Wonderland.

PROFILE: MUNA

Meet the American trio who are making delicious pop music with a message.

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Orange cotton ‘hardcore’ hoody by MISHBV, black cotton graphic print hoody by NICOPANDA, black and yellow lace dress by MULBERRY and red cotton graphic top by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD.

“We’ve created a universe that we inhabit that’s very inclusive” say Los Angeles-based queer-pop band MUNA. With positive female inclusivity at the heart of their message, friends Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin are the college grads fusing funk beats, synthpop and RnB with heart-racing, politically-infused lyrics.

With tracks such as “Loudspeaker” bringing their audiences to tears (in the best way possible), MUNA are set out to make their audiences feel as safe as possible, and to promote total acceptance. Expressing the difficulties of growing older through their track “Winterbreak”, where they write about “trying to make a home where there was once a home but there’s no longer”, they write about issues that everyone in that awkward not-a-teenager-but-not-an-adult stage can identify with.

Writing their “The Loudspeaker” EP together as well as producing it (it was mixed by Dan Grech-Marguerat), MUNA tackle hard hitting topics whilst giving their audience space to be themselves. We met the trio at a North London studio ahead of their shoot to talk about the vibe of the band, how they met, their support of fellow female musicians and coming full circle in the UK.

Can you tell me how you met and how MUNA started?

Katie: We met in school, because we all went to USC – University of Southern California. I was a transfer student, so even though Josette is a year younger than me, I was in the same class as her. We both studied music, so we met on the first day of both of our schooling at USC. And then in the next semester I met Naomi in a class called African Diaspora.

Naomi: You always say what class, you’re like ‘and the class was called African Diaspora’.

Katie: Because it’s weirder to try and explain our majors. You told me I shouldn’t say American Studies and Ethnicity. I studied Ethnic Studies, she studied African-American Studies, they overlap. Anyway! we were just friends for a whole semester, and then we were pre-gaming before a party, and Naomi started playing guitar, and Josette heard her and was like ‘we should jam’, and then I invited myself, and – we all three play guitar, but I didn’t want to have a three guitar jam session, and I had started spending more time on Ableton as of recent when this was occurring, so I sat down with my mini keyboard and started making a beat and a bassline, and then the first time we jammed we wrote a song and it kind of just kept going like that.

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Red wool jumper by JOSEPH, black cotton blazer silver ring detail by ASHLEY WILLIAMS and black leather trousers STYLISTS OWN.

V organic then.
All: Yeah! V organic.

That’s really nice! ‘We just jammed, and then we became a band’.

Josette: We wrote our first EP before even having a name. We just wrote these songs and then we just did it.

Is that this EP?

Josette: No, it’s a secret EP.

Katie: There was an experimental EP called “More Perfect” where we were really interested in the idea of it all being very

Josette: Organic

Naomi: Weird

Katie: Yeah, just unpolished and whatever we – the three of us – liked, because we all have so many different influences and such a wide range of music that interests us and inspires us. We were just like, let’s just put it the fuck out on Bandcamp or whatever. And we actually got some press in the UK when we started putting stuff out, and that’s kind of what made us realise like, oh, there’s people that will take us seriously as musicians and creatives, and so that’s why it’s very special for us now, it’s like full circle to come here. We were never here but we wanted to be.

You were here in music spirit.

Naomi: People here in the UK in general just get hip to music way faster than in the US. They know shit way before other people do.

Josette: Or they’re more open to it.

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Red cotton graphic top by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, black wool trousers by MCQ and black leather boots by DR MARTENS.

In your bio, you say MUNA is not just your friendship group, it’s kind of a totally inclusive way of life. What do you mean by that?

Naomi: I think that by being who we are we’re trying to represent something positive and that sort of materialises in us feeling like we’ve created a universe that we inhabit that’s very inclusive? It’s not that trippy – it’s mostly just the idea that we make music, we do it all ourselves, the stories are real stories, there’s nothing polished about it necessarily even though it sounds polished.

Josette: We want to create a space for our listeners to feel safe and feel like themselves, and be part of – at least for me, it’s like how I feel around you guys is how I want other people to feel when they see us, and when they listen to us because I am myself when I’m around you guys. I feel safe to be myself.

Naomi: I feel like there’s no – aside from grime here and certain kinds of hip-hop in the US, there’s no real music movement. I’m so infatuated with the imagery and the culture of punk, and how radical that was politically, and how left of centre and out there that was, and I think that we kind of want to bring a little bit of that into pop music and pop culture and be a little bit like ‘fuck you’ about the way we live our lives, like unapologetic I guess.

Katie: You’re being like MUNA when you’re just shining – especially if you exist in a world where people may not always let you feel like you are the best at what you’re doing, because there’s someone else who’s getting the credit or someone else who’s getting the attention, it’s like no, just believe in yourself so much that – and if you have a small squad of people who really know that you’re the best at what you do then that’s the only thing that really matters to us. We don’t care what other people’s opinions are – unless you love us, and then we love you too!

 

I loved the Winterbreak video, on socials it seems to have had a big impact on people…

Katie: The best is seeing people screaming Winterbreak, because the vocal delivery is so low key, and there are people that will sometimes –

Naomi: At our EP release show there was a girl who was literally in tears

Katie: But screaming too –

Naomi: I think that’s kind of the vibe of the band in general. In tears but screaming.

Josette: My brother just got cornrows too when he was at the EP show, so he was this big white guy with cornrows screaming all the lyrics, and crying because he was so drunk and excited. It was quite the look. It was quite the look.

Katie: There’s a few people that we’ve never met personally but we know fuck with us in the UK that are coming tonight and I’m so excited to see them interact with the music.

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Orange cotton ‘hardcore’ hoody by MISHBV and black leather boots by DIESEL BLACK GOLD.

I was thinking, for the video, to me it obviously sounds like it’s about a relationship, but the video is obviously focused on you guys and the friendship – what’s going on there?

Naomi: That was kind of the point of the video. We could just make – we could make a video where there’s a romantic plotline, but that’s so easy, that’s the first thing that would come to your mind. And that should come to mind when you’re listening to the song, because that’s what it’s about, but I think for the video we just wanted to find a thing that we all had in common which was that it’s fucking weird getting older, and it’s really weird to go home, and we wanted to capture that instead of making it a love story or a breakup story or whatever.

Josette: Cause it still is what the song’s about, in a different way – trying to make a home where there was once a home but there’s no longer.

Katie: I’ve experienced that with best friends as well, and it can be just as hard. But I also think it’s funny that there’s the whole gal pal phenomenon, right, where you can be very openly homoerotic as two women and society will just not read it as romantic, it’s just like ‘best friends having a good time’.

I saw that in the video, definitely.

Josette: That video’s supposed to be homoerotic?!

Katie: Yeah, I think it’s super homoerotic.

Naomi: There’s some truly homoerotic moments.

Josette: Do I just not realise –

Katie: I whisper in your ear and smile, I think I definitely whispered about putting something in your bum bum in the actual shoot.

Josette: You definitely did.

Naomi: We do not have sex with each other, for the record.

Katie: But yeah, I think that’s something that’s funny, that people will read it – there was one journalist who talked about the romantic undertones to it.

Katie: We kind of just wanted to make a point that these things exist in spaces other than the boy-girl love story. We’ve had multiple experiences where there would be a music video shoot or a photo shoot where the only creative scenario people can come up with is ‘you and your boyfriend’, and it’s like, you know, we experience other things.

Naomi: Like the only time you have any emotion is when there’s a dude involved, it’s so crazy to me.

Josette: I don’t know what you guys are talking about.

Katie: Josette just misses her boyfriend.

Josette: I miss my boyfriend. Scott! (I don’t have a boyfriend).

Katie: Scott’s our collective boyfriend.

Josette: He’s our drummer and our tour manager (and our boyfriend). I don’t think he knows. Now he does.

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Black and grey graphic blazer by ASHLEY WILLIAMS, black cotton dress and choker STYLISTS OWN, black wool socks by FALKE and black heeled boots by MULBERRY.

I feel that’s really clear with you guys – I was looking at your Twitter, and you’ve been out there supporting Kehlani, you’ve been out there supporting Kesha, people have really identified with your lyrics, and I’ve got one tweet here – someone tweeted about Loudspeaker, and I thought you were just so sensitive in your response, do you guys think, ‘we want to write for the people that need it’ kind of thing?

Josette: I feel like it’s just become that, because – at least for me – the relationship that we have with each other – I’m so much more comfortable being myself, and not being – whenever we go anywhere, you guys out me instantly, which is something I would never –

Katie: You say that every time we do an interview

Josette: Because you do! I don’t know, at least for me, I think the way we make each other feel – isn’t that the whole point?

Naomi: I think it’s sort of always been about that for me, because I’m very sensitive with my identities, because I can’t help but be anybody but myself, and I can’t help when things offend me or exclude me or hurt my feelings based on my racial identity or my sexual identity or whatever –

Katie: Well your self is so complicated. We’ve had so many conversations –

Naomi: Exactly. It’s kind of crazy. Like it’s all good, I’m good, everything’s chill. But I often feel excluded.

Josette: Existing is hard.

Naomi: Existing is extremely hard. And existing as someone who’s a queer person, or someone who is not white, or someone who is not the gender they were assigned biologically – that’s fucked up, and that sucks, and you will feel excluded by a lot of society, and I think because we all have sort of marginalised identities, we write from that perspective, and on top of that we try not to be exclusive. And I think that we all – we’re like checks and balances.

Josette: When we talk about it, it feels so much more of a higher purpose. Even when we do songs it’s like – Naomi and I can play guitar pretty well, we can all shed and play crazy things, it’s like ‘what is actually the purpose? What’s the purpose of the song and how can we best communicate that?’ Maybe it is 145, maybe it isn’t, but it’s just like making that choice that it isn’t about you, it’s not about how proficient you are, it’s just about what is needed.

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Left to right: red wool jumper by JOSEPH, black cotton blazer silver ring detail by ASHLEY WILLIAMS and black leather trousers STYLISTS OWN.

Black and grey graphic blazer by ASHLEY WILLIAMS, black cotton dress and choker STYLISTS OWN, black wool socks by FALKE and black heeled boots by MULBERRY.

Black leather jacket with chain by MISBHV, white cotton eyelet shirt by JOSEPH and beige cotton check trousers by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD.

 

I feel like when I was a teenager I didn’t have pop music that spoke to me in the way I needed – bands that were upbeat but also expressing emotions that I was feeling…

Josette: I think we’re in a cool time where you’re allowed to do that with pop. You don’t have to talk about your boyfriend. You can do whatever the fuck you want.

Katie: I really am just so fascinated by it. I want to go back to university and try and – like, who’s learning about this. Who’s writing a dissertation about this right now, because I totally agree with you and I don’t know why. I want to know socio-politically why is this happening –

Naomi: We’re living in it.

Katie: I know, but I want to study it, and then write a book about it.

What are you up to at the moment and what’s next?

Katie: Right now, we’re going on our first tiny leg of a tour. When we leave the UK, we’re going straight to St Louis to meet Miike Snow, and we’re going to play for them for a few dates, which we’re extremely excited about because we think they’re so great. And then we go back and we’re going to be really hardcore writing for the next month, I think. For all of June and into July, because this is our last leg of writing before we go to the studio for the final time for the LP, which we’re really really excited about. But it’s going to be, hopefully – Jojo graduated, so hopefully we’ll be hanging out at her house. She has a pool. I’m just going to go in the pool, drink beer –

Naomi: Yeah, I want a Corona in the pool –

Katie: I’m just excited to jam with them because it’s been a little hard – our lives are fucking crazy at the moment, to be honest.

Josette: Speaking of catharsis, I need some

Naomi: Wow, that’s dark

Katie: I don’t think that’s what catharsis is – catharsis is when you feel extreme emotions –

Josette: But isn’t it part of release?

Naomi: It’s the resolution of extreme emotions

Katie: The release is what happens when you experience catharsis.

Josette: How is that incorrect?

Katie: Because when you step into a pool do you scream your guts out or sob?

Josette: No, but that’s the moment I’m gonna feel a little bit of release probably.

Katie: It’s a cathartic experience. It isn’t catharsis itself but it’s a cathartic experience, being in the pool.

Josette: For the record, Katie hates me.

Katie: I just don’t agree with you about the way you use the word catharsis.

Josette: She hates me.

Katie: I love you so much. I’m actually really excited because the last five or six songs we’ve written for the album were done in a much more compartmentalised way. We didn’t get to do it as collaboratively so we’re really focused on when we finish the album for it to be something that – the last few songs to be more – the kind way the band started with jam sessions.

Photographer: Barney Frost

Fashion: Toni-Blaze Ibekwe

Hair: Cathy Ennis using Bumble and Bumble #Bbcurlsquad

Makeup: Bea Sweet at LMC Worldwide using Kryolan.

Makeup Assistant: Amber NcQuillen

Fashion Assistant: Olivia Kaiafa

With thanks to Green Lens Studio.

PROFILE: MUNA

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