photos / JOHN MICHAEL FULTON
styling / CHRIS HORAN @ TMG LA
makeup / AMY STROZZI @ TMG LA
hair / KRISTIN HEITKOTTER @ TMG LA
story/ KOKO NTUEN
The trio behind the heavy-hitting dark pop of MUNA (Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson) are all cuddled up, their voices tinged with a sexy hoarseness that coats their throats after long days and nights working and performing. They are currently being self-professed great sleeping hounds, well deserved as they are in the midst of a grueling leg of a North American tour to accompany the release of their debut studio album About U.
Laying about in their touring drummer’s parents’ house, they have come full circle, as they wrote, produced and recorded the album in a sweet, homey bungalow nestled between a rustic landscape of pop and dreams. They laid down vocals in closets and had writing sessions seated around kitchen tables, producing the record in its entirety. It’s a coven of rare musical prowess that taps into life in a moody and soaring gospel of love, beaconing acceptance, cheap wine, deep laughs and bellyaching cries.
The album is a nostalgic experience that sits heavily in your body, making you feel like even if you never belonged maybe you do now. About U was meant to sit inside you, the music an intimate wrap around the shoulders of its listener. Each song is a diary of its own, offering up resonating meta-experiences.
“The album is full of individual songs, individual experiences,” Katie says. “Each song is quite full of…whatever it’s full of! Every song had a purpose and meaning. It’s a lot.”
One of my favorites on the album, “I Know A Place,” brings everyone together in the wonderland that is achieved when you let your guard down and exist in harmony with your fellow man. It’s an anthem that pulls you in close and gives you the release that accompanies growth while pushing past the obstacles of life. The music came at a time when America was one moment away from an aneurysm of hopelessness.
When they played the song live on Jimmy Kimmel, the U.S. was at a tipping point. The song inspired healing and peace, and their performance left the nation—or at the very least, me—with water-brimmed eyes. There must be a door to unity we could at least try.
Katie recalls, “We all tried to center ourselves before that performance. We were in the trailer and we had a moment to ourselves. We took the moment to recognize that this wasn’t an event to drive our egos; it was bigger than that. It was supposed to be a message saying that we have a deep privilege to share; we went there with that intention. And what you’re telling me makes me feel like that’s exactly what we did, the message was communicated.”
Left to Right: Dress by Yanina Couture, Choker by Coach, Tee by Everlane Wolk, Skirt by Morais, Top by Breelayne, Handbag by Coach, Coat + Sweater by Jenny Packham, Top + Skirt by Wolk Morais
“A lot of it was written before all of these crazy things happened,” Katie goes on. “They [the songs] were mostly written about personal crazy times we had. But it’s kind of eerie, how it becomes emotionally relevant in that way. The ultimate goal was to touch everyone and make them feel the songs, the music, and the art.”
Naomi jumps in with loving adoration, “Katie writes things that make you want to rip your heart out. We all lean toward moody and coarse sounds. We’re just emo in general. I think the style of music we play changes around these melancholy sounds and tension chords. Feeling like things don’t really resolve perfectly.”
Katie sighs. “We thought about this in November and January. The resistance is just as violent as it was the day before. That’s a part of it. We need moments that come from a different world than we are on right now to remind us that it doesn’t need to be like this. We don’t need people operating out of hate all the time.”
Addressing political, emotional, physical and spiritual matters weren’t always the purpose of MUNA, but it has become the forefront of their artistry in an organic way. The band has become an adopted beacon of light in the LGBTQ community for their all-encompassing approach to music and experience. They are courteous to pronouns and accepting of humanity, embracing all in their music.
“There’s a general cultural shift, not politically of course. Our perception is that there is a kind of cultural shift happening in the U.S.,” Naomi says. “More young people, and people in general, today than ever identify openly as queer. People are finally realizing that it’s normal. I have never had a problem with it in the past, and when I was younger, I felt like it was nobody’s business but my own about who I wanted to be with. If I like them and they are a good person, why does anybody care?”
The band has always been inspired by people who make vulnerable, ambiguous and tantalizing art. With MUNA, the medium has a message. Their artistic communication is a meticulously branded orchestra of sound and visuals, showcasing a synergized dedication and expertise.
“Our artwork has always been abstract and theoretical about the concept of the song,” Naomi explains. “But with this, we wanted it to be about us and more intimate. I feel like here you can interpret it however you want, but there’s something so intimate about it.”
Josette chimes in, “I feel like we’re gripping onto every last bit of energy that we have. I cannot imagine or handle someone else handling our Instagram. I refuse to let go of certain things. Last night, Naomi drove the van for four hours, and it was late at night. She watched all the edits for our video project we have. We have a system with each other, and it works! I couldn’t imagine having someone else do these things for us. We’re just committed to thinking that everything we do is genuinely us. I don’t want our fans, or even us, to feel detached. We want to continue replying and meeting all of our fans and stuff for as long as it’s feasible. Obviously when you’re playing gigantic venues, some things aren’t possible, but still we just want to do this for as long as we can.”
Storytelling and music are both things that have always been a part of their lives. Individually, they each had a predisposition to creating from an early age. Katie recalls, “When I was younger and going through something, I wouldn’t have to go and find another person’s song about it. I could write my own song about it, and that was the best thing in the world.”
Naomi remembers being surrounded by a family of musicians. “My whole family was pretty musical. My grandfather is a relatively well known Bebop saxophone player. My dad is a drummer. He met my mom because she played the upright bass. And step-grandmother is a piano teacher. Music is just in my family.”
Josette says, “I knew that I wanted to play guitar for my entire existence. I got my first guitar at 11, and throughout high school, I was in various bands. Then, I wanted to go to college. I told myself I was going to go to music college or not go to college. That’s how I ended up at USC and met my babies.”
They have been a coterie of music ever since. About U documents their harmonious bond and musical destiny in an odyssey of love, friendship, hard work and a deep passion for a sound that will bring you life.
“About U has been a long time in the making, and I think we’re just happy to have it out and have people listen to the songs that we have been playing at shows and on tour,” says Naomi. “The album’s been out for a week, but it feels good to see people already knowing the words and singing along. It’s heartwarming, also kind of strange, because I feel like a lot of people are just discovering us right now. Someone at a party just said to us the other day, ‘oh yeah, you guys are the band that blew up just yesterday.’ It’s funny,” she laughs.
Katie adds, “Another thing is people who don’t even listen to the album come up to us and are like, ‘thanks for working so hard,’ and I think that was really sweet. It was probably one of the best compliments I ever received from someone, because it shows me that people who are consuming new music understand that it’s a labor of love on a different level. We’re on tour and we’re all sick, so we’re not trying our hardest, but we told each other we needed to fight this for the people who recognize that this is work. It’s so sweet that people recognize that.”
We should all recognize that.
Dress by Wolk Morais
Sweater by Jacquemus, Bra by Cosabella
Top by Breelayne
Left To Right: Jacket + Trousers by Breelayne, Tee by Unif, Shoes by Dr. Martens, Dress by Coach, Coat by With Creatures of the Wind, Hoodie (Vintage), Socks by Wolford, Shoes by Miu Miu, Tracksuit by Breelayne, Shoes by BCBG