The Linda Lindas: Bringing Punk Rock To A New Generation
Mila de la Garza was just 10 years old when a grade school classmate tossed a racist trope about the then-new coronavirus at her in a hallway in March 2020. Instead of going home in tears, Mila, who is of Asian and Latinx heritage, channeled her rage and wrote a song about it.
A little more than a year later, “Racist, Sexist Boy” exploded on YouTube in a viral video recorded at the Cypress Park branch of the Los Angeles Public Library as part of AAPI Heritage Month. Mila, now 12; her sister Lucia, 15; cousin Eloise Wong, 14; and friend Bela Salazar, 17 – The Linda Lindas – got the last word with a furious punk anthem that struck a mighty chord and made them instantly famous.
Fortunately for The Linda Lindas, they weren’t entirely inexperienced performers by the time of their 2020 breakout. They had been playing together for two years already and had plenty of friends, and crucial family members, in the business to support them going forward.
The de la Garza sisters and cousin Eloise first played together in Kristin Kontrol’s pickup cover band at an event called Girlschool LA in 2018, where they met and were joined by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O., and Bobb Bruno and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. Soon after that auspicious debut, their friend Bela asked Lucia, Eloise and Mila to back her up on a few songs. A band was born.
They were invited to open some shows for Bikini Kill; director/actor Amy Poehler was in the Hollywood Palladium audience for one show and recruited The Linda Lindas to record songs for her film, “Moxie.” They performed at a Save Music In Chinatown benefit matinee alongside such Los Angeles punk rock luminaries as Phranc, The Dils, and the Alley Cats; at other events, they played in front of artists such as Alice Bag and Bleached. All became instant fans and friends.
The Linda Lindas’ families have instilled in the girls a strong work ethic and built a team around them that includes family friend and Epitaph Records owner Brett Gurewitz, agent Carly James of CAA and manager Mark Mercado, partner at Fly South Music Group.
Together, they are successfully threading the needle from viral fame to global stages including Japan’s Summer Sonic, Spain’s Primavera Sound, Germany’s Rock am Ring and Rock im Park, and, in the U.S., Newport Folk Festival and San Francisco’s Outside Lands.
And in the year following “the video,” as they call it, the band released an album, Growing Up, featuring undeniable tracks including the title track, “Oh,” “Talking To Myself” and, of course, “Racist, Sexist Boy.”
Mila and Lucia’s father, Carlos de la Garza, is a producer, engineer and former member of Reel Big Fish and other Southern California ska/punk bands; he and Gurewitz, founding Bad Religion guitarist, have been friends for many years. De la Garza even produced Bad Religion’s Age of Unreason in 2019. They’ve shared camping trips, backyard barbecues, and other family get- togethers.
So it should come as no surprise that De la Garza’s daughters, Lucia and Mila, grew up immersed in music. Eloise and Bela did, too. So deep are those roots that Eloise was even named after a song by The Damned. Punk is in their blood.
Gurewitz had seen them playing since they were practically toddlers. He thought they were talented, but too young to be thinking about record contracts. But by 2020, he was ready to sign The Linda Lindas before “Racist, Sexist Boy” forced the issue.
“I was friendly with their dad [Carlos de la Garza] because we’re both in the music business,” Gurewitz says, stressing that, despite media reports, he didn’t “discover” them.
“He’s a producer. I’m a producer. I’m a label owner. He’s a musician. I’m a musician,” he says. “We worked and did projects together. Our families vacation together. I think I’ve known the girls since they were like 7 years old. They were musicians, and they had a band with their friend and cousin. I used to see them rehearsing and I always thought they were great.”
Over time, the girls’ playing and songwriting skills improved to the point Gurewitz realized he could maybe help make dreams come true.
Carlos and his daughters are longtime punk aficionados – The Linda Lindas’ knowledge of punk rock history is nearly encyclopedic.
Gurewitz, in addition to founding Bad Religion, had a big hand in developing a punk scene in Southern California with Epitaph Records and signing such artists as Rancid, The Offspring, NOFX and Pennywise, among others.
“I think the girls are a great band. I love the original songs and they are so talented,” Gurewitz says. “I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to do a record on Epitaph because Carlos is a fan of classic punk and loves the history of Epitaph.’ He said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We were working out the deal and signing them long before the viral library performance. But, the way it appeared to all the world is that this school band went viral and then Epitaph signed them. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Given the family’s connections with and proximity to the broader entertainment industry, it might be tempting to assume Carlos de la Garza played a stage parent role with his daughters’ band. But they call their own shots.
“He helped us learn our instruments after we decided to start the band,” Mila says.
“He didn’t tell us he’d like to start a band. But when we decided we wanted to, he helped. He always supports us in whatever we want to do and helps us where he can.”
Eloise is quick to concur. “He would say, ‘Show us what you have,’ and we’d show him our songs and he’d say, ‘OK, cool,’ and we’d record them. He’s really good about just letting us do what we want to do and then helping us execute it.”
Of course, building a music career is more than just writing and playing – developing a stage presence and being relatable to live audiences is important, too.
The Linda Lindas’ team carefully made a plan that put them in appropriate rooms and festival looks while still respecting their homework obligations.
In September 2021, The Linda Lindas played their first show in 19 months at an all-ages club in downtown L.A. called The Smell, previewing songs from Growing Up and covering The Go-Go’s “Tonite” with drummer Gina Schock as a surprise guest for a sold-out crowd.
In spring 2022, they headlined the Troubadour in West Hollywood, California, and Mercury Lounge in New York City. They followed that with a trip to Europe, where The Linda Lindas made festival appearances and headlined O2 Academy Islington 2 in London before returning Stateside for a support slot on tour with Japanese Breakfast and other appearances.
The plan for The Linda Lindas, with another school year approaching for three of them (Bela has finished high school and plans to attend college to study fashion design), is to focus on schoolwork and route their appearances mainly during holiday breaks and long weekends.
Manager Mark Mercado, like Gurewitz, has known the de la Garza and Wong families for several years and is quick to point out that their families are watchful of their work/life balance, travel with them, and make sure they keep up with their studies. And not only is the team approving of that, Mercado and CAA’s James encourage The Linda Lindas to take their time when it comes to touring.
“We try to make the most of the best opportunities and we can’t do everything,” Mercado says. “It’s typically a mistake when you try to do everything. We’ve been working with the families to work through different school schedules and take some time off.”
James came into The Linda Lindas’ orbit a bit more serendipitously. She saw them perform in those early performances and followed them, eventually meeting with Carlos.
“I think the way that everyone reacted, on a worldwide level, when that video went viral was really based solely on the tunes. I was like, ‘I love this so much.’”James says.
“It’s a really interesting thing to be a part of, especially on the live side, starting from a sold-out, 200-cap room in L.A.,” James says. “It’s one thing to hear music and love it. It’s a totally different thing to see the zeitgeist that was people reacting to that video and the message comes to us from this place that was so genuine and pure.
“And just to hear it from them, and especially Mila as she introduces [“Racist, Sexist Boy”] with her own personal experience and how that resonated in the community, I think on many levels it was a perfect storm that the world needed. It’s all just kind of the universe working in its own funky way to everyone’s advantage. Because I feel like the world is a better place with The Linda Lindas in it.”