meet ​muna, pop's bright new loudspeakers

The Los Angeles three-piece creating the new queer pop.

by Matthew Whitehouse
19 May 2016, 9:01pm

MUNA is Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin. Not that the specifics of it matter too much. They speak with one voice (or at least, when we chat over the phone, three voices at the same time) and all you really need to know is that they're new, they're from L.A. and they make music to dance and cry to. Their debut EP Loudspeaker (it's about speaking up) contains three great pop songs plus, in lead single Winterbreak, one complete lightning bolt of a track. The sound of a nail being firmly struck into pop music's sweet spot, containing the year's best chorus ("Oh, baby I think we both know / This is the love that we won't get right / Still if you said that you wanted / I know I'll always have one more try"), a lyric that tells you more about a doomed relationship in four lines than a hundred thousand breakup albums ever will. It's the sort of super-specific, nostalgic-for-something-that-just-happened brand of melancholy that Lorde and Troye Sivan do so well. And, like the latter, they are keen to use their platform to interrogate the world around them, be it through messages of inclusion or explorations of sexuality (because, hell, pop music has had six decades of girl meets boy, why can't the next six be boy meets boy and girl meets girl?). Twenty years since Wannabe, they are the Spice Girls for a generation that knows that Girl Power isn't a one size fits all mantra wrapped in a Union Jack dress. Speaking of which, they make their UK debut tonight in support of St Lucia at London's Tufnell Park Dome. It's sold out but if you don't have a ticket steal one. Climb in through the bathroom window and give yourself to MUNA. Because you know what? It's only gonna happen someday.

What's the best thing about being in a band?
Josette: It's like being married. It's going to be really hard for them to leave me.
Naomi: We've been swindled! She's swindled us into this relationship! I think, in all seriousness, there's a difference between being in a band in general and being in a band that is... good. I don't mean that in making music, I mean we have a good relationship with one another. I think the fact that we're so close helps us make music in a way that's easy, but also just sort of creates a really positive, creative space for us to live in. We get along really well and we hang out all the time. We're best friends. It gives an excuse for being with each other all the time.

Did the music come together quite quickly, in that way?
Katie: I would say that it did come together kind of quickly for us. In the sense that the very first time that we jammed we started writing, like, full songs that then became a part of the project. So we always had a really natural chemistry, musically. We were friends for a minute before we started playing music together. It was super organic and it moved quite quickly. And the same goes for the aesthetic and message of the band, they're all the same, a very natural and quick process.

And what is the message?
K: Well, we talk about how Loudspeaker kind of encapsulates a lot of what we believe in as musicians and producers and as a band, which is that it's really important for us to speak our truth and our experiences and talk about what we've been through. Because we support each other and trust each other to the point where we feel comfortable being vulnerable and open in a way that encourages bravery. And encourages other people to do the same thing.

Is it important that musicians use their platforms in this way?
N: I know that sometimes people who have platforms are scared to use them to further, I dunno, social justice issues or political issues or whatever. And that completely makes sense to me, I understand not being there yet, not being ready. But I think that we are ready. So it would be a waste if we weren't planning on using our voices other than making songs.

Who else from the world of pop is a loudspeaker then?
K: I think that a really cool example of someone who is young and inspiring right now is Troye Sivan. The fact that the generation just underneath us has access to YouTube as a platform and YouTube celebrities and celebrities that are, like, their own age and selected by the people in a much more democratic way has allowed for this honesty that's quite radical. I saw a video of Troye recently where he was talking about AIDS and HIV in a really candid way and I just think that's really lovely and inspiring, the way that people can decide, this is the platform that I have and I'm going to use it to inform as many people as I can. And also recognize that he's speaking to kids as if they're his friends and his peers and there's a respect there I find really unique and interesting. So I think there's a whole generation of YouTube stars that allows for a really specific type of identification between the speaker and the listener.

Are there any situations when you shouldn't be a loudspeaker though? For instance, if someone has food in their teeth and you don't want to embarrass them.
J: Oh, my God. If I had something in my teeth I would want to know! I'd be embarrassed if someone let me go the whole day and I looked in the mirror and there was just, like, black stuff all in my mouth. I would want to know [cue wide-ranging discussion on at what point you should tell a person they have an "eye booger"].

Is there anything you wouldn't ever talk about in your music?
K: I dunno if the girls would agree with me, but my answer is no. I think that there are certain songs I've written where the girls might think, Katie, this is too much...
N: I don't think you would talk about something you didn't know about though. I'm speaking for you, but I don't think you write songs from the perspective of someone whose experience you don't relate to at all.
K: That's true.

Where do you fit in the world of pop?
N: I think we all sort of felt like outsiders in different ways, for our whole lives. And I think that we carry that sort of insular sense of, I guess, protectiveness over one and other as we grow as a band also. So I think that we don't necessarily fit in a central, hugely Top 40, mainstream pop universe. I guess that we have a little bit more grit. We're maybe a little bit more rough around the edges. But I think that we do make pop music, which is a meaningless sort of word.

What is it about pop that makes it a good vehicle for what you do?
J: We all kind of felt certain things as individuals, but as a group we feel like we belong and pop music is perfect for that because it is all inclusive and anyone can take part in pop.
N: I think that we're sort of reaching a place where we've gone from a culture that ironically enjoys pop culture, to a culture that just fully accepts it and enjoys even the corniest aspects of pop music. And that's a wonderful thing. I'm thinking of myself as this tomboy who thinks they're way too cool for school and only listens to Nirvana. I feel like I would probably still connect to this music. That's hopefully what we're trying to do.
K: I really love this concept so I'm just going to keep repeating it. We all identify as queer and we were talking recently about how the words "queer" and "pop" are similar because they both are umbrella terms and they can kind of like expand or retract to mean whatever it means to an an individual who puts it to use, who puts it in action. So it makes sense that we inhabit both of those things. And I also love the concept of pop being, in this moment, right now, without shame. Because it's kind of, like, where we exist as a band too, like, anti-shame, anti-guilt. Just finding a beat that makes everyone feel dirty and free and try and get into something radical and not feel bad about it. That's exciting! So that's where we want to go. A punk rock Wilson Phillips.

What does excite you about the future?
K: We love playing live and the girls light up when we play live so I love to see them. I'm always just the most excited. The central challenge and joy of my life is just creating music with the girls so that's what I'm always the most excited for. That's always the main clamor of my emotions. Like, do I feel excited about what we've created today? So I just want to create this and see where we can take this. That's what gets me going.
N: We also have really high expectations of ourselves, I think. We always try and push ourselves musically but also in the sense of like how far can we take it in terms of reaching people.

Is there a certain person that you want to reach?
N: Some who needs to hear it, you know? Someone who needs to know that it'll be okay. Someone who needs to know that they're not weird and it's difficult but it gets better.


Text Matthew Whitehouse

Los Angeles
Troye Sivan
music interviews
queer pop