have heard it and relate to it. It’s grown into something more positive.
Carrie Obviously, you have a lot of followers now on social media. I definitely know older people are fans, but are your schoolmates your fans, too?
Bela I didn’t know the demographic of who were our fans. But then when we played our show, it was really cool to see that there were a lot of young kids at the show.
Lucia It’s a lot of, like, younger kids and older people. Sorry, un-younger. [Laughs]
Carrie I’m fine with the word “older”.
Lucia Adults. That’s the word. Adults and little ones … What’s your favourite thing about touring, and what’s your least favourite thing about touring?
Carrie My favourite thing is the shows, and being in front of people and getting to see the fans and interact with them. There’s nothing like it. Least favourite thing is not having my dogs there, missing people and not sleeping in my own bed.
Lucia Hotel beds are just not the same. They always seem so fluffy but they’re not the same.
Carrie You just never sleep as well. But, honestly, I don’t regret touring. I started touring when I was a little bit older than you, but I was still only 19. And I loved it. It’s such a way to realise that there’s so many wonderful people out there that are fighting for the same things and are just here for the resistance and here to love music. I think you guys will be so amazed at how many fans you have out in the world, and how many likeminded people are out there who are compassionate and kind and awesome. I just couldn’t be more excited for you.
And also there’s this relief that I have. You always want to feel like: Oh, thank goodness, the next generation … You guys aren’t even the next generation; you’re like three generations below me. But I’m so glad that you exist.
The Linda Lindas’ single Oh! is out now