ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Linda Lindas had just gotten back from a quick weekend trip to Chicago to play Riot Fest, racing home to Los Angeles after opening the main stage Sunday because they had someplace to be Monday morning.
“We were just in Chicago for two days — because of school,” the 15-year-old guitarist says. “It was unbelievable. It felt like honestly an achievement. Like a real milestone that we hit, playing Riot Fest.
“I mean so many cool bands played that day like Jawbox, Lunachicks, Sleater-Kinney, Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” she says.
“Bela got to take a picture with Ice Cube,” offers Eloise Wong, the band’s 14-year-old bassist.
Guitarist Bela Salazar, at 18, the oldest and only Linda Linda to finish high school thus far, experienced even more than that.
“Yesterday, I was in the bathroom and I saw Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney),” Bela says. “She’s like, ‘Hey, Bela.’ “I’m like, ‘How do you know my name?’
“Because that’s like the craziest thing ever. Like, it’s just so awesome.”
“Awesome” is the right word for the Linda Lindas since May 2021 when a video of the band playing their “Racist, Sexist Boy” at the Los Angeles Public Library went viral.
Weeks later they made their national TV debut on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in June. Over that summer they recorded their debut album, “Growing Up,” which came out earlier this year.
Over this past summer, they toured extensively, opening a run of shows for Japanese Breakfast and playing festivals in Europe and Japan. And now they’re headed for the Hollywood Bowl, opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Japanese Breakfast on Oct. 6 in what will be their biggest hometown show yet.
If you’re tempted to call them an overnight success, remember: these girls — sisters Lucia and Mila, their cousin Eloise, and friend Bela — have been doing this since they met in 2018, making them punk rock veterans already.
When they were young
Here’s how it started: In early 2018, singer-songwriter Kristin Kontrol of the Dum Dum Girls put out a call for young girl musicians to participate in the Girlschool LA festival. Eloise, Lucia, and Mila had sung and danced together since they were tiny. Their friend Bela was taking guitar lessons. Done.
In the final showcase held at the Bootleg Theater, all the girls were joined by professional musicians including Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno of Best Coast for performance at the Bootleg Theater south of Echo Park.
“That was like our first performance together,” Lucia says. “It was a very kind of rushed thing because we just practiced like five songs in two weeks with other kids.
“And Karen O sang ‘Date With the Night’ with us, with Eloise,” she says.
There’s a video online of that performance and outside of how small Mila looks behind the drums the thing you notice most is how ferociously Eloise sings face to face with Karen O.
Girlschool might have been the end of it, but when Bela was asked to open a show for an older musician – they’re all older musicians to the Linda Lindas – she asked her friends to play as her band. From there, they stuck together.
Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill invited them to open one of the band’s reunion shows at the Hollywood Palladium in 2019. Amy Poehler saw them there and cast them as a punk girl band in the Netflix teen feminist movie “Moxie,” where the Linda Linda’s played Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” on screen.
They also wrote and recorded the song “Claudia Kishi” for “The Claudia Kishi Club” documentary short about the Japanese-American character from “The Babysitters Club” books, and performed that along with “Racist, Sexist Boy” on Kimmel.
And all of that came before “Racist, Sexist Boy” went viral, which meant that when the spotlight found them they were ready for their closeup.
When they were young
Mila and Lucia were in their bedroom in remote classes when they found out the video had taken off.
“I think I was doing math,” says Mila, who today is in the seventh grade.
“I was in science class but like I was not paying attention,” says Lucia, now a sophomore in high school. “I was just on my bed and kind of relaxing.
“Our dad just like kept coming in that day,” she says. “He would just yell, ‘You guys are going viral!’” Lucia and Mila’s dad, Carlos de la Garza, is a Grammy Award-winning mixer, engineer and producer who has worked everyone from Paramore and Best Coast to Ziggy Marley and Wolf Alice.
Bela was the only one in the band who was in in-person classes at the time, which she figured out what was happening the classroom.
“I had my phone on my desk and it kept buzzing and buzzing and buzzing and buzzing,” says the recent high school graduate. “And my teacher was obviously getting annoyed. So he was like, ‘You should just check that and make sure it’s not an emergency.’
“I open my phone, it’s like a million text messages, Instagram, Snapchat, everything,” Bela says. “I opened one of the Instagram things and my whole feed was just us.
“I’m like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ I see like Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) posted the video and all these other people, and I’m like, ‘What the heck?’ It was really trippy, to be honest.”
Eloise, now in the ninth grade, was the last to know about the viral video.
“My parents didn’t want to tell me because I was doing a school project,” she says. “They didn’t want to distract me so I found out the next day.”
And why do they think the song took off like that?
“I think it was mainly the message, about the story behind it,” Lucia says.
“Also, around that time was when like all the Asian hate crimes were in the spotlight, you know?” says Eloise, whose father, Martin Wong, is a co-founder of Giant Robot, the groundbreaking Asian pop culture magazine as well as the music series Save Music in Chinatown. “It was really stressful or whatever, so I guess it was a nice reprieve from that.”
Unlike most bands, all four members of the Linda Lindas take turns singing lead vocals.
“I think it’s because we started out as a cover band,” Bela says. “A lot of the times it was just like we picked songs that we really liked. So, let’s say Mila wanted to do a Go-Go’s song. Mila would sing that song.”
That democratic spirit also is reflected in their original material.
“Most of the songs we’ve recorded; we wrote them separately,” Eloise says. “So really it was whoever started writing the song wound up singing it most of the time.”
Bela came up with the riff for “Oh!” the track that opens the debut album, so she sings lead on it, Mila says. She and Eloise wrote “Racist, Sexist Boy” on a five- or six-hour Zoom call during the pandemic, so they share lead vocals.
The 10 tracks on “Growing Up” gave them the opportunity to show fans who found them through the viral video what else they can do.
“Like, we have more music, we write about other stuff, too,” Eloise says. “We write about our cats. (Album closer “Nino” is an excellent song about Bela’s cat.) We write about whatever’s going on, you know.”
An invite to the Bowl
Work on the album, in particular the video for the title track, also led them back to Karen O, who’d inspired them at Girlschool, and eventually asked them to open the Hollywood Bowl show and one a few days earlier at Forest Lawn Stadium in New York.
“In February, we saw her a second time,” Lucia says. “It was a surprise thing. Humberto Leon, who directed “Growing Up,” he knows her. And when ‘Growing Up,’ the video, came out we had a little announcement party at Chifa, which is a restaurant that Humberto owns.
“So he invited Karen O and Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth) like by surprise to us,” she says.
“We saw them walk in during our soundcheck,” Mila says.
“We were like, ‘What are they doing here? What is happening?” Lucia says.
She suspects that the second meeting was when Karen O decided to ask them to open for her band at the Bowl.
“I’m a pessimist so I didn’t believe it,” Lucia says. “But I wanted to believe. Then a few months after that we got the firm offer through management, and we were obviously, immediately, yes.
“Like dream came true, we were not saying no to that,” she says.
“It’s on a school night, too,” Mila says. “It doesn’t matter.”
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This story was originally published September 29, 2022 4:00 AM.