Muna’s Fresh Start – The New York Times

Muna members continued to call themselves “impenetrable”. They were sorry for that, they insisted, as each one entered the frame of a backyard video call in Los Angeles, playing ping pong in in-jokes and rearranging themselves into different configurations.

The indie-pop trio of Katie Gavin, 29, Naomi McPherson, 29, and Josette Maskin, 28, operate at a frenetic frequency and have easy access to their emotions. At the end of the call to discuss their new album, which will be released on Friday, the three cried and begged loudly to stop crying. The constant buzz of the promotion was building: “That’s why we’re chaos vibes,” McPherson said, waving a lock of curly hair over the screen.

Any album release brings some chaos. For Muna, though, sending her self-titled third album out into the world means starting all over again. The group played at Lollapalooza and appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s show before their debut album “About U” was released in 2017, then opened for Harry Styles and followed up with a 2019 LP called “Saves the World”. But their label, RCA, dropped out of the band months after the pandemic, citing cost-cutting needs.

Muna was devastated. Then it started working again. A friend of a friend, someone the members knew through what Gavin called “the Los Angeles lesbian support group,” rented a studio in his basement for next to nothing, and the band began showing up every day. The songs he worked on there would become the most pop-oriented and propulsive yet. One of them became something the band had never had before: a viral hit.

“Life is so fun, life is so fun,” Gavin sings on “Silk Chiffon,” which features Phoebe Bridgers and has spread across TikTok, trailing cookie dough tutorials, hangovers and odes to passions. The rest of “Muna” is filled with effervescent songs about twirling through gay bars and rollerblading through the night, past slippery, sputtering synths. Buoyed by the success of “Silk Chiffon”, the band is now about to break out of their cult following and take their anthems about queer joy to a wider audience. But the joy is not direct for Muna, whether in the music or in the lives of its members.

“Obviously, everything is going great,” said McPherson, who is non-binary, poking a toothpick between his teeth. “Which is when the demon wants to punish you.”

Muna started at the University of Southern California, where McPherson spied Gavin riding his bike across campus and muttered to their friend, “That girl is cool.” The feeling was mutual; they teamed up, and Gavin introduced McPherson to Maskin at a party. Almost immediately, they started making music, doing guitar chord workshops between classes. Gavin sings lead vocals, plays guitar and helps produce; Maskin (guitar) and McPherson (guitar and keyboard) work on the production.

Nearly a decade later, one part of her songwriting process is the same: Muna knows when to stop. The band likes to put on what McPherson calls “princess work”; they fiddle with the songs for a few hours a day and stop when a track starts to fall into place. “You try to withhold the magic,” Maskin said.

The group spends the rest of their time hanging out – watching YouTube, doing errands. Easy intimacy, the way they finish each other’s sentences or can communicate by raising their eyebrows, is central to the process. It also takes work. Gavin and McPherson dated for years, and when they broke up, Maskin threatened to leave the band if they didn’t go to therapy. (The trio also went to what they call “band therapy.”)

Recording can be stressful. “I would record all my vocals by myself in a closet if I could,” Gavin said, after the band relayed that they had to redo the song “Solid” five or six times because she kept cooing the lyrics: “My baby is so solid, ” in a way that sounded like “My baby is a salad”. But Muna learned to cheer each other up and not overwhelm the music.

“At some point, you’re going to have a song dysmorphia where you’re like, ‘I don’t know if this is going to sound good, guys,’” McPherson said.

“Muna” is a change for the band, a step forward in bright, sparkling pop. “At RCA, we were like, ‘Let’s stay true to ourselves, let’s make interesting indie-pop music, we’re not here to make hits,’” McPherson said. “And so by the time we left, we’re on an indie label and we’re like, ‘Here’s our most pop song ever’.”

The small label is Saddest Factory Records, which is run by Bridgers, the indie-rock star. The band refers to her as “Papa,” and she sings a giddy verse about the slut getting stoned through the halls of CVS on “Silk Chiffon.”

Another indie powerhouse, Mitski, also left fingerprints on the album. She met the band at a festival. “We just started talking, which is rare for me because I’m very introverted and don’t just ‘start talking’ to people,” Mitski wrote in an email. “It’s a testament to how friendly and kind they are.”

Mitski went to McPherson and Maskin’s apartment in Highland Park and made them tea while they listened to the disco. (The downstairs neighbor kept texting them to be quiet.) “You have no idea/the things I think about you when you’re not here,” Gavin sings on “No Idea,” the song gradually builds. that emerged from that session. “Mitski is the sexiest songwriter I know,” she said.

Like most of the songs on the record, “No Idea” plays with the gap between perception and projection, the clarity and confinement that comes with claiming a label. “She’s not a mirror you reflect in,” Gavin mutters over a guitar beat on “Solid.” On the slower one, “Kind of Girl,” indebted by Shania Twain, she gets more explicit: “I’m a girl who’s learning that everything I say isn’t final,” sings Gavin.

The album oscillates between dance floor anthems and lyrics about meditation, blazing synths and accent pangs. “The album is kind of disparate sonically, disparate in terms of what the songs are saying, but the connective tissue is self-definition and agency and identity and interrogating those things,” McPherson said. “And also knowing that nothing is fixed.”

While the band’s circumstances have changed, Gavin isn’t letting go of his past. “I don’t want this era to be, ‘Oh, we used to be one way, and now we’re another, and everything is great now,’” she said. “We are who we are, but it is the compassion that we have for ourselves, the conscience that we have.”

Earlier this month, the trio returned to “The Tonight Show,” and Gavin felt some of the panic he experienced when the band first played there in 2016. The band members spent the cab ride to their hotel after recording. processing your presentation. They talked about what it meant to do the show, how Gavin was feeling, what they hoped the album could do for them, if it could help them keep making music for as long as possible “and not have as much existential stress as we have.” now. ,” McPherson said.

The driver ended up joining the conversation. “He said, ‘In my 20 years of directing, I’ve never heard people be so kind to each other,’” Gavin recalled. She and McPherson were cooped up on a bed at their hotel, smiling at a laptop screen; Maskin was in her room at the end of the hall, packing and peeling a banana. “It felt like a corny thing where – it’s quite a feat to make these big moments, but I think, like, the biggest thing –.” She paused. “I am a cheese ball.”

“Do it!” shouted McPherson.

Gavin rolled his eyes. “I think the biggest achievement is having these friendships with each other.”

All three were quiet for a second. Then they began to laugh, weakly and then furiously.

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