“So I heard the bad news. Nobody likes me, and I’m gonna die alone in my bedroom, looking at strangers on my telephone…” That’s how Muna’s self-love anthem of a single “Number One Fan” begins. Raw and personal. Vulnerable yet fun, driving into a singalong chorus about being your own biggest stan.
Muna’s new album Saves The World is jam-packed with these sorts of lyrical gems. Relatable and honest with a sonic punch to the point. Cutting the sour with some sweetness.
After releasing their debut album About U in 2017 and touring with the likes of Harry Styles, the Los-Angeles based dark-pop trio spent 2018 devoted to immersing themselves in writing their second album, facing themselves and the music in the process. As the band explained via social on the day of the album’s release, “We knew deep down that making the best second record we were capable of making would require us to try to live differently, to create changes in our own lives that would then birth the music.” They gave themselves to the process and the process produced a record that is sure to be on many Best of 2019 lists. There’s a reason they call themselves the best band in the world right now. Saves The World reflects on the hard work it takes to grow up and evolve. How saving yourself can, in fact, be an essential part of world-saving. You gotta put on your own oxygen mask first, right?
We caught up with Muna when they were in Toronto earlier this fall, playing a sold-out show at the MOD Club and saving our world with their electric live show. Check out our conversation with Katie Gavin (lead vocals/production), Naomi McPherson (production/guitar/synths/vocals), and Josette Maskin (lead guitar/vocals) below.
How are you feeling first of all? You’ve got this badass beautiful record that you recently released and now you’re getting to play it for people. It’s out in the world. The baby’s not just your baby anymore, it’s other people’s baby now too. How are you feeling now that you’ve been able to finally get it off your chest and perform it?
Katie: I mean it’s honestly been the best tour we’ve ever done. It’s just been the most fun. The audiences have been incredible. I feel like we’re living – the dream that we’re living right now is becoming one of those bands where people are singing every song like at these shows, they’ve been amazing. I feel nostalgic. We also were saying earlier that like I think our brains know that we’re close to being done and every tour is like a marathon. So I feel like our wheels are slightly getting a little jangly at the moment. Everybody’s bodies are slightly falling off… but that is part of the job that we’re used to at this point. You kind of love it in a dirty way.
Is there a certain track that you didn’t think fans would respond to as much or certain lines that you didn’t think that people would connect with?
Josette: Playing the shows people know “Good News (Ya-Ya Song)”! It’s a song that we’re just like “let’s just fucking put the song on the record” and it feels so different than everything else. But people seem to love it just as much if not more than some of the other songs and it’s just been really fun to play live. It’s maybe one of my favorite moments in the set now actually.
Naomi: The only song that we’re not playing on the set is a song called “Memento” and people are upset about it. Which is so random because we wrote that song – Katie wrote it and was like “Oh this could be kind of a cool little interlude thing.” And then I made a beat for it, Josette played guitar on it literally that next day. And then within 24 hours, we were like “this is kind of cool” then just finished it.
Josette: And then that was a week before the record was turned in.
Naomi: We just kind of squeezed it in and they were like “Oh we like this, so we’re going to put it on there.” It’s just funny now that it’s an actual song. It’s funny that they’re all actual real songs and people are allowed to have feelings about them – but in a really fun and nice way.
Katie: There’s so many moments actually like, I agree about “Good News (Ya-Ya Song)”. It’s also cool that we have this kind of countryish song “Taken” on the record which is such a singalong moment in the set. And then also “Pink Light” which was also not a single, and was a struggle for us to finish and it took us a long ass time and so it’s really nice to see that become a crowd favorite too. We were so exhausted with that song by the time we finished it but people love it and that makes it worth it.
What’s your favorite lyric off the new album right now?
Josette: It’s during “Good News (Ya-Ya Song)” at the bridge. “I know it’s not just me who thinks it is just me.” I’ve always liked that part but it’s also funny because the song is so hilarious to some degree but it has some of the deepest lyrics in the bridge which I think is kind of a thesis for the band in a way. It’s like the three of us, our relationship, we all think as individuals, we’re all having this really unique experience but in the end, we’re all just human beings going through the same shit. We’re all just going through the same stuff and I think everyone out there is also going through the same stuff. It’s cool to play that every night and have people sing it with you or sing it back to you. Just get to have that reminder that you’re not alone.
The album is very raw and honest but sometimes those stark truths can be a bit unsettling but that validation can feel really nice.
Katie: The outro of “Navy Blue” has some really sad lyrics that are kind of directed to this person who I’m trying to get to love me. They don’t love me and there’s a line at the end, “weren’t you’re going to love me if I just did everything right?” and I’m having this cool experience on stage. At this point in time, playing the songs feels good because it’s a reminder of how much pain I once was in, but also I can feel how far I’ve come from that point. Last night when we were playing that song I really wanted to say to the crowd, “by the way like if you relate to this and you’re thinking about a specific person, don’t be in a relationship with that person! Just leave them! Stop the bullshit!” Y’know? I just want to tell people. Everyone needs to figure that out in their own time but it makes me feel so happy for how different my life is and it’s partially because of the accountability of this project that I’ve been able to make changes.
You are very open politically and open about being queer. Do you feel emotionally exhausted with having to respond to loaded questions about being queer and “femme” in the music industry?
Naomi: I think I think what is hard to deal with, and this is just the honest truth for me at this moment in time, is there is a lot of emotional labour expected of female or femme – I’m non binary – but like femme adjacent & femme appearing people in general that goes unnoticed and unpaid. It happens on a larger scale I think when you’re in a sensitive pop group just in terms of what people think is appropriate and OK to ask you or ways that it’s appropriate to interact with you physically. That’s just very interesting. I think that can be somewhat of a hard thing to wrap your head around. But I think we were all very protective over each other and we have a great group of people around us in our band that help keep us mentally sane and safe and all that good stuff.
You can kind of set your own boundaries within that as well. Just because you’re giving so much of yourself in the songs, doesn’t mean that then everyone has permission to take more.
Josette: A little while ago, our old bassist commented to us, “I just didn’t know what it was like to go through the world being a woman.” It’s just hard. Everyone who has a similar experience as us, we commend you for existing and continuing to go everyday.
Katie: But I think y’all do a really good job like with boundaries. I’m still learning.
Josette: We’re still learning!
Katie: I’ve had horrible boundaries since birth but I’m working on it. I do think that there’s a relationship between getting better at having boundaries and having such amazing shows. So I think I have to think about it because I feel guilty sometimes. There are times where I want to be more giving.
It’s tricky to sustain that, especially in this environment.
Katie: Exactly. And I really like the idea of the feminine system of growth being one that is about like sewing sustainable seeds that are gonna continue over time. We have to be softer on ourselves because we’re in this for the long run.
Naomi: And I think we do have a really understanding fanbase who are very supportive and kind to us and not scary or strange.
Josette: Yeah they’re the fucking shit.
As an indie group on these big pop fringes, the “bigger” you get there’s almost an expectation of more access, especially starting independent and being on major now. Navigating that is tricky and you’re doing a great job. It’s commendable!
Naomi: We feel so lucky we’re signed to a major label and we are so lucky because not everyone has the experience that we have at major labels. There’s so many horror stories but we have a really understanding team that takes our boundaries very seriously and are still able to challenge us and help us to grow but also give us the amount of creative control that we want. We had full creative control over all the visual stuff that went on during this [album] cycle. They’re good to us.
That makes a huge difference!
Josette: We’re just so lucky, I mean like regardless of being on a major label or not, that we found the people who believe in us you know as much as we believe in each other I would say more than ourselves – as much as we believe in Muna.
That’s something that is important to remember for newer bands that are trying to navigate the major label system. To not be afraid to stand for your values and stand for what’s important to you. You don’t have to cut yourself down or compromise.
Naomi: Yeah, yeah you really don’t. In 2019 and certainly not 2020, like it’s over.
It’s done. So last season. On that note, How do you practice Stanning yourself when you’re feeling completely drained?
Josette: To be honest his tour has been really fucking hard. The things that we got accustomed to in Los Angeles and in our lives that were stable and unmoving have been put to the test. But I still think the ways that I stan myself are by practicing in self-care regimens of doing things that make me feel one with my body and one with myself, like doing meditation, yoga and exercising. The thing is, even us who have the song “Number One Fan” we struggle to keep those things up and also to always be our own number one fan.
Katie: I feel like there should be a footnote to any instruction on how to stan yourself because our footnote at the moment is “We’re physically exhausted.” We’re either sick or recovering from illness… It’s a vulnerable place to be in, so it’s easy to slip into like older forms of being. Just accepting if you have to be a bit of a sloth, just trying to accept that. We live in a very external world in terms of what it looks like is what matters the most. That’s so damaging because you can have the same action and it can look like you’re doing something that’s good for yourself. Like one day I do it and it’s authentically – it’s good for me. And the next day I do it and it’s like it’s coming from a place of feeling like “I have to do this to be enough.” And that’s not Stanning myself. It’s really difficult. I think we’re all working through this together – the interior cartographer. We’re like trying to map these inner worlds that are really messy.
Naomi: I think what’s helpful for the three of us is knowing that despite how disgustingly horrible at least on a personal level it feels to be vulnerable around other people, tour forces you to be vulnerable around other people so if you’re going through some shit, you’re probably gonna start crying. It’s gonna suck but it’s good for people to know what you’re going through because they’re probably going through the same thing. It changes the way that you treat each other. Instead of being like, “Why is Blah in a mood?” or like “Why does no one realize that I’m going through *this*?” You have to be honest and that’s challenging but it’s also an area that I feel like I can grow in. Tour’s good in that sense despite the fact that I can’t do my Yoga With Adriene every day like I would like to.
Shout outs Yoga With Adriene!
Naomi: Huge shoutout to Adrienne, she changed my life.
How would you suggest people practice saving the world within themselves and within their own independent experience in their day to day lives?
Josette: I would say trying to just accept oneself as much as they can on a daily basis. I’ve been realizing that I was so addicted to feeling ashamed or loved to shame myself or feel ashamed about who I am. So it’s trying to stop that pattern, that shame spiral as one could describe it. And instead be like, “You know what? It’s gonna be okay and I’m chill.”
Katie: My friend was talking about her difference between the definition of “ashamed” and “shame”. I feel like you’re talking about like feeling shame which is not based on anything, in reality, it’s just this sense of not-enoughness. I am in agreement with Josette, just feeling through those feelings and being in acceptance of them can be really important and healing for people. But I also think that there’s something interesting about being “ashamed” because in my life there were actual things that I was doing that were harming myself and others. At the end of the last [album] cycle, there were patterns of behaviour that I was engaged with that I was ashamed of for a reason. So sometimes being ashamed is kind of a helpful thing. You kind of know what’s bullshit and it might be better for you to engage in trying to put that down. That doesn’t mean if you’re trying and you’re failing you’re a piece of shit.
‘cause you’re still trying!
Katie: Cause you’re still trying! For me a lot of it is about being in a relationship with other people, asking for help. Surrendering to the mystery of life on a daily basis, acknowledging how much is out of my control, but also just trying to figure out how other people are approaching this mystery. Doing the best I can to be vulnerable and be in touch with what I want and need. It’s so hard to know how to take care of yourself. I feel like it’s a full-time job. Who was saying that?
Katie: It’s a full-time job to just taking care of yourself. I was so hateful towards myself and I still am sometimes in terms of what I’m eating, what I’m drinking, what I’m putting on my skin when I’m sleeping. I can be so hateful towards myself and then that affects the way that I’m existing in the world and what I’m available for. So it’s like, just accepting that accountability.
Naomi: Something that stuck with me so much that Katie says (or has said, that I’ve repeated to almost everyone I talked to on a regular basis) is the baseline concept of consciously trying to do your best, even if some days is doing your best is doing your worst. You can’t do better than that. That’s OK.
Katie: You don’t have to do better than your best because that’s also detrimental.
Naomi: Yeah exactly. Cause then you’ll get burned out. Just trying your best, which doesn’t mean trying your hardest, it’s just meeting yourself at where your prime is on a certain day. And honestly some days, my prime is being a piece of shit like, to be honest, And that’s OK as long as I am conscious of that.
Listen to Muna’s album Saves The World and catch them opening for The 1975 in New Jersey or on tour in the UK at the dates below.
NOV 16, 2019 BB&T Pavilion Camden, NJ w/ The 1975
NOV 17, 2019 BB&T Pavilion Camden, NJ w/ The 1975
DEC 2, 2019 Concorde 2 Brighton, United Kingdom
DEC 3, 2019 O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire London, UK
DEC 4, 2019 O2 Institute 2 Birmingham, England
DEC 5, 2019 Club Academy Manchester, UK
DEC 7, 2019 Clwb Ifor Bach Cardiff, UK
DEC 8, 2019 Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK
DEC 9, 2019 Oran Mor Glasgow, Scotland