It’s 22 degrees in Brighton and the city is out in full force: Girls with glittery nails sharing clouds of candy floss. Kids screaming as ice cream cones splatter onto dusty pavements. Guys in shades and trench coats taking cigarette breaks in between band rehearsals. And then there are MUNA – Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin – who look like the kind of people you might bump into on a night out in east London, or Silver Lake in LA. Except for the fact that baby gays in the street keep stopping and gasping. “Oh my god, can I take your picture?” they ask. Or, simply: “I love MUNA!”
This was bound to happen. We’ve met in Brighton, after all – the queer capital of the UK (home to Channel 4’s Sugar Rush and It’s a Sin, mega club Revenge and the famously messy Brighton Pride). Since their inception, MUNA have become known for their diehard queer fans. They write punch-gut pop songs that capture longing, euphoria, sex, heartbreak and respite – often at the same time. Go to any of their shows and you’ll be among a sea of queers in vests and cowboy hats cry-singing the lyrics to songs like “I Know A Place” and “Number One Fan”. You will always bump into an ex at a MUNA show. And if you don’t, you’ll probably be thinking about them.
But MUNA are also a different band to the pop trio that became widely known in 2017, fresh off a North American and European tour with Harry Styles. They’re no longer simply “the queer Haim” or a niche group for sad gays and sad gays only (although I fit comfortably into that category). Their second album, Saves The World, released in 2019, was a major critical success. They’ve toured with Kacey Musgraves and King Princess and, in 2021, released a track with Phoebe Bridgers, “Silk Chiffon”. As the hot summer months dampened into spring it felt like everyone was singing it: “Like life's so fun, life's so fun / Got my mini skirt and my rollerblades on.”
Despite their widening appeal, however, the band were dropped by RCA Records (Britney Spears, Mark Ronson, A$AP Rocky) in early 2021, just as the pandemic was winding down. The music industry had found itself in crisis, abandoning releases left, right and centre in a bid to make back money lost on cancelled tours. MUNA were halfway through their third record at the time. It came as a shock, but not necessarily a bad one. The band felt like it was the right thing to do; they wanted to stretch their limbs, creatively. They signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records and MUNA, their upcoming album, is out on the 24th of June.
In person, MUNA are energetic: interjecting and making jokes over each other to the point that it’s hard to tell where one sentence begins and the other ends. Josette is dry, their voice like a 90s cartoon character, each answer shaped like an arched eyebrow. Naomi is thoughtful and considered when they speak, cutting through the giggles to deliver articulate streams of thought. Meanwhile, Katie gives off “baby of the group” energy, eyes glittering with humour. Together, they make you want to cause mischief, or chat about your feelings, or both.
For our first date we ended up flinging two pence coins into the coin pusher game at the arcade and desperately trying to win stuffed toy koalas (even though I told them, repeatedly, that claw machines are scams). Before that though, we sat down by the beach for a meandering and cheeky conversation.
VICE: It’s quite windy by the sea right now… I’m sorry.
Josette: It’s fine! It’s good to have vitamin D!
Katie: And it was pissing it down in London.
It makes sense that we’re doing this as a first date because you write a lot of songs about relationships, love and heartbreak. Why do you gravitate towards those subjects so much?
Josette: Those are the songs that really slap.
Katie: As this is a first date, I’ll try not to trauma bond too much… But yeah, I think I’ve always used songwriting to process what’s been going on in my life. The first album is a lot about toxic relationships because that’s what I was involving myself in at the time.
With the second album, we tried pretty hard to move against that. I wasn’t even really dating. It’s kind of the “therapy record”. But this record has more sex and relationships and love – from a different perspective, because so much time has passed.
I hear you. I mean, I personally find it hard to be creative when I’m happy. Because you’re just too busy enjoying life…
Naomi: I relate to that, for sure. It’s hard to create when everything is going awesome in your life. But it’s unsustainable to be in dire straits all the time for art. You won't survive it. So we’ve tried to treat making music like a nine to five. You keep coming back and trying to make something authentic.
Katie: I do relate to not feeling so much of a drive to write when you’re not content. I’m not comfortable with things that are healthy, fun and safe. I’m like… so there’s nothing going on? No drama? It is kind of fascinating to me. There’s a lot there to be explored.
Naomi: In [our first] two albums we have like… one fucking happy song.
Katie: “Number One Fan” is kind of happy??
Er, isn’t that the one that starts, “So I heard the bad news / Nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone”?
Naomi: Yeah and even “I Know A Place” is fucking sad. It’s like, “I know a place that doesn’t exist”.
I feel like we should ask some first date questions. What’s the weirdest date you’ve ever been on?
Katie: This one time I went on a date in Melrose, in LA, which is an interesting section of culture. There was, like, a dance studio and people were learning these intense hip hop dances?
Naomi: Stop it.
Katie: I went there with a girl and it was extremely hard. I was trying to be wholesome. I was trying not to have dates at bars so I wouldn’t trauma bond. I was trying to do activities. It was so hard that it ended up being unpleasant. I felt bad about myself because I was like, “I’m not going to get these moves down!” What about you guys?
Josette: I don’t even know.
Katie: Your weirdest date [points to Naomi] was probably with me.
Naomi: I had a nice time! I took you to the thing.
Katie: It was a parking garage.
Naomi: For college that was very romantic!
Wait, you two actually dated?
Naomi: We dated for several years.
How did I not know that?! I’m supposed to be a MUNA nerd.
Josette: It’s very Fleetwood Mac.
What do you think is a good question to ask on a first date to really get to know someone?
Josette: “What’s the first thing you eat in the morning?” I just need to fucking know. I want to know what they consume.
Katie: I want to know their schedule. No, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re just trying to smash, then…
Naomi: I would ask if they’ve read something recently that they like. I’d ask where they grew up and what it was like. I try to keep the conversation regular.
Shall we chat about the new album? I’ve been listening to it a lot and it’s quite joyful in places! I was surprised you didn’t release “What I Want” as your first single because it’s so catchy.
Josette: That one is for the gays. They’ll bang to it.
Naomi: Do you mean “bang” as in sex?
Josette: I was going to say “dance” but then I said bang. But also bang, I guess.
Naomi: We actually recently found out that some people do have sex to our music, which is so weird.
Katie: I’m surprised by that.
Surely that would be a bit intense, wouldn’t it?
Josette: That’s what I thought!
Katie: Well, they said they want an intense emotional connection or they’re not going to have sex.
Josette: There are two kinds of people in this world, you know?
But when you’re sleeping with somebody, you don’t want to be thinking about the end of the journey, do you? As in, the break up.
Naomi: Yeah, like: What horrible things are going to happen? Imagine being in a five relationship, banging to this tune. That’s wild. Go off kings.
Katie: They were wives in a marriage.
Josette: That’s crazy, good for them.
I find it weird when people listen to music with lots of lyrics in bed.
Josette: It’s too distracting, I can’t do it!
Naomi: In another language, maybe. One that I don’t understand.
Katie: Or Cocteau Twins.
Or healing frequencies.
Josette: That is cool, that is cool!
Naomi: We know someone that has sex to yelling and ambient gongs.
Katie: I’m on a similar wavelength.
But back to “What I Want”... To me, that song really reminds me of that pure desperation during lockdown of just wanting go out and dance at a gay bar.
Naomi: It is kind of an indulgent song about your little inner demon. When you want to have a bit of fun. It’s a song of allowance.
Katie: I wasn’t dating during the second album cycle and when I started dating again I had a kind of second coming out. Even though people around me are like, “You’re gay!” I was like “I don’t know!” but then suddenly I was like “Yes, I am really gay”. I know it’s funny but the people who get it, get it. Sometimes it takes a really long time to get there yourself. And sometimes I think maybe even more so for femmes?
Josette: I can’t speak for you, but being a femme, you fit more into the “heteronormative experience”. Whereas for someone like Naomi and myself, where you’re so fucking gay from the start…
Naomi: I’ve just had a different relationship with men and male attention my entire life.
Katie: Yeah, so I think that’s part where that energy [in the song] came from as well. It feels like a second adolescence; a surge that comes with that certainty.
Naomi: And then you want to make up for lost time.
Josette: That’s just the queer experience, isn’t it.
Naomi: Yeah it’s like, holy fucking shit are you kidding me? I’ve been this way this whole time and I’ve had to do all of this… stuff. You have to live a secret life and then finally you’re free. I feel like it’s relatable.
Sometimes you get that same feeling if you’ve been in a long term relationship and when you leave that you have to figure out…
Josette: … Who am I without this person? I totally relate to that.
Katie: What’s my vibe?
Josette: Or have I missed out on shit?
One of my favourite songs on the album is “Solid”. The production is very slick. To me, it sounds like Prince.
Naomi: Thank you so much, Jesus that’s a compliment.
Katie: Or Genesis.
Naomi: It’s a bit Peter Gabriel. Definitely 1980s pop. Obviously trying to be Prince. I don’t know if anyone can be as tight.
Katie: I’m proud of that song. Going back to what we were talking about earlier, there are lots of things in your life that are worthy of writing about, but maybe you don’t notice because you haven’t seen someone else do it. But I think writing a love song to a capable butch is amazing.
Naomi: It is a revolution.
Katie: I hadn’t seen it done before.
Me neither. So, you changed record labels in 2021, which surprised me...
Josette: No shade to the people we worked with at our old label, RCA. Their A&R was fucking awesome. But I think they just didn't know how to market us. I don't think we knew who we were either, when we were first starting out. It just kind of feels like kismet signing with Phoebe [Bridgers] and also just feeling so empowered and so sure about our artistic vision this time around.
Naomi: I think we have an underdog mentality. In the major label setting, we felt like such an indie band and such a DIY band in comparison to the other artists in a major label structure. We had a little bit of a “chip on our shoulder” mentality that maybe I wasn’t even conscious of. But now it’s funny because we’re on an indie label and making the poppiest music we’ve ever made, which feels like the alt thing to do in this setting. I’m still trying to tease out what that means. It sounds like something.
Kate: It sounds like an authority problem.
Naomi: We do have authority problems.
I’m with you on that one.
Shall we go and play some games?