MUNA don’t want to say they’ve “arrived” as such, but they’re at a point in their lives where they’re finally looking after themselves the way they always should’ve been. Through self reflection, time, and growth; Katie, Josette, and Naomi have made an album that perfectly represents where they’re at right now.
Their self-titled third studio record is by far their lightest record to date, and pays nod to both of their previous records as well as the future. It’s an album that starts off experimental and in a “balls-to-the-wall” pop territory with pulsating synths and big beat breakdowns that will immediately draw listeners in. But as the album navigates through the eleven tracks they steer into nostalgic tones, cinematic flair’s, and songs that feel reminiscent of their ‘About U’ roots. You’ll want to dance to ‘What I Want’, before crying to ‘Handle Me’ alone on the bathroom floor, and then sharing a tender moment with someone during ‘Shooting Star’. All of the emotions in the spectrum are present, and will have you feeling warm and validated.
I recently chatted to MUNA about the lighter approach they took to their third studio album ‘MUNA’, explored the big pop moments behind ‘What I Want’ and ‘Runner’s High’, and discussed how some of these tracks felt like a return to the ‘About U’ era. Check out the full chat BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your third studio album ‘MUNA’ is a big pop record. It’s exhilarating from start to finish with hard hitting synth moments as well as calming intimate ones. Sonically and lyrically it feels lighter compared to ‘Saves The World’ and ‘About U’. Was this a predetermined sonical direction, or did it naturally happen?
KATIE GAVIN: I do feel like it was a natural extension of the journey we’ve been on since we started as a band. We’ve been doing a bunch of interviews recently, and have now had the time to actually properly process it. Because, when we finished the record we honestly didn’t know what we made. All we knew is that we worked as hard on it as we could, and we were very tired *laughs*.
If you look at ‘Kind Of Girl’ there is this message in it that is like; “I am learning the way that I choose to talk about myself and my struggles really matters, and has an effect on me over time”. And I do think that has played out a lot in our music. ‘Saves The World’ was a really heavy album. But, that was the album I needed to make at that time of my life. For ‘About U’, I came from a place of being inside a lot of patterns in my life, but didn’t have a ton of awareness around it, and had no idea what to do about it. It was the beginning of making changes, but you’re kinda faking it.
One of the things I’ve learnt in my 20’s is that you’ve never “arrived”. Like, don’t play yourself. But we have gotten to a place where we as individuals are making more loving choices towards ourselves. It’s been such a blessing to hear that other people are receiving that through our music too.
TB: I do feel like your fans feel very emotionally connected to you. As someone who has been listening to you since ‘About U’ days, it has been so amazing to see your journey. And especially going into the first song I want to talk about from the album, which I want to say is THE song on the album… ‘What I Want’…
NAOMI MCPHERSON: It’s a slammer! Period!
JOSETTE MASKIN: We have been doing so many interviews, and you are the first person who has really gone for it and wants to dive into the songs. I am so glad you love this song! Let’s go for it!
TB: Well, it is a big pop moment with pulsating synths, 80’s drums, and little synth bursts in the second verse that get me excited every time I hear them. So can you explain the creative process behind this track?
NM: This was done at the end of 2020, so this song has been around for a minute. And actually, a lot of the songs on this album have been a long process as we’ve worked on them over a long period of time. But 2020 was a really hard time to be inspired, so we were working on music, but also not really at the same time. At the end of the year we were trying to do stuff, and I sent Katie a bunch of horrible beats, and I guess some were okay. But there was one in there that was the bare-bones version of this baseline and drums, and it sounded like I made it in two minutes, which is probably because I did. And then Katie did a session with Leland, who I’m sure you know, and we love so much. But they ended up writing such a banger, and after they did the session she texted the group and was like “I think we made a good song”, and I played it in the car and was like… “this is nuts”.
KG: I love Leland, and we’ve tried a couple of times to write before, and one of the cool and creative things that came out of the pandemic was the zoom session. I am somebody who can struggle as a co-writer, and I think having a little bit of distance on zoom was a blessing. When we were working on stuff together we would go away for 10 minutes and write stuff and then come back and show each other. That actually worked really well for me. But I also trust Leland so much. And he’s another queer creator, and when we were coming up for lyrics in the chorus and I’d be like “I want that girl over there to date me”, and we would be like “oh, that’s spicy!” *laughs*. And this song couldn’t be more of a balls to the wall pop moment, but it was really fun that I got to work on it with another queer writer, and have it be kind of explicit.
What the song really needed was the amount of time, energy, and detail that Noami and Josette gave it. There are moments on this record where they spent so much time trying things, and throwing them out when they didnt work, and starting again, so every moment is carved with care. It’s like a very intricate sound sculpture. We had a lot of fun in the middle of the pandemic where we were pretending we were doing the Super Bowl Halftime show, and when we were finishing that song we were like, “and this is when we will bungee jump” *laughs*.
TB: And now let’s talk about ‘Runner’s High’.. because I feel like this song is going to shock everyone upon the first listen with the big production in the chorus. Where in the process did that heavy breakdown come into the song?
NM: At the start of 2021 where we would show up to the studio like it was a day job, nine to five, and make a new song, even if it sucked. And we were doing this thing called “the five minute game” where everyone plays a part, tracks it, and then we try to make a beat together. And this was one of those beats. It was originally quite different, but specifically for the big hits I was excited by the fantasy of having really amazing live production, and how shocking it would feel having those big hits with production and lights.
Also a song that planted a little seed in my mind of doing those big hits was the start of ‘Crew Love’ by Drake. I wanted big symbols and sounds, and then bring it all back completely. It was just a fun little thing to work on.
TB: There are so many special songs on this record, but something tells me it’s been so hard to keep ‘What I Want’ and ‘Runner’s High’ a secret, especially when you’ve been playing arena shows with Kacey Musgraves as they just feel like they belong in arenas.
JM: They definitely feel more like MUNA arena songs than Kacey arena songs. But I hope we do take them to a Muna arena tour or something similar whatever it may look like at some point.
NM: This album campaign has been quite funny because of how different so many of the songs are. Every time we release a new song it feels like we are giving people a different idea of what the album is going to sound like. But there is no way to actually get it right as it’s just gonna keep changing.
TB: Well, ‘Home By Now’ and ‘Handle Me’ reminds me of early MUNA, especially with the ‘About U’ album. Do you see significant parallels with any songs on this album to your previous records?
JM: I would say you’ve really hit it on the head with ‘Home By Now’. I’ve never thought of that with ‘Handle Me’, but I need to take that in and think about it. But I think ‘Home By Now’ is what MUNA does best, and I think it’s what people would expect from a MUNA record. It’s bass choruses that don’t quite, and a song that has a little bit more longing than other songs on the album. It reminds me of so many MUNA songs, but I would say more-so ‘About U’ songs than ‘Saves The World’ songs.
NM: I will say that something else that is a part of a signature MUNA song, and it’s all credit to Katie, is a killer bridge. A good bridge is a chef kiss from me. And I think that song has a really good bridge.
This record, in a way, felt like a return to form. There were particular production techniques we shied away from on the second record in the hopes of making something different, and to challenge ourselves. And I think we did do that, but I also think when you’ve had enough distance from your first record you are like “this kinda bangs”, and you can borrow some wisdom from yourself.
KG: It’s hard for me not to think of it as a lyricist. Someone made a joke in the comment section of the ‘Kind Of Girl’ video that said; “this song is if the person that wrote ‘Taken’ went to therapy”. And I was like “lolololol I was already in therapy for years *laughs*. But I do think there are a lot of moments on this album where I see it as almost a, “this is the song if you make one choice, and this is the song you get if you make this choice” scenario.
TB: ‘Shooting Star’ closes the album, and it feels very cinematic as it closes this chapter. If you could place this song in any movie or TV show of your choice where you would want to put it in, as I could specifically imagine it in a show like ‘Heartstopper’?
NM: That’s hard! It has a nice, not necessarily a montage arc, but it starts really small and grows. It could definitely have a nice melodramatic and nice scene to it. Maybe a show like ‘Sex Education’ could work.
KG: I love ‘Heartstopper’ too! That show spends way less time in the gay shame, and gay solitary longing of it all, so I’m defnitely here for MUNA soundtracking anything like that. I also think anything that is written well. Like anything Phoebe Waller-Bridge wants to do, I will give her my songs for free. I may regret saying that *laughs*.
JM: My answer is going to be totally opposite even though I love giving queer people props. But I do think there is something so good about the time Grey’s Anatomy in the early 2000’s picked a song to be in the show. That was the biggest thanks known to man. So I think that song could be a contender.
KG: That is actually such a good answer!
TB: Lastly I wanted to say that ‘Anything But Me’ is such a cathartic track lyrically and sonically. And sonically it reminds me of The Corrs meets Shania Twain. What were the specific references for that song. Was there actually an early 2000’s influence there?
NM: Shania! We love The Corrs too though, like, shout out! But no one does the time signature 12/8 better than Shania. She owns that shit. So it’s hard not to pull from her. But it’s definitely very much so the “Red” edition of her ‘Up’ album. That album was a big reference. Oh and Tears For Fears too.
KG: Y’all were also referencing Mariah Carey.
JM: It came to mind because of the way you sing the chorus. That is a reference that wasn’t concrete, but she could definitely sing the song and it would make sense. Maybe in a different arrangement, but it would make sense.
‘MUNA’ is out now!