MUNA are Tenner Magazine's
June digital cover.
Photography by Moriah Berger
Words by Oli Spencer
MUNA is a name you should know by now. Forming the LA-based pop powerhouse is Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson, the trio who found their new label home at Saddest Factory Records in 2019 - joining Phoebe Bridger’s own label, adding to a phenomenal list of talents including Claud and Charlie Hickey.
It is clearer than ever that MUNA are a true force, creating a space entirely of their own, and opening doors for others to follow suit. I’m sure they are dancing in the spotlight right now, after recently releasing their new self-titled masterpiece. The album is one of our favourites of the year so far, and is an electric, euphoric, boundary defying experience from start to finish. From the blissful opener ‘Silk Chiffon’, an upbeat earworm featuring Phoebe Bridgers that truly had ‘life’s so fun, life’s so fun’ stuck in our heads while life was in fact… not so fun - to the tender nature in the almost country-like ballad ‘Kind Of Girl’. They remind us that they are full of surprises on the striking ‘No Idea’ which was created alongside the iconic muse, and ‘boundary queen’ Mitski. And then there’s our personal favourite, the electrifying glam rock fever-dream ‘Solid’. We couldn’t recommend this album enough.
We caught up with MUNA for a lovely and insightful look into their new self-titled album, working alongside the iconic Mitski, facing vulnerability, and the idea of an escape room with Phoebe Bridgers.
"I do think what it really comes down to is the way people have used the music to help them process their own grief and trauma, or heartbreak or even the soundtrack of their coming outs, their joy. We’re just beyond floored often by the response of the music that we put out, and the care with which people handle it."
You’ll be releasing your next album at the end of the month, how are you all feeling leading up to that?
We’re all doing our very best, its fucking crazy. When you’re a musician you’re on cycle and you’re off cycle – I think we got very used to being off-cycle, so we’re taking this as a straight up punch to the face. But we are very excited our fans are able to listen to this music and to get to fucking jam out to these songs. It’s exciting, but yeah we’re taking it as it comes, and trying to survive.
You joked around saying you aren't sure what you even made… now that the singles are being released, and you’re getting reactions from fans - is it more clear what you made?
Now that we do interviews it’s becoming a little clearer and clearer what people are taking away from the album. It’s definitely an album that has some joy and pain in it. It definitely has a sense of urgency about expressing your desires. It’s not as fully in turmoil I think as the other albums are – it’s definitely just as emotional. When you make a record, well at least when we made it, it was just like - okay, all the songs are good, we hope people like this. We didn’t go in being like this album is going to be a narrative arch, and this song is this character and all this stuff. It just sounds hard to do, maybe just because of the ADHD we have collectively it sounds hard to do. But yeah, we’re definitely very excited to talk to people who’ve heard the record because their feedback informs how we feel about it which is cool.
I’d love to know what spaces you were in while making the record?
We were in a bunch of different places - when we started making it we were kind of a little bit just on our laptops remotely, and then we started renting a friend’s studio to treat it like a nine-to-five. Like showing up to work every day and taking it seriously. With writing, it can be a lot of waiting around and hope that inspiration strikes at some point. I feel like we wanted to feel like we were working. We had our friend Joanna’s studio, Jo’s and I’s basement studio… like right under where my bedroom is, we have a little production spot that we work out of and record out of. We recorded a little bit at this space called king-size in LA, we recorded drums there for Silk, and some vocals. We recorded at pulse, which is our publishing company, they have this studio they let us use critically for free which is epic. It was combination of down and dirty sort of DIY production style, and then also just a bit of studio stuff mixed in there. But yeah mainly in the basement.
I’d love to know about the creation of ‘no idea’.
I started on an acoustic guitar in my backyard, shortly after that Mitski was coming into town to do some writing sessions for another artist and we had asked if she’d be down to work on some stuff with us. I played the song on an acoustic guitar and we worked out a lot of the track with her that day and wrote the second verse with her. She really encouraged us to go full backstreet boys! Then it went through a gauntlet of a lot of little changes… not knowing if it felt right, whether it fit into the record or not. Late in the game there were a couple of breakthroughs of small things like how much auto-tune needed to be on my voice, and that little consistent arpeggiated one note synthesiser that it’s got going in most of the song - that made it a bit more daft punk. It honestly was a song that did drive us insane during that writing process, but I’m so super glad that it made it onto the album, cause it’s a fun one.
Was that the first time that you met Mitski?
I think that it was – I did a couple sessions with her after that in Nashville, they weren’t actually writing sessions I just cried the whole time… but yeah I think that was the first time we met. She’s an idol of mine and also an amazing human, a really amazing source of support. Oh and also gardening knowledge, she’s just a good human and I think it’s so funny that she ended up working on that song with us, it’s kind of perfect.
What did you take away from that time working with her?
I think she’s boundary queen, and she pays so much attention to what she needs and she respects that. It’s what makes her career possible, and that’s what makes her art so powerful. I’ve always respected that a lot about her, and what I’m striving for, for myself. She has the wisdom of a thousand generations and she’s also so hot to me, love you Mitski, my buddy… not In a creepy way!
Did any other songs take on any major transformations quite like ‘No idea’ did?
Interestingly, I would say Silk kind of did. From the original version to what is the final version now, they are very very different. ‘Shooting Star’ was just an acoustic song that Katie wrote, and we kind of changed a lot about it in order to fit it in the album. The song that changed the least was ‘Kind Of Girl’, but everything else did go through its phases. To us it was major, but to anyone else they would probably be like, this is the same song obviously what are you talking about.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt while making the album?
Don’t give up. I think it’s like we could do it, don’t quit. And you know what, you are capable of finishing something and you are capable of doing it on your own. And we persevered even when we didn’t want to and we made something that we’re proud of. Oh, a nice microphone goes a long way. Everything else you can do in a scrappy way, and it will sound like a million dollar record.
How do you combat self-doubt?
It feels like everyday I’m collapsing under the weight of my self-doubt. But I think looking to the past experiences in my life where whatever I’m feeling about myself has been proven to be not true - an anxiety of my making, and trying to find solace in the times where I’m feeling anxious or doubtful has been proven to be false. It gives you a glimmer of maybe this isn’t the case, and you can kind of push past it despite the crippling nature of the feeling.
It’s something we’re all dealing with right now; I almost think one of the concerns around the press around this album is a narrative of MUNA, who struggled and then they defeated it. That’s not really how it works, we are human and we have got better tools, and have a really good community and made better choices – there’s been so much progress, but I think right now I’m feeling really vulnerable in terms of mental health. One of the important things for me is acceptance, that it’s okay that I’m back in this place even though I think that I shouldn’t be. I think this shame we put on top of self-doubt makes it so much harder to work with, so it’s just accepting I don’t have to be any type of fucking way - just because maybe there’s an idea of oh, we can paint a picture of this is how you overcome your demons. It’s just not that linear.
But I’ll say today one of the tools I was using with self-doubt was peer distraction, almost like child mothering tools where you’re putting your foot down and saying you’re not allowed to think of this for half an hour. One of the biggest resources is being able to talk to each other about that stuff. I’m really lucky to have so many people I can call and say this is what’s going on, like what the fuck do I do. It’s really helpful to hear other people and their struggles, taking yourself out of your head. Or watching a dumb show, that always works sometimes for a little bit – its not the end all or be all, it can just help.
What is it like being in the Saddest Factory family?
I just suggested to Phoebe in our group chat that we all do an escape room, so I’m hoping that comes to fruition – I’d love to know everyone’s escape room tactics. It’s very cool to be surrounded by so many people who are not only very talented, but nice people. It’s very heart-warming. We’re lucky to have Phoebe around us, as well as everyone else signed to the label who we truly love. We’re happy to be a part of the vibe.
Being a part of that label – has it helped you make music that you wanted to make?
When we signed to our first label we wanted to be signed for the same reason as Phoebe – we wanted to be signed to a label that allowed us to do what we wanted to do and so we were coming from a place feeling really empowered. If anything we feel even more self-actualised with Saddest, and I think that’s helped us the most. Working with someone that is queer and is also of a marginalised gender, - there’s things we don’t need to talk about, things that are already understood and I think that allows us to feel safe and have the ability to be creative and not feel like we need to protect each other because you know someone else isn’t trying to impose on that – she is just trying to lift us up. It’s just been a really pleasant experience.
Your music has impacted so many lives for the better, how does that feel?
It just gives us purpose as a band, it keeps us going. Obviously we all love each other and we’re such good friends and we love to make music together - and we do have a language that makes it easy to communicate in that way with one another I think, more than collaborations with other people. But I do think what it really comes down to is the way people have used the music to help them process their own grief and trauma, or heartbreak or even the soundtrack of their coming outs, their joy. We’re just beyond floored often by the response of the music that we put out and the care with which people handle it. We’re just super honoured to have a dedicated fan base who just really love the songs, it makes us feel like what we’re doing is worth its salt.
Are there any cities you're especially excited to play in on tour?
I think everywhere – the most exciting thing is we get to play these new songs for people and we kind of hope that this record allows us to go to places we’ve never been – we’ve never been able to go to Australia for one and that’s a place where we’ve always wanted to play shows. I would say we’re kind of excited to go everywhere, just excited to share this music with our fans and hopefully some new ones along the way.