"I'm so glad that I'm out and that I'm queer, and my friends who are trans and have transitioned, like, guess what, that's what made them not want to kill themselves."
MUNA – lead songwriter and vocalist Katie Gavin, and multi-instrumentalists and producers, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson – have made a name for themselves since their formation in 2013 within the indie rock/pop realm thanks to poignant pop songs about queer love and female empowerment.
After their debut EP, More Perfect, released in 2014, gained significant praise and a following, the group signed to RCA Records and put out their first two albums, About U (2017) and Saves The World (September 2019). Their momentum was subsequently halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic effectively stopping live music from taking place for the better part of two years.
The group’s early success led to opening slots for Harry Styles and Bleachers, quickly introducing MUNA to pop and indie music fans. One of the most delightful things about the band, or perhaps frustrating for RCA, is that they’re a band that you can’t categorise or generalise too quickly. As they wrote on Twitter, MUNA is a “queer electro synth pop country alt religious rock band”.
But momentum and opportunity stem from unusual places sometimes. For MUNA, that second chance after being dropped by RCA (the band told Rolling Stone that the decision was made due to “not making enough money” for the label) arrived in the form of a collaboration with indie rock darling Phoebe Bridgers and the Dead Oceans label imprint, Saddest Factory Records, which Bridgers founded in October 2020.
Being signed to Saddest Factory has been "as wonderful as you might imagine," Gavin says. "[Phoebe is] a really supportive A&R person; she just believes in us and wants us to follow our vision. She's also a good friend. I'm really grateful that she decided to start a label because it feels like a perfect home for us. I don't know if I personally would be able to do that. It's just so much work on top of her already insane job, so she is insane for doing that. I mean, I feel comfortable saying that [laughs]. She's insane for doing that. But I'm glad that she did."
“I think we've kind of retained an independent sort of mindset throughout our career, but we definitely feel very creatively empowered and musically supported,” McPherson says about their relationship with Saddest Factory. They continue, “We never were in a situation where we felt like the quality of our music was being disrespected by any means.
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“But it is nice to be at an indie label, where a lot of people themselves are, like, very artistically creative. And it's a bit less of a corporate ties sort of environment. We've had a lucky career the whole time… we’re grateful for it happening. We're grateful for everyone who's ever supported us.”
And their new, self-titled record, released in June last year, is an enthralling journey through those genres and themes. Since the release of their Bridgers collab, Silk Chiffon, and the new album, MUNA have opened for Kacey Musgraves. They will then open multiple dates for the US leg of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour and Lorde’s Solar Power tour in Australia, which lands in Brisbane next Wednesday.
From there, Lorde, MUNA and Laura Jean (what a line-up) are heading to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. Everything happens for a reason, right? “I love that! That’s what we keep telling ourselves, anyway,” Maskin exclaims over Zoom. Before those shows happen, though, MUNA will perform at the Sydney WorldPride closing concert, Rainbow Republic, this Sunday, on a line-up featuring Kim Petras, Ava Max, G Flip, Keiynan Lonsdale, Peach PRC, Alter Boy, BVT, and Vetta Borne. The group will take the stage at 7:20 pm.
On No Idea, a song that indie-rocker Mitski co-wrote, the band have a track that makes their crowds get “dirty” at shows. “That song specifically has made the shows super dirty,” Maskin laughs. “But the shows have been awesome. Like, we have the best fans ever. Honestly, we're just so lucky that we get to play shows where people are yelling the lyrics back at us; we feel like it's a big communion with our fans. But that song specifically has made the shows much dirtier,” she pauses, “In a good way.”
Out of the group, McPherson is the biggest fan of the pop banger, What I Want, while Gavin expressed some apprehension about the track at the time. “I was kind of scared about releasing that song because I'm not as much of a party animal necessarily, as this song implies, but I found out that that doesn't really matter. It's really fun to have a song like that in the set,” she says. “I feel like I've come into that song. I've grown into my 'Party Monster Alter Ego,' especially when we're performing that song. It's definitely challenged me, and I've risen to the challenge.”
Elsewhere on the album, MUNA embraces the “dyke boyband energy” Gavin joked about in an interview with Vice, taking on hyper pop and disco tunes, acoustic and country tracks, and back to catchy pop songs. Kind Of Girl is wedged between the aforementioned No Idea and some of the album's louder moments. “We kind of dipped our toes into more expansive sounds – on our second album, we had a country song that’s a lot of people’s favourite MUNA song called Taken,” McPherson shares.
“Once we realised that people were down to go with us wherever we wanted to go sonically, we had faith that people would appreciate the song if it was a good song,” they add. “And that's still kind of the rule that we try to abide by; we just make sure it's quality and trust that our listeners will appreciate it. And we seem to have been correct about that so far.”
In a recent interview with V Magazine, MUNA discussed how they’d reclaimed the label of a “queer band” when it was something they initially fought against. “I am out, and I feel safe being out because the three of us are a little army for one another. I don't feel afraid to be myself. That makes me proud to be queer,” McPherson said. “That's the whole point of why we do this. We want a safe haven.” And that mission statement to create a safe haven is why they’re performing at the Rainbow Republic concert and why, as McPherson says, TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) are not welcome at MUNA shows.
“I think it's really important for us to have places where you can feel not just safe but really uninhibited,” Gavin explains. “I remember when we were starting as a band, we would spend summers in New York City and just go to openly queer bars, which there are not even any actual lesbian bars in LA. I don't know if there's any in Australia, but the spaces where you feel like, ‘okay, I'm with majority queer people’ is important.”
Those bars, Gavin adds, are spaces where people can try on different identities and figure out what works for them. “That was essential for me personally, for my growth. I also want to say that it's important for us to congregate and show people how fucking pointless it is for them to try to rail against us because we're not going to stop existing, and we're not going to stop living our lives to the fullest extent,” she continues.
“I'm so glad that I'm out and that I'm queer, and my friends who are trans and have transitioned, like, guess what, that's what made them not want to kill themselves,” Gavin notes. McPherson adds, “Yeah, fuck TERFs. If you’re a TERF, you’re not fucking invited to our shows. We hate you. Sorry, but it’s just true.”
MUNA are performing at the Sydney WorldPride closing concert, Rainbow Republic, this Sunday. You can buy tickets here. After that, they’ll open for Lorde on her Australian Solar Power tour. Find tickets here.