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Saving the World with MUNA

BRICKS Features Editor Luke Smith sits down with the trio to discuss the importance of community, political advice for the younger generation and the struggles of queer visibility

PHOTOGRAPHY Isaac Schneider

This article originally appeared in BRICKS ‘The Rise Together’ Issue 7.

Sitting in Sony Music’s London studio waiting to meet MUNA, I couldn’t help but think about what an accomplishment it was. Not for me, not even for MUNA per se, but for the queer community as a whole. Before now, the majority of music about queer women was written from the perspective of straight people, portraying these experiences as nothing more than a fling or playful experimentation. Yet, here we are, at the start of a new decade, witnessing queer women shattering the glass ceiling of the music industry. Los Angeles based MUNA, made up of vocalist Katie Gavin and guitarists Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin, are three queer women who are doing just that.  

After our obligatory introductions, we instantly began discussing the pros and cons of social media. It was refreshing to see their passion for the state of our society, even before I hit record on my dictaphone. MUNA demonstrate they are very much in touch with the world and the issues that affect it. Josette later reflected this sentiment by saying, “We are MUNA, and MUNA’s purpose is to serve the truth and to illuminate the personal struggle that we are all going through which is universal.” 

It is this same passion for changing the world around us that runs through the veins of their music. In 2016, just months after the Orlando shootings in Pulse that same year, the band released single “I Know A Place”, a song which expresses the need for queer safe spaces and remaining strong in the face of violence. Their 2019 album Saves the World is a true tour de force, with Katie explaining it as, “That balance between earnestly striving to grow up while being able to say well this is where I am today, and it’s cool.”  

Now, BRICKS sits down with the trio to discuss the importance of community, political advice for the younger generation and the struggles of queer visibility.  

Luke: The theme for our issue is Rise Together, so I wanted to talk about what it means to you to be part of a band; do you believe there is strength in numbers? 

Naomi: Absolutely! I can’t even imagine being a solo artist in 2019; it sounds so hard. Just from a practical and emotional standpoint, it would be exceptionally difficult to navigate a very confusing time in music. We are really lucky as we have known each other for such a long time. We have a deep emotional foundation between the three of us, which helps us navigate through the shared experience of being in this family. 

Katie: I very much believe in this concept. A part of what we were talking about on Saves the World is that you have to be willing to work on yourself as an individual so that you can exist in healthy relationships. If we are going to try and save the world, that requires you to be working in harmony with other people, so you have to be in tune with yourself. The purpose of that is so you can show up in loving relationships and make changes with people together. There is an ego in all of us where we would love to be the one with our name on the trophy, but that is not as good as making real change which requires you to have honest relationships. 

Luke: Saves The World sounds very personal, could you tell us what messages and themes play into the album? 

Katie: I would say it is our coming of age record, the old hag record. 

Naomi: No, that’s the next one. 

Katie: The next one will be our old hag record. No, this was a personal record, it is introspective. It deals with this concept of trying to save yourself, trying to recognise and own different patterns in your life. There is this part of it which is about not being able to give somebody else self-love. You just need to love yourself, I can’t give it to you. I have definitely done that for other people, that was a part of this whole record like expecting somebody else to give me self value and it doesn’t work, I have tried. Trust me, I would love it if that worked but it doesn’t. This album is definitely some of the saddest songs we have written.  

Josette: It is very self-aware. 

Naomi: It is also more cheeky.  

There is this part of it which is about not being able to give somebody else self- love. You just need to love yourself, I can’t give it to you.

Katie

Luke: What has the reaction been like from your fans? 

Josette: I think it has been this way from the start that MUNA fans are the sickest fans ever. When we released our first record and then the next day performed at Village Underground, a lot of the people knew the words which is the most validating experience as a musician. It is like oh this matters to you, this thing we spent two years working on matters to you. Sometimes, you can get very lost in the void doing this, and I think our fans validate our experience and our labour. 

Katie: It is a dignifying experience; it is almost like its own type of resistance. I don’t want to say it’s anti-capitalist, but I don’t get this feeling like we are expected to be selling a specific part of our personality or a part of our bodies.  

Josette: And I think that’s the coolest thing about being in a band, we get to put our egos aside, and I think that allows us to make something better than what we can create on our own. 

Luke: Just a minute ago, you were talking about how self-love has played a part in this album, especially with Number One Fan. However, that song also explores the issues surrounding Imposter Syndrome, why has this become more of a prominent issue in recent years? 

Naomi: It is because we have to have curated presences that are online, that song has a lot to do with the predicament we find ourselves in. We all struggle with this. Most of the shit you feel you have to do to be a functioning part of this society has to do with mediating your appearance online. That always is going to involve a weird identity crisis.  

Katie: It is an interesting question, it would make sense to me if Imposter Syndrome had existed before we knew what to call it because it is an old feeling, that feeling of shame like there is something wrong with me and other people are going to find out which is a tale as old as time. There is something about Imposter Syndrome that is about living in a society which benefits off us thinking we must compete with each other. If we felt like we were part of a community that loved us unconditionally and had our backs, maybe we wouldn’t see everything in a point system.  

Naomi: Imposter Syndrome has become more of a conversation as a lot of women, or femme people or queer people feel safer talking about those things. We don’t so much live in a society that’s like, nothing can be wrong with you if you are a successful woman or a successful queer person. I think that’s why there is such a conservative backlash. These diverging realities are occurring at the same time because there is such a massive gap between the younger and the older generations experience. 

Luke: That seems to be more a divide now, where I feel like in this country at the moment with politics, there is this generational divide. There are more younger people registering to vote than ever, and they are more educated to make an informed choice about what they want for their future. 

Naomi: Especially here, watching the leaderless resistance of Extinction Rebellion and how successful that was which speaks directly to that. Maybe it is because shit is so dire that young people feel like they have to care or else they will die in 30 years from fucking climate change.  

Josette: I feel like before things were just easier, easier to remain in the system and just go by economically and socially. 

Naomi: We are in touch with the world in a way that we weren’t, and maybe it makes the pressure more mounting than ever. 

Katie: I am excited to be led by somebody who is in with the younger generation. 

There is something about Imposter Syndrome that is about living in a society which benefits off us thinking we must compete with each other. If we felt like we were part of a community that loved us unconditionally and had our backs, maybe we wouldn’t see everything in a point system.

Katie

Luke: Totally, I mean it seems that the younger generation are becoming more engaged in politics. What advice would you give those younger people who are not so engaged? 

Naomi: Just do your fucking best based on where you live and who is going to change your community for the better. 

Katie: I consider myself as someone who is a political person, but I find it to be overwhelming. I think it is about figuring out what works for you in terms of getting educated. If it works for you to watch videos on YouTube for like ten minutes a day, then do that. If it works for you to read a newspaper, then do that, just figure out what is the best way for you to be engaged. I feel like educating yourself on issues is probably the most crucial thing and is also the thing that can feel scary and overwhelming.  

Naomi: There are also people like me who do feel lazy, but I like resigning to the reality there are people who know more than I do about a lot of things.  

Katie: I mean if you really don’t know then just ask your smart friend. Do your best, I mean your best is good enough?  

Josette: Just think you are not a dummy, you can do this.  

Naomi: Someone on Instagram has a voter guide for you. Just do not vote for these fucking assholes.  

Luke: We have spoken about politics, but I want to bring it back round to you guys. Right now we are sitting in Sony studios, and it is amazing that queer women are getting recognised by a massive powerhouse in the music industry. What does that feel like for you? 

Katie: It just makes me think about all the people that came before us who have opened these doors. I just feel gratitude for the people that decided to be out when it was so much harder in so many different ways. 

Josette: I mean I am proud to be queer and be where I am at, I am just looking forward to a time where everyone is queer, where it doesn’t matter. I am excited for when we are just a band called MUNA who make music to some extent. But I am so happy to carry the flame. 

Katie: There will be a band like that eventually, but we are just not there yet.  

Naomi: I mean we are part of a generation of artists that if you are queer, it becomes a point of attraction for an audience. I wish I had more queer, femme bands and artists when I was growing up. At the same time, in the eyes of the mainstream media, you are still pigeonholed. People call us lesbians like they just don’t give a shit. There are some complexities that are not appreciated.  

Luke: There are so many flips to this, it is fantastic that queer people are in the spotlight. However,  there is this fine line between mainstream culture celebrating us as queer people and then taking that and trying to make it popular. 

Josette: But I feel like that is the history of any fucking group that is marginalised in any way.  

Katie: The real dangerous power of being queer is that we are imagining different ways that we can live. As families, as communities, as societies and that is extremely dangerous. If the current power structure can take the image of queer and be like you know, we are with this, that is a way of draining the power from it.  

Luke: I agree, to me, being queer is anti everything. That is why when brands and the mainstream take it, it does loose that inherently political part of what being queer is. 

Josette: It’s complicated, in a sense, I am happy that people are learning what queer means, but it still is a part of capitalism. Everything is dual, and nothing is one thing. It’s great to be queer and also everything sucks, but everything is awesome.  

Naomi: Yeah, it’s both. 

Katie: That’s the headline.  

I am happy that people are learning what queer means, but it still is a part of capitalism.

Josette

Luke: It is important right now to be visibly queer, but I am excited for a time where we can just live. Do you feel it is crucial as visible queer people to set boundaries so you can just be human as well? 

Josette: I think you just said it there, that’s the thing, we are just people and I think a lot of people forget that. 

Katie: Absolutely! We have talked about this before; if you are kind of femme presenting, we generally have the experience of being like, certain things are expected of us. To be caregivers, or be available for physical touch, there are assumptions made that we maybe never used to think about, but then we would wake up one day on tour and be completely drained and unwell emotionally. We would eventually realise maybe I am not looking after myself and protecting my energy; but that is also beautiful. I am grateful that I had to learn how to do these things because it’s helpful in every relationship in my life, regardless of the work we are doing. So yeah, I think boundaries are crucial for anybody who is doing this type of work.  

Luke: So final question, what’s next? 

Josette: Honestly, fuck if I know. 

Naomi: More stuff in the summer possibly. We are going to try and get back over here at some point 

Josette: I think we want to spend time in the creative process because sometimes when you go on the road, that’s when you are putting it out and I think we need to put some back into ourselves. 

Luke: It is important to take a second to breathe 

Naomi: We are getting good at that. 

Josette: Yeah, totally, I mean this year has been very beautiful and very hard and all the wonderful things about being alive. However, I think it is hard for us to take stock of the work that we have done and also the things that we have accomplished. We all deserve a bit of time to breathe, maybe change the direction of our car and see where it’s going.  

Naomi: It’s a new decade! So what’s next, is what’s next, it involves music that we haven’t done yet, and chilling — we haven’t done that yet. 

Follow MUNA @whereismuna and listen to Saves The World now. 

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