MUNA On Music Activism, The '90s & Harry Styles
The world is ready for MUNA. In fact, the world needs them, now more than ever.
This trio of talented women, who self-identify as queer, brings fresh energy and perspective to a growing equality movement. Their debut album, appropriately titled About U, has launched the band onto bigger and bigger stages from Lollapalooza to an opening slot on tour with Harry Styles. And they're just getting started.
But what sets MUNA's infectious synth-pop apart is their keen ability to transcend all things political and personal in their songs. Their anthemic single, "I Know A Place," was written in reaction to the horrific nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016, and echoes with a familiar truth today as our nation copes with the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas. At the same time, the song also deals with the struggle inside of all of us to love ourselves.
Beneath all of this cultural impact and commercial success, MUNA comprise three extremely close friends. Their bond was overwhelmingly evident in sitting down with band members Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin to talk about the music that moves them, their upcoming tour with Styles, how they get along on the road, and more.
About U was really four years in the making. What does the album mean to you as a self-produced arrival announcement?
McPherson: It's hard to talk about. We're just excited that it's all finally out because we've been sitting on the songs for so long, and working on them for so long. There are tracks on the record that have had, like, five different Ableton sessions started from scratch and built the song all the way up, and there are other ones that just came together in a day. So, it's just nice to have them out for people to be able to listen to and sing at shows and stuff.
"I Know A Place" is an anthem in every sense of the word: musically as a celebration, but also socially as sharp commentary, specifically on Orlando. What are some of the most memorable reactions you've gotten from fans about the power of this song and this message?
Gavin: One of the first things that comes to my mind is that we have a fan who had lost a family member in the shooting in Orlando and we got a letter from her at the show that we were playing. It was on our headline tour, and it was probably the only person that I had communicated with directly who had had such a direct connection to the shooting. But, you know, regardless, I think that everybody had a really strong emotional connection … sometimes to be yourself, you put yourself in physical danger. So it's just crazy playing that song almost every time we play it live, especially at headline shows, you see people having cathartic emotional experiences. So, we're just so lucky as a band I find there's a huge depth of deep experiences, like, it's not just a handful, it's like every time we play it, you see somebody, at least one person who is just in it, processing, so that's cool.
Opening for Harry Styles this fall, what's the one thing you want his many legions of fans to take away from your opening set?
Maskin: That's a really interesting question. We've been thinking about it a lot. It's very confusing (laughs).
Gavin: I think our role is to kind of prime them. I mean, these fans are so passionate and one of the reasons it's so exciting for us to be opening for Harry on this tour is that every single person in those rooms, they're ready for such a huge experience for them. This is a memory that they'll have for their whole lives, so we're kind of just opening the ceremony, just kind of prepping them for almost like a ritual, you know? So that's kind of how I see it.
McPherson: We're trying to increase the spirituality of the whole thing. It's our first tour of this magnitude and it's his first tour of this magnitude for obviously completely different reasons. His first show at the Greek is our first show at the Greek, so we're together in that experience. … We're completely different, but we're in the same place at the same time having an experience and it's special for both of us for different, and the same reasons.
— MUNA (@whereisMUNA) September 19, 2017
Are you nervous about meeting Harry?
McPherson: I'm just gonna be jealous of his outfits.
Maskin: He's a good-looking guy. Yeah, we're excited to meet him. I'm nervous, yes. (laughs)
McPherson: We say crazy stuff to people a lot of the times.
Maskin: Yeah, I hope we don't offend him. (laughs)
Who are some other female or LGBTQ artists that are killing it right now, and what do you love about them?
Maskin: SZA is a female artist who is just slaying.
McPherson: We've been following SZA for years, for a long, long time. It's one of the first things we bonded over.
Maskin: In college, Naomi made me a mix tape of all SZA stuff.
McPherson: She sampled Fleetwood Mac, and I just always thought she was so cool, and obviously she's had such an amazing, it seems like a year, but it's been a few months.
Maskin: Perfume Genius.
McPherson: The new Paramore album.
Gavin: The new Big Thief record.
You have professed your love for '80s artists, from Michael Jackson to Kate Bush and the Smiths. Who are your favorite artists from the '90s?
Gavin: The Coors.
Maskin: The Cranberries … Nirvana. Honestly, I love Pearl Jam, I look like Eddie Vedder, I mean, hopefully. (laughs)
McPherson: We take a lot more inspiration from the '90s than people might think. I mean, we like '80s drum sounds and the kind of funk aspect of it but there's so much.
How would you describe MUNA's fashion/style?
Gavin: We wear what Naomi tells us to wear.
McPherson: That's true.
Maskin: Yeah, Naomi is our stylist. (laughs) It's confusing. We're like the Spice Girls, we all have different vibes.
What does MUNA argue about?
McPherson: What we're gonna wear.
Gavin: It's just really normal, quotidian negotiations about what we need, whether it's 10 minutes by myself or some Ramen. We're just trying to make the whole thing function.
MUNA's roots go back to the campus of USC. What is the thing you miss most about school?
McPherson: I'm like a nerd, I liked being in school. I liked going to classes and not having to make choices about what I'm going to do in the days. There was a simplicity to it that was really nice, a structure.
Gavin: I also think about it in terms of organizing too and like activist communities, it's so much easier when you're on a college campus and it's such an important time for so many people to build up those muscles. And I think about that a lot, how, I mean, especially in Los Angeles it's kind of hard to keep that up. We really isolate from each other when you're just a member of the greater community. So that is something I'm nostalgic for, yeah, just being passionate and knowing who to call and where to meet to make something happen.
I know you're Harry Potter fans, but aside from Harry Potter, what is your favorite film at the moment?
Gavin: Ms. Congeniality.
McPherson: Ms. Congeniality, 1 and 2.
Maskin: Legally Blonde.
McPherson: It's all the same canon.
Gavin: Do you know what our favorite movie is? "Spy," starring Melissa McCarthy.
McPherson: Spy is great!
Maskin: We watched it on the plane again, we were going to London, out of Glasgow. We kept trying to pause it because we couldn't get all on the same time, because on Air New Zealand you can screen share, which is great, but it kept getting messed up so we pause the movie five times.
McPherson: We wanted to all laugh at the same time (laughs).
Lastly, fill in the blank: MUNA's favorite place to play on tour is?
McPherson: Wherever there is dank-a** catering, whenever it is not hot.
Gavin: I love playing in like Middle America where people are like, "Thank you for coming here" and they're surprised that you came.
McPherson: Kansas City is wild …
Maskin: Salt Lake City, Utah, wild … Canada is the best. Honestly, we don't really know a place where it's like, "Ugh, don't want to go back there." It's all good, as long as we can find a dank smoothie and some sweet snacks. I love dates. We'll be chill anywhere.