BAZAAR Muse: MUNA on committing to each other and creating something beautiful
American indie pop group MUNA began creating music work through their journeys of self-realisation, but along the way, they found a higher purpose for their artistry.
Words by DANI MAHER; Photographed by ISAAC SCHNEIDER
“BEING IN A BAND IS A LOT LIKE … like we got married very young,” Katie Gavin (who uses the pronouns she/her) says. And while it’s unlikely many marriages are composed of two exes sandwiching a mutual college friend, the sentiment certainly rings true for MUNA, the band for which she is lead singer-songwriter alongside Naomi McPherson (they/them) and Josette Maskin (she/they). “We signed a binding contract to each other, and had to weave our lives together.”
If this is a marriage, they’ll be celebrating a decade of matrimony this year, and it shows in their easy comfort and quick laughter — the kind that makes you feel welcome even as an outsider to their years of personal history. Their story begins in 2013: as students at the University of Southern California, McPherson and Maskin “just wanted to jam together”, until Gavin — who was at that time dating McPherson — rocked up “and started making cool sounds”, McPherson explains. “We were like, Sick, we’ll just keep doing this. And we haven’t stopped from there.”
Not even Gavin and McPherson’s break-up could halt the trio’s trajectory. (“I mean, we did not get along for a few months in the beginning, but we figured it out,” McPherson admits. “I feel like the rule of queer culture is that your gay ex is just your sibling,” Gavin adds.) Signed to record label RCA, MUNA released their debut and sophomore albums, About U and Saves The World, in 2017 and 2019 respectively. The band retained a musician’s musician status — creating experimental pop which received technical acclaim, rather than amassing swathes of instant fans from a singular viral song. And when they were dropped from RCA (“Relieved of our duties,” McPherson jokes) at the beginning of the pandemic, they hardly faltered. “We were ultimately pleased to be in a place where we could start over,” McPherson says. And start over they did, signing with fellow queer icon Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records in 2021 ([She’s] been nothing but the biggest homie,” they note).
Last year, the trio released MUNA, their third album. Led by “Silk Chiffon” — the queer love anthem that made it onto many a Best Songs of the Year list — the album has allowed them to begin to break into the mainstream. It’s for that reason they recently made their first foray to Australian shores, where they performed a headliner show in Sydney that sold out in minutes, while also opening for Lorde’s tour and closing Sydney WorldPride alongside Kim Petras and G Flip.
So, what should people expect when attending a MUNA gig? “A lot of people crying,” McPherson begins, while Maskin proudly asserts it as “life-shattering”, noting “you’ll be quaking in your boots at every moment, either watching gays doing amazing things or losing yourself to the power of music and friendship”.
You’ll be QUAKING in your boots at everymoment, either watching gays DOING AMAZING THINGS or LOSING YOURSELF to the POWER of MUSIC and FRIENDSHIP
“Life-shattering” may sound intense, but it’s hardly an overstatement. It’s often said that queer people go through a second adolescence that occurs during adulthood, once we’re actually able to start living authentically. MUNA’s music reflects this incredibly personal journey of self-realisation: Their earlier releases were often labelled as dark pop as they explored the heavier sides of the queer experience, but as they themselves have grown, they’ve learnt to feel more comfortable with joy. “I think you can really hear a throughline in terms of the self-discovery … which we were all trying to do in our early twenties,” Maskin says. “We just had to go through those phases of growing up to be able to make the music that we did with this third record.”
“I’ve been interested in [asking] how soft and gentle can I get with myself, and how good can my personal relationships get, and how well can I treat myself?” Gavin adds. “Because it’s never been my experience that it’s actually uncomfortable to stay in depression, or anxiety or chaos. That’s very familiar.”
It’s this vulnerability that makes their music so moving, even (or perhaps especially) when it asserts its right to happiness; something that we as queer people often find ourselves fighting against out of self-preservation. MUNA’s discography forms something of a patchwork quilt for us to draw over ourselves, shielding us from the world outside when it becomes overwhelming; draping us in the validation and understanding we seek. Their songs are an encyclopaedic guide to the queer experience: There’s isolation and self-loathing in “If U Love Me Now” and “It’s Gonna Be Okay, Baby”; yearning (so much yearning) in the likes of “Everything” and “Shooting Star”. There’s camaraderie and community in “I Know a Place”; the liberated joy of queer love in “Silk Chiffon” and “Solid”; and that second-adolescence-driven desire in “What I Want” and “No Idea” (“They’re very hormonal songs,” Gavin says with a laugh).
Describing their bond as a marriage may have been a joke, but in the way Gavin, McPherson and Maskin so lovingly speak of each other and their journey, the word friendship doesn’t seem to cover it. Not unlike a marriage, they have committed to each other, done the work, and created something beautiful. “It really is just transcendent when we’re all there together,” Maskin says. “[There’s] something about being in a room of queer people, where people truly feel safe, and I feel like that’s a revolutionary experience. It just makes it all feel worthwhile … this is why we do it. So that everyone can yell at the top of their lungs ‘Silk chiffon!’ and feel goofy, but feel really seen in who they are. I don’t know if it’s the reason why we started, but I think it’s the reason why we keep going.”