How does a pop band balance growing popularity and attention with schoolwork and all its demands? That’s a question Los Angeles trio MUNA no longer has to answer.
Vocalist Katie Gavin, and guitarists Josette Maskin (22) and Naomi McPherson (23) met while attending USC. Maskin, the last remaining student, graduated in May, just as MUNA’s popular was expanding nationally. The three make self-described dark pop songs with a focus on relatability. Gavin writes about heartbreak, sure, but in a way that focus the scope of songs on social inequalities, gender identity, and coming to terms with how people should see themselves.
The three MUNA members identify as queer, which shapes their views on songwriting, but simply being human is what compels them to sing about being the change they want to see in the world. “Loudspeaker” is a sort of mission statement for the three. In the song’s chorus, Gavin sings: “If I feel real good tonight, I’m gonna put it high on the loudspeaker/ And if I feel like crying, I won’t hide it, I am the loudspeaker.”
Gavin was already a trained songwriter prior to the band. McPherson’s parents were both jazz musicians, while Maskin played in ska and rock bands. Gavin and Maskin met in class and later were introduced to McPherson after a party, where they jammed together and decided to start a band. They had no intention of writing pop music at the time. Even now, pop is more a means to a message. The songs are sonically upbeat, with catchy riffs and bass lines the trio produced themselves, but Gavin’s lyrics crash like waves over difficult topics and emotions, like forgiveness and anger.
MUNA is opening for Grouplove on their fall tour, and Gavin took time to answer a few questions while the band was in Europe earlier this week.
You come from different musical backgrounds. What drew you together and how did your style mesh?
We came together as friends first. Having different backgrounds kind of stopped mattering after we started jamming.
One of the things I noticed from the outset about your songwriting is that you avoid the well-worn tropes of love songs. What inspires you to write? Is that something that changes?
Most of our songs are born from an effort to see ourselves and the people we interact with in a new light and to gain understanding. The inspiration to write can definitely spring out of a romantic situation that might be “well-worn,” but we try to put a critical spin on things.
I’ve debated whether every story about your band needs to talk about the “queer band” angle. I understand it’s an important aspect of who you are as people. Is that that a significant aspect of your music? Is it also true none of your songs have any gender-based pronouns, and if so, is that on purpose?
It is important to our music in that our humanity is represented in our music. The use of the second person in our songs is not completist—there are maybe a few that have he or she in them—but yes, it is intentional. We want our songs to be for everyone.
You started the band while still at USC. What was it like balancing the music with class, studying, homework, friends, parties. Did you even have time for friends and parties?
Josette says “no,” she didn’t have time for friends or parties the last year she was in school. Naomi and I definitely didn’t spend our senior year partying as much as we could have. But it was a balance.
The songs are at the same time extremely personal but speak to issues of social justice that are much larger in scope. Is that academic or emotional, in nature?
I would say it’s music from the heart that’s been filtered a little bit through the head. I think it’s important for pop musicians to consider the political implications of their words. But that doesn’t mean it’s their job to be explicitly political.
Where you are with new music in the pipeline? You have released several singles and an EP. Is there a full-length on the way?
We just finished our LP in August. Excited for everyone to hear it.
What would all three of you be doing right now if this band was not an option, career-wise?
Crying on the bathroom floor.