MUNA, the indie pop band with a cult following, has mastered the art of creating music and lyrics that can be both sung at the top of your lungs while jumping up and down with a throng of queer people and sung at the top of your lungs on a solo walk home, tears streaming down your face. It would be difficult to find a fan of theirs who hasn’t experienced both feelings while crooning along to “life’s so fun, life’s so fun” from “Silk Chiffon,” the viral track they released earlier this year. The bandmates—Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson, and Josette Maskin—know they attract an audience of very sensitive listeners, from emotional young queers to delicate dads. But if you ask all three members of the group, they're ecstatic to know that their music can stir up the sweet catharsis of tears.
“If our fans are anything like me, which I think a lot of them are, they’re probably already crying every day,” says Gavin, the lead singer. “I don’t think we’re actually increasing the amount of tears, maybe giving the tears a vessel.”
In early June, the band joined me on a Zoom call to discuss the release of their self-titled third album, MUNA, which will bow on June 24. Gavin is the only member on camera, while the McPherson and Maskin, are disembodied voices chiming in to answer questions. According to all three bandmates, there’s a level of self-assured voice on this project that comes from a place of knowing themselves better than ever before, making now the perfect time to use their band moniker as the title for their next album.
MUNA made quite the statement when they arrived on the scene in 2016, and now, with MUNA the trio makes an even stronger declaration of who they are as artists. After RCA Records dropped them from the label in 2020, the bandmates took some much-needed time to assess if they still wanted to commit to making music together as a group, which led them to become, as McPherson puts it, “remarried to the notion and the concept of MUNA.” They’re now signed to Saddest Factor Records, the hit indie label run by Phoebe Bridgers, who features on “Silk Chiffon.” MUNA’s first album was a homemade project, produced with free audio plugins in a makeshift studio. For the second, they worked with a handful of co-producers. They returned to those DIY roots for MUNA, with a newfound level of maturity and perspective.
Thematically, MUNA’s bread and butter of love and relationships are all present on the new album. “Home By Now” will make you bop along until you realize its emotionally eviscerating lyrics are about the “What if?”s of an expired romance. On the flip side, the breakup anthem “Anything But Me” reaffirms the decision to call things quits because a relationship no longer feels right. Synth-tastic “What I Want” is perfect for the gay bar dance floor, and three tracks later, the moody, strings-heavy “Kind of Girl” makes you feel like you should blast it while driving a pickup truck through the countryside.
“This record is probably our most sonically expansive album, it's impossible to put in a box,” Gavin says. “There's something about that that I think we also mischievously enjoy.”
MUNA taps into many musical genres, but there is an undeniable country undercurrent to a number of the tracks. Maskin acknowledges that Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour left quite an impression, and seeped into their bones. During the Grammy-award winning musician’s winter tour in 2021, MUNA served as her opener, giving the band another avenue to connect with one of their favorite artists. “When you have moments of hardship navigating this career, having an artist whose work you respect that much, and knowing that they believe in your work? That's truly a bedrock,” Gavin says.
The intimate dynamic formed between friends who meet in college can last through adulthood, and McPherson and Maskin give me a taste of just how well they know each other, playing into an ongoing bit throughout our Zoom call that the two are making out off-camera (they are not, at least to my knowledge). Maskin teases that the band should be “more Fleetwood Mac.” It’s a joke, but a particularly salient one because, as many MUNA scholars may know, Gavin and McPherson dated for three years and broke up right around the time they were first signed to a label.
“We were able to navigate some really hard shifts in the beginning of our career, which maybe did give us a sense of there's nothing that we can't handle, and it also taught us the importance of showing up with kindness and compassion,” Gavin says. “A lot of changes happened because we had the accountability of a project that we care a lot about, and believing that we wouldn't make good music if we couldn't be good to each other.”
Working with and making music with an ex might have you wondering, could MUNA get any gayer? Since their debut, the band has racked up headlines championing their queerness, and alongside that public journey of exploring their queerness through the music they share with their fans, the artists have had plenty of internal evolutions and realizations. Like many queer people, the members of MUNA have had to figure out how to come into their own.
“I hesitate to say that anything is permanent, including any sense of confidence with your identity as a person. But I do feel that when you’re in your late twenties, you get the sense of, Okay, this is the person I’m going to be for the rest of my life, so I better figure out what that actually looks like in the real world and what makes me happy,” McPherson says. “It takes a long time to arrive at any place of solidity with how you feel about your identity and how much of that you want to be forward-facing for other people.”
The ways in which the group has chosen to manifest queerness in their art has takes various forms, with perhaps one of their most noteworthy expressions being their stubbly, beer-drinking drag king personas in the music video for “Kind of Girl.”
“It felt really special to be doing drag for a video. It wasn’t a joke to us, it was like, This is actually a depiction of some part of our identity in some way,” Gavin says. “Something that we thought was a bit fun was the song being so gendered and then having the music video be fucking with that clear concept of gender. We’re very proud of it.”
“It was one of the best days of my life,” Maskin adds. “I loved wearing a mustache so fucking much.”
Having just kicked off their tour earlier in June, the band will have a jam-packed summer as they gear up for the rest of the world to hear all of MUNA. They’ve already stopped by The Tonight Show for a performance of “Kind of Girl,” played a string of shows in New York City with Bridgers, and dropped a cover of the iconic Britney Spears track “Sometimes” for the Fire Island soundtrack. It’s all leading up to their album drop—and there’s no doubt that MUNA is going to give fans new and old something to love.
“I'm going to directly steal what Bowen Yang said at the end of that [Saturday Night Live] skit and say, ‘11 tracks, no skips, swear to god,’” McPherson says. “That's how I feel about it.”