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MUNA band Carter Howe photographer
MUNAPhotography Carter Howe

MUNA are in their fun, horny era: ‘what else is the fucking point?’

Gearing up to release their self-titled third album, the pop trio discusses dreaming up sexy boyband fantasies with Mitski, spreading queer joy through their music and growing out of past traumas

Besides MUNA, not many bands could get away with releasing a song like “Silk Chiffon” during what may well have been the most uneasy stretch of our lives. With its saccharine, early 2000s radio-pop production, sapphic love story lyrics, and a feature from Phoebe Bridgers, the first single of their new era exploded on the internet after its September 2021 release – transforming its anthemic “Life’s so fun / Life’s so fun” chorus into the unlikely soundtrack to the world’s reopening post-lockdown. In a viral TikTok trend, users made light of the lyrics, posting the bubblegum-pop track as the background to their biggest fails, traumas and insecurities. “When you turned 21 during a pandemic, are about to turn 23, and have spent more time in quarantine than going outside,” one TikTok reads. “When he slides into your DMs, chases you and ghosts you all in the same month,” says another.

To no surprise, the Los Angeles-based indie-pop trio – comprised of lead songwriter and vocalist Katie Gavin, and instrumentalists and producers Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson – intended for the track to be taken with a hint of irony. “This is how we, ourselves, used the song when we were making it,” McPherson recounts while we meet, leaning back in their chair in a London photography studio, just hours before the band plays a sold-out show at the Garage. “We’re all people who struggle with our own mental health problems and can get quite dark, so the ‘Life’s so fun’ of it all is just an attempt at speaking having fun into existence for yourself.” Maskin adds, with a laugh: “We want you to scream ‘Life’s so fun’ at the top of your lungs and lose yourself, because what else is the fucking point?”

Earlier on in their careers, the band might not have felt the same. Their 2017 debut album About U followed the melodramatic aftermath of a breakup, and 2019’s Saves The World gathered up a cult queer following for its honest documentation of the deep pains and euphorias associated with heartbreak, sex, drugs, and mental health. ICYMI, the record’s most listened to song on Spotify, “Number One Fan”, opens up with the lyrics: “So, I heard the bad news / Nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone / In my bedroom.” “Silk Chiffon” was a “necessary departure” from their trauma-soaked back catalogue, explains McPherson: “At a certain point, you reach a certain age where you're like, ‘I can’t keep doing this forever’.”

Since then – besides spending two years sticking out the pandemic in Los Angeles – MUNA was dropped from major label RCA Records, and later, welcomed into Phoebe Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory Records (also home to Claud, Sloppy Jane, and Charlie Hickey). While the switch didn’t change much in their creative process, after sitting alongside mainstream pop musicians like Doja Cat, A$AP Rocky, and Britney Spears, the band felt like they had located a more close-knit, indie-label mindset in Bridgers’ hands – often texting her to “shoot the shit” or get feedback on the latest track. “(Bridgers) is willing to leverage herself because she believes in us and the other artists on her label,” says Maskin, referencing Bridgers’ feature on “Silk Chiffon”, which helped to widen MUNA’s fan base and secure their first radio hit. “I think that’s sick as fuck, because she’s a powerful person who’s not afraid to share that stage that she’s on.” 

Today, the band is gearing up to release their third, self-titled new record: a genre-bending, 11-track reflection on growing out of toxic habits and the joy that comes with it, described through eclectic anecdotes of sex, love, clubbing, and connection. “It’s a celebration of reaching a certain point in our lives where we have a real sense of self-assuredness and trust in whatever changes we’re trying to make,” says Gavin. “It’s just cool to have had the chance to grow personally while documenting it with this project.” 

During our time together – even though they had flown in from Berlin earlier on in the day – MUNA are upbeat, energetic, and vulnerable, oscillating between talking over their bandmates with jokes and sharing introspective thoughts with each other as if they were in a group therapy session. “(The album) is queer pop bangers that you can fuck to, dance to, cry to!” exclaims Maskin. “Katie said, ‘MUNA fully loaded,’ the other day,” interrupts McPherson, before Maskin adds: “MUNA says being sad is okay, but really being horny is OK.”

“(The album) is queer pop bangers that you can fuck to, dance to, cry to... MUNA says being sad is okay, but really being horny is OK” – Josette Maskin

All jokes aside, it is a horny album. After its opener “Silk Chiffon” comes “What I Want”, an electronic-pop night out-anthem about a hedonistic return to gay clubs. Here, Gavin expresses her desire for dancing with her friends, taking drugs, and hooking up with girls in leather clothes. A few tracks later is “No Idea” – a song where MUNA reimagines themselves as the biggest “dyke boyband” in the world in the late 90s while exploring sexy scenarios co-written by none other than Mitski

Together – in the apartment-slash-studio MUNA borrowed from a friend to work on the album – they turned up Donna Summers and talked through the unwritten second verse as Mitski sipped tea and provided input. “We were talking about the imagery and things that we found sexy,” recounts Maskin. When I admit that I was shocked to hear Mitski in such a sexual context, the band easily convinces me otherwise. “Other people can portray their sexuality in terms of their appearance, but Mitski… I feel like it’s a part of her music,” Maskin explains. “Like every song is just deviously sexy.” Gavin adds: “It’s a funny union! When you think about 90s or 00s boybands, that type of sexuality is packaged and really sanitised. I feel like Mitski is the antithesis of that, which I think is what people respond to with her.” 

Meanwhile, in country ballad “Kind of Girl”, the band strips back their sound – paying tribute to singer-songwriters like Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Tracy Chapman, and Ani DiFranco, all of whom Gavin grew up listening to. The song – which is accompanied by a western-style music video, where the trio performs as drag kings – touches on Gavin’s journey with self-acceptance and defining the way that she is perceived. “I’ve been learning and experimenting with the power of choosing different ways of talking about myself,” she says. “I think something shifted for me when I realised I can just say that I’m a sensitive person. Having that guide when I move throughout my day and (for) how I treat myself changed my life.”

On another level, the song holds a special meaning for the band as queer people who all-too-often are put in situations of having to explain their identities to others – whether it be through coming out or having to explain their pronouns. “There’s something really vulnerable for queer people about choosing the words that you use to describe yourself and saying that you want to make a change to your identity… saying, I believe that I can do this,” says Gavin. 

“The album was like a weight that we needed to get off our shoulders. Now, it’s like we’re just dancing around in the space that’s left after that” – Katie Gavin

After the music video went live on YouTube, its comments flooded with messages from queer fans sharing their own stories of coming to terms with their identities or how MUNA’s music helped them feel seen. One fan message that particularly resonated with the band came from a trans man, who commented that the song put him back in touch with the femininity he experienced pre-transition. “It was such a beautiful, well-articulated expression of something I hadn’t even imagined that someone could use the song for,” notes the songwriter. 

While the new record sees MUNA stray from the cinematic suffering recounted in their past music, it seems to remain as an outlet for fans to navigate their own traumas as they listen – inviting them to join in on the band’s healing journey. In fact, the album’s second-to-last track, “Loose Garments”, literally narrates breaking their pain into pieces and tossing it away as a means of letting it go. “That is the album, and is maybe the chain of all the albums connected together,” says Maskin, turning to face Gavin. “You were so deep in pain, and you might be still in pain, but you’re wearing it differently.” The songwriter agrees, reminding her bandmates of how divulging their lows via Saves The World once felt like an exhale to each of them. “It was like a weight that we needed to get off our shoulders,” she shares. “Now, it’s like we’re just dancing around in the space that’s left after that.”

MUNA’s new, self-titled record is out on June 24 – pre-order it here.