sex, sensualism and identity politics: muna make pop with a purpose

The LA based trio have found an anthem in their song I Know A Place – including a fearless middle-eight,  Muna are a tight knit band tackling the injustices of the world. Here’s what they had to say.

LA-based MUNA, aka Katie Gavin (vocals), Josette Maskin (guitar, vocals), and Naomi McPherson (synths, guitar, vocals, production), have been making Purposeful Pop since before Katy Perry coined the phrase earlier this year. Their recently-released self-produced debut album, About U, tackles issues around sexuality, sexism and identity politics, but underpins it all with an energising sense of protest. In February, for example, the trio performed their anthemic single I Know A Place on Jimmy Kimmel Live, singer Katie going off script and re-working the song's middle eight into an extended act of defiance against President Trump, singing “He's not my leader even if he's my President”.

A fearless, supremely close-knit unit, interviewing them is like trying to keep up with a marathon runner. Here's how we faired.

You met at a house party and started jamming, right...Or did you?

Josette: The legend is a lie. We should just make it up...We actually met at a convent meeting in Switzerland.

Naomi: We weren't really at a party, we were just having drinks at my apartment. We were friends already.

J: Naomi was playing her guitar and I was like, 'Why have we never played together', so we decided to jam one day. Katie came with her mini keyboard, we wrote a song and we haven't stopped.

What did you bond over?

N: We were already friends and we're just butt buddies. We love each other...Do you not say butt buddies? To me, it just means really close friends.

J: I like to call anyone I ever date a butt buddy, but you guys are also my butt buddies if I'm being honest.

Katie: We're snuggle pals.

J: When we go on tour together we all sleep in the same room.

OK. Does it feel like you've known each other longer than you have?

N: Yeah, like, 20,000 years.

J: We have known each other for five years, but it feels like an eternity.

K: I've had friends for twenty years, since I was a toddler, but this feels like my whole life. MUNA feels like the beginning of my life.

What I hope is that in all forms of music people feel comfortable and safe to express what it means to them to feel alive and exist fully - Katie

Unlike a lot of pop at the moment, your songs carry messages or talk about things most people leave unsaid. Was that always your intention?

K: The intention when we started jamming was to try and tell stories that were variations on the common theme. Like pieces of stuff that often get left out of pop songs. Writing So Special, I was like, I'm just going to talk about going down on someone and feeling kind of bad because I wasn't dating them, but it can exist in a pop song because I know that people do it. The way we learned how to talk about our songs developed over time, but it was kind of there from the beginning.

Have you had fans come to you and say that songs like So Special and Loudspeaker have spoken to them, or made them feel differently?

N: Everyday we hear that and it's the sickest thing in the world. Knowing that we're so open with our lives, and Katie's so open and vulnerable through her lyrics, and that people connect to that and feel safe and heard, is the coolest thing. I would have wanted that when I was a kid.

J: I thought playing music was the best thing about being in a band, but feeling like you're a part of something that can positively affect someone's life is the best thing. What's the point of life if you can't positively affect the people around you.

Do you think pop needs to start dealing with the bigger picture under Trump? To look outside a bit more?

N: Every artist is entitled to make the kind of art that they want to make. It's nice for me personally to hear people making politically relevant music though.

I thought it was interesting that someone like Katy Perry, who has a lot to lose in a way, has become more politicised in her music recently.

N: Totally. She was on the campaign trail for Hillary [Clinton] too, so it's not a new thing. You could even say I Kissed A Girl was political. It was meaningful to me at the time, just hearing a massive mainstream song about two girls kissing, which was something I related to.

K: What I hope is that in all forms of music people feel comfortable and safe to express what it means to them to feel alive and exist fully. I think that in itself is political.

Your performance on Jimmy Kimmel was that perfect mix of anger, defiance and a hint of hope. That's where the power comes from, right?

K: It was kind of joyous and liberating.

Your songs also pull off that wonderful pop trick of dealing with serious things but making them sound uplifting, especially on I Know A Place.

K: It's a total pop trick. That's why we tweeted recently about Robyn because she is the mother of that whole thing for us.

J: When we first started as a band, we wanted there to be live drums and live bass because there is something about that cathartic experience of being able to feel the music and just let go.

Katie I wanted to ask about your voice and some of the pronunciation - on So Special “line” becomes "loine", for example, and it's "weapoon" instead of “weapon” on I Know A Place. Why?

K: We talked about this the other day. Different people will say 'oh, she's singing in an Irish accent to pay tribute to her heritage', or 'she sings with a Jamaican accent', but for me I just don't think about it. It's a musical choice. I pronounce things in a way that I think fits the song, or just feels right to me. I think as I was writing I Know A Place I just needed it to rhyme in a certain way. As a disclaimer, white artists do need to be careful because it's sometimes a lazy choice to sing things that culturally come from people of colour.

Feeling like you're a part of something that can positively affect someone's life is the best thing - Josette

What are your individual roles in the band?

N: Me and Josette are like Dumb and Dumber, like a slapstick duo.

J: We all like to joke around.

N: Katie's the cute one.

K: Josette is the public heartthrob. She's good if we have to do something on camera.

J: They're both neurotically hard workers and I feel like I have to catch up with them all the time. We're all little cogs in the machine in different ways.

Who smells the nicest?

N: I feel like we all smell pretty good actually.

What smell reminds you of home?

K: My incense.

J: Yes, her incense reminds me of being at peace and in a calming place.

N: I burn the same incense in my room now.

What does London smell like?

K: As soon as we pulled out of the airport I loved the smell of the plants and the grass.

J: It smells cold. Crisp and fresh. In LA, you fall on the ground from the heat.

K: I'm from Chicago and so the smell of London at the moment reminds me of the start of spring in the midwest.

What smells remind you of your childhood?

N: See's Candy! Do you have that here? It's like a chocolatier in America, and my grandma always used to bring candy to us when we were kids.

J: Mine is the smell of old dogs. I was raised by wolves (laughs).

If MUNA were to have an official scent, what would it be called?

J: What's a phrase we always use?

N: Katie's would be Bisexual Icon.

K: Yeah, we'd all have our own. Naomi's would be Steal Your Girl.

N: Our scent could be called Maid Marian. That's hot. Platonic Wives?

J: That could be our next album.

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