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MUNA's new album features growth and an 'astral projection anthem'

MUNA. Foreground: Josette Maskin; center-right: Katie Gavins. Back: Naomi McPherson.
Isaac Schneider
Courtesy of the artist
MUNA. Foreground: Josette Maskin; center-right: Katie Gavins. Back: Naomi McPherson.

A new album by MUNA, out today, has it all: personal growth, influences from pop prophet Robyn and a song the band calls an "astral projection anthem."

Singer-songwriter Katie Gavin and bandmates Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson met in college, and have been making music together for nearly a decade. But it hasn't been easy lately – after releasing their last album, Saves the World, the band was suddenly dropped by their major record label. Then, as the pandemic closed venues and shut down tours MUNA, like many, misplaced some of the motivation musicians are fueled by.

"There was a bit, during the pandemic, where we were a little lost at sea," says Gavin. "We had a lot of conversations that were hard and important. Then we kind of made a conscious decision to return to the work."

To that end, the group joined Saddest Factory Records and released the single "Silk Chiffon" with new boss, musician Phoebe Bridgers, as a collaborator. Together, they wrote new songs, worked on unfinished ones from years' past and produced it all themselves. The result is full of highly danceable electro-pop, with lyrics that often feel hopeful and give off a self-assured confidence.

The sense of control woven throughout the record comes from how much the band has grown, Maskin says. "It comes from the first two records, the emotional work and healing that making those two records did for us as a group."

Next on the to-do list? Sharing all of that work with real audiences for the first time in some time. "We haven't played 'What I Want' [live] but I think that people might die," says Maskin. "When we wrote the song, we always joked it was our Super Bowl halftime moment."

The three spoke to Morning Edition's Leila Fadel about their favorite songs on the album, their growth and why Robyn guides their musical direction.

This interview has been edited and condensed. To listen to the broadcast version of this conversation, use the audio player at the top of this page.

Leila Fadel, Morning Edition: Let's talk about "Silk Chiffon."Naomi, I'm going to quote you about this song. You said "A song for kids to have their first gay kiss to." Did you write the song that you didn't have when you had your first gay kiss? I mean, this is a queer band, how did it become this anthem?

Naomi McPherson: Inside of each of us there probably is a little part that is attempting to sort of fill a gap in their own childhood experience. I would be lying if I didn't say that I am so happy to be in a band that I wish was around when I was a kid, because I would not have felt sort of shameful and bizarre in my own identities.

Katie Gavin: When I started writing that song, first I just felt like a weight lifted. One of the unexpected things that came out of that was I kind of felt like I had this second coming out to myself. And a lot of this record embodies really getting to a new layer of acceptance of my own sexuality. But yeah, as far as my first gay kiss ... I've actually never been kissed. Maybe it could be for me one day.

Josette Maskin: I feel like she's going to get a thousand DMs saying "I will take the L, I will do the kiss."

The thing that struck me too about this album is these songs at moments are about loneliness and heartache and moving on and valuing yourself, and yet, you want to run to it, you want to dance to it. How do you bring the levity in with something that's not necessarily super fun?

Maskin: I think that's MUNA. I think that's the philosophy we've always wanted to take with these songs. I mean I think it all derives from our queen and prophet Robyn. There's something so cathartic about dancing to a song and having an emotional release. I think it's always been the goal of ours, because you could either take the song for what it truly means or you can use it for the way that you need it. Maybe it is just to dance to, or maybe it is to process something that you have needed to hear someone else say.

McPherson: It kind of feels like a cultural tradition, for a lot of marginalized communities to have music that is danceable and fun sounding with lyrics that maybe aren't on that exact same level. That feels like a lineage that we're a part of that stems from, obviously, the queer community, but all kinds of other marginalized communities I do think have a certain kind of music that's danceable that also is processing cultural trauma.

A couple of my favorite lines are from "Loose Garment," when you talk about "wearing my sadness like a choker." And so it's still there, but you've just figured out how to live differently with it and manage it. It was very relatable.

McPherson: That song does feel like a little bit of a thesis statement for where we're at with the songs and with our own personal growth at the moment, which is ultimately a very gentle way of seeing your life and your progress. Kind of holding those two truths at the same time but not wearing anything too heavily. Not drowning in your pain, having a different relationship with your own pain. That is still obviously here.

Tell us about going back to fully producing your own music amongst the three of you.

Gavin: This was definitely like a ring of fire, finishing this album on our own. There were points where I think we all kind of wanted to detach from making the decisions. There was a burden of responsibility but, in the end we also had to kind of let go. But there is something I think every artist relates to, a time where you just have to kind of let go.

Maskin: We have a philosophy. Naomi and I, late in 2019 came up with the philosophy of "princess work," where we will only work for maybe like five or six hours in the day because we don't want to ruin something. I think the philosophy of making these songs is to not try to burn out on them because I think when you feel like you're doing well on an idea you want to push through it. And sometimes in that push you actually are running the little bit of creative spark that you have within that idea. I think every emotional landscape that could ever exist existed on making this record. Like Naomi and I having so much fun like when we made "Kind Of Girl" and "Anything But Me," or like when we did "Home By Now," doing that last stretch [had] me going to Naomi [saying] "I can't do this anymore." And Naomi saying to me, "Actually you have to." It's the most joyous and also the most painful in terms of creativity. But I think the thing is like we just never quit. I think that's the lesson of this record.

"Kind Of Girl" I loved. It was one of my favorites. Naomi, you said on Twitter that it made you weep like a baby even though you're not a girl, this is one of your favorite songs. What made this song so special?

McPherson: You know, I'm genderqueer, non-binary, whatever you want to call it. So the nature of the pronouns present in the song didn't affect how the song felt for me. And I wanted our fans and people who care about the music to know that this song is for whoever can use it. You know we've had a lot of conversations between the three of us like, why is that song sad? Like, why does it make us emotional? Because it truthfully is a very hopeful song. And it's not devastating really, but it feels like it. It's definitely one of my favorite songs that we've ever made and will remain that for me for a long time, I think.

Natasha Branch provided engineering support for the broadcast version of this story.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Lilly Quiroz (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. She pitches and produces interviews for Morning Edition, and occasionally goes to the dark side to produce the podcast Up First on the overnights.
Nell Clark is an editor at Morning Edition and a writer for NPR's Live Blog. She pitches stories, edits interviews and reports breaking news. She started in radio at campus station WVFS at Florida State University, then covered climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael for WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. She joined NPR in 2019 as an intern at Weekend All Things Considered. She is proud to be a member of NPR's Peer-to-Peer Trauma Support Team, a network of staff trained to support colleagues dealing with trauma at work. Before NPR, she worked as a counselor at a sailing summer camp and as a researcher in a deep-sea genetics lab.