I’m a few minutes late to my Zoom with Muna, and before I can even chime in to let them know I’m on the call—all three members are beaming in from their homes around Los Angeles—they’re in full swing. “Let me remind you: This meeting is being recorded,” says keyboardist-guitarist Naomi McPherson, aping the imperious voice of the Zoom robot. “They can record that I’m speaking to Vogue from Target right now,” adds fellow guitarist Josette Maskin, who gets a hearty laugh from lead singer Katie Gavin. “Oh God,” McPherson utters when I finally say hello. “I think the person interviewing us is here, and we’re already causing chaos.”
Muna may be chaotic, but it’s a warm and fuzzy, finishing-each-other’s-sentences kind of chaos. And in truth, there’s probably no better window into their world right now, as they ride a jam-packed promotional rollercoaster toward the release of their self-titled, breathlessly maximalist third album. “It’s very crazy that we’re going to start playing these songs live very, very soon, and it will be a real experience with people singing the lyrics back to us,” says Gavin. “But for now, while we don’t have the real thing, the fantasy is helpful too.”
With their third album, Muna moves from cult indie-pop favorites to something that more closely resembles a fully fledged pop act, if not in scale quite yet, then certainly in ambition. For anyone listening to its wall-to-wall bangers for the first time, it’s likely the second track, “What I Want,” that will get their motors fired up, and maybe even blow the engines. “I wanna dance in the middle of a gay bar,” Gavin sings over a roaring slice of synth-pop so brilliantly constructed it’s almost rude. Expect to hear the line screamed back to Muna at festivals near you for the foreseeable future.
“I think we did step into the record knowing we’ve typically made very introspective, thoughtful music, so it was almost like an experiment to step up to the plate and say, ‘Okay, let’s write a big pop song for the queer community, even if we’re doing it in our basement studio with no money,’” says McPherson. For Gavin, who planted the first seedling of “What I Want” during a session with the maverick pop songwriter Leland, the impetus to craft thunderous, crying-on-the-dancefloor pop lay just as much in the frustrations of lockdown. “Truly, I think we were just two feral queers who were like, ‘I’m so tired of being in my house, and I want to go out and be around people!’” Gavin says, laughing. “There was just this real desperation for that experience that lent it these multiple layers of meaning.”
Still, the exuberant, go-for-broke spirit of the record came after the band had a few dark nights of the soul. Muna first came together in 2013 after the trio met at the University of Southern California; a handful of EPs later, they signed with RCA and released their debut record of moody synth-pop, About U, in 2017. A second album, Saves the World, came out in 2019 to critical acclaim for its high-wire balance of bullish power-pop anthems and more melancholic meditations on growing up, breaking up, and everything in between.