You know that feeling when you're listening to a song and it's about you? You press play and you're dropped into a memory, like a forgotten diary entry has been set to music, and intimate details of a heartbreak you hadn't even put into words are suddenly alive and serenading you? Like someone has opened up your chest to play the heartstrings?
If that feeling were a word, it would be MUNA.
The indie-pop trio performed for
the gays their fans at the Austin City Limits music festival earlier this month, blessing an afternoon crowd of thousands with a sermon -- or perhaps something closer to a group therapy session. Just before their set, I caught up with bandmates Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson for a quick chat about their latest self-titled album, transformation, over-responsibility, and the future of that Britney Spears cover.
Out: MUNA makes a lot of heartbreaker anthems. Most pop songs are from the POV of the person who got dumped, but a breakup can still be devastating for the person doing the dumping. Why does that POV interest you?
Katie Gavin: That's such a good question. It kinda takes me back to one of the earliest reviews of our first record, About You. The first line in one of our early songs, "So Special," and the line is "there are a few bad things I've done that nobody made me do." The review was saying it's interesting because it positions whoever is singing this song as a subject of the story. They're taking responsibility. I think maybe me as a writer and me as a person, I tend to lean toward over-responsibility. My therapist would say that's a trauma response. I'm always looking for what I did in a situation that maybe led to things being hard. I think that actually is relevant to the types of songs I end up making. I'm just more comfortable looking at what I did versus what somebody has maybe done to me.
Naomi McPherson: Because that's just not the whole story right? I think we're all kind of maybe a little bit over-responsible. I see that in y'all and sometimes I think I can be, a therapist would say, too over-responsible.
Josette Maskin: The thing I would add that is a theme in this record, there is just a lot more agency. I feel like that is expressed in these songs. There's a lot of self-possession. It's a record where I feel like we're so much more self-assured of who we are as a band in so many ways. Knowing that makes you know yourself.
It's been a few months since your self-titled album came out. Have any songs taken on a new meaning for y'all?
Josette: We finished this record then immediately had to do press about the record. As we're doing that, we don't have a lot of time to process what it is about. These conversations are actually our discovery on what songs are the heart of the record. We all kinda learned that "Loose Garment" is a song that maybe at the time we didn't know it, but it is kinda the heart of the record. It describes how we were able to make this record because we have learned to form new relationships with ourselves. And to treat ourselves in a more tender light. I think it all goes back to agency. Agency is the move on the record, feeling like you're actually in control of what you're doing with your life but it's all because you have this new relationship with yourself. "Loose Garment" is the song that we learned through having these conversations.
Katie: We have a production manager who is a gigantic straight man but he has a gigantic heart. And he's such a good listener. When we send him the record, he really delves into stuff. He told me something cool about "Loose Garment" that I'd never thought of. He was like, 'I love how the record starts with "Silk," watching a dress dance in the wind and it's this feeling of simple, queer, joy.'
"Loose Garment" has that same kind of illusion, this fabric flowing but it's about sadness. The record is this journey, this expansion, that you can actually see the beauty in all those emotions. I totally did not mean to do that, but that is sick.
Josette: That's making a record. You don't know.
Katie: You learn to take credit for something you didn't think about at all.
Naomi: It's all connected, you just don't know it's all connected because you are so deep in it.
"Silk Chiffon" has become an LGBTQ+ anthem of yours, joining the iconic track "I Know A Place." There are a lot of similarities between the two songs, especially in the intros. They almost feel connected. Was that purposeful?
Naomi: I like a lot of keys so sometimes I'll pick transposing stuff. Both of those songs just happen to be in E flat major. It's a MUNA key. It's a nice key.
Katie: Naomi has perfect pitch and gets feelings about a certain key. We let that guide us.
Josette: Maybe subconsciously it helps us shape our sound. Things live in similar worlds, whether or not it was intentional.
Naomi: There's no shame in that. I think you should rip yourself off. Once you've made three records, it's time to plagiarize your own shit.
Josette: They're also like the two happiest songs. There's way more joy in both of those songs, even if "I Know A Place" has a darker undertone. I do think those are two of the happiest songs we've ever made for sure.
Naomi: It could be a truly subliminal connection that we're not even aware of. But I think that is a beautiful observation.
The gays who watched Fire Island are dying for y'all to perform your cover of Britney Spears' "Sometimes" live. Is that ever going to happen?
Katie: They do wanna know! They're dying to know!
Naomi: It's possible. We made that song very last minute because Joel [Kim Booster, the film's creator] asked and we didn't really think about it that intensely. We didn't know people would love it in the way they do, which is really nice.
Katie: It has been claimed. And we notice the claim.
Naomi: So maybe someday.
Katie: We're going to change the setlist before the next time we go on a headline tour, so we'll see. We love that song. The lyrics are so good!
What part of today's set are you looking forward to the most?
Naomi: The crowd. We've only played a few festivals since last year and it's always fun to see new peeps.
Katie: With festivals, we've been touring for years now and a lot of our touring has been in an opening act. We love going on stage with a fury, forcing people to pay attention to us. I love the challenge of it. I don't know if I'm looking forward to how sweaty and hot we're going to be.
Josette: We once played ACL and I remember that it was so hot that the prophet was overheating. We were going to wear different outfits but we had to change because it was so hot. We still had to tear our clothes off our bodies because they were sealed.
Naomi: I don't remember this at all.
Katie: I guess I'm excited we wear tiny outfits now.
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