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There’s an age-old adage that part of queer culture is going through a second adolescence in your late 20s, as your younger years weren’t yours to live. On Muna’s self-titled third album, the trio evokes the feelings of a late coming-of-age due to repressing one’s queerness. Muna marks the group’s first album since being dropped from RCA and signing to the Phoebe Bridgers-helmed independent label, Saddest Factory. Liberated from the crutches of a major label and from patriarchal forms of gender and sexual expression, Muna is the trio’s most fluid and honest effort to date.
At the top of 2020, the members of Muna, lead vocalist Katie Gavin and instrumentalists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson, were feeling defeated after being let go from RCA. Unsure about the future, the trio felt a “natural reprieve” from creating once the pandemic hit in March of 2020, just six months after the release of their sophomore album, Saves The World.
“We didn’t really plan to step away from making music [after getting dropped],” Gavin says. “But I think just inherently, circumstantially, globally, we were allowed a slight breath in between album cycles, and in what felt like a very odd time. Even if we had been making music, I feel like we would have wanted to take a little bit of a break anyway.”
Muna signed to Saddest Factory in May of 2021. Working with Bridgers, who, like all three members of Muna, identifies as queer, allowed them to create an experimental body of work showcasing a range of queer emotions.
“I think signing with Saddest has just been really nice, because it was a fresh start,” says Maskin. “Also, it’s nice to work with Phoebe, someone who is also of a marginalized gender. She just gets us. Not that our A&R at RCA didn’t get us and wasn’t wonderful, but it’s been a nice experience working with Saddest.”
Upon playing the album from the beginning, the listener is taken back to their teenage years, experiencing the whirlwind of feelings accompanied by a queer crush. Or, perhaps, they are present in their late 20s or early 30s, as they finally invite those feelings of queerness in after years of repressing them. The album’s opening track, a duet with Bridgers called “Silk Chiffon,” captures the saccharine emotions of infatuation.
“Life’s so fun, life’s so fun / Don’t need to worry about no one / She said I got her if I want / She’s so soft like silk chiffon,” sing Gavin and Bridgers on their respective verses, over a soft, sweet, guitar-and-drum-driven instrumental.
While “Silk Chiffon” is more romantic in nature, the album’s second track, “What I Want,” is a more convivial song, which details the honeymoon phase of coming out and making up for lost time. Over a fast-paced, futuristic, Gavin details a debauched night, in which she finally knows what she wants, after years of pushing back her desires. “I want the full effects / I want to hit it hard / I want to dance in the middle of a gay bar,” she sings on the song’s chorus.
“As a queer person, I do think you go through multiple adolescences,” Maskin says. “There are so many layers to being queer, whether it’s your sexuality or gender. I don’t know how many adolescences or coming outs I will have. I feel like my childhood was so confining, but I feel like society also is, and it takes a long time to figure out who you are.”
“After feeling torn up by having big secrets, you’re longing for a certain kind of freedom,” adds McPherson. “You’re wanting to be able to fly by the seat of your pants and enjoy being young, sweaty, sexy, and horny. When Katie sent the top line for that song over a little sh*tty beat, In my head. I was immediately like, ‘Oh f*ck, we gotta go hard on this for the gays.’”
The trio takes several different approaches when writing songs. Gavin often starts out recording lyrics and lines on Ableton, and then will send the bones of the song to her bandmates. Or, she’ll play an idea on an acoustic guitar, and the three will come up with a beat together. Or, McPherson will craft an instrumental and send it to her, and Gavin will write over that.
Gavin admits that bringing in outside co-writers isn’t easy for the group, but for Muna, she had “more successful co-writes” with other songwriters on this album than either of the band’s previous two albums. “What I Want” was co-written by openly gay songwriter Leland, who has penned tracks for the likes of Selena Gomez, Ava Max, and the performers of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Another song, the sensual, lustful “No Idea,” was co-written by Mitski.
“Mitski was coming into town to do some co-writing sessions for other people’s music,” Gavin recalls. I don’t think we had ever met before that, and she just came over to Naomi and Jo’s apartment that they had at the time. I had just started ‘No Idea’ and I played it on acoustic guitar. I remember her just being like, ‘That’s hot,’ and my soul leaving my body. It was really cool to work with her, because she’s like, not only my favorite songwriter of our generation, but she’s also just such a wonderful musician who loves music, and she was really fun and exploratory in the studio. Her music has so much raw sexuality in it, to me.”
With queer sexuality and queer love often comes queer heartbreak. On “Anything But Me,” which was released this past March upon the announcement of Muna, Gavin has no regrets about a breakup, and is willing to be there for her ex should they ever need anything — anything but her. In May, Muna released “Home By Now,” a more regretful song, in which Gavin finds herself asking “Would we have turned a corner if I had waited? Do I need to lower my expectations? If we kept it in the same direction, would we be home by now?”
While “Home By Now” is five tracks ahead of “Anything But Me” on the album’s tracklist, creating a more linear path to healing from heartbreak, the order in which the songs were actually released as singles feels like a more realistic reflection of dealing with a breakup in adulthood — breaking up with someone definitively, then, months later, questioning if you made the right choice.
“I wish [the release strategy] was that well-thought out,” McPherson says. “It’s funny, when were putting together the album sequence, there are a couple of moments where lyrically, the songs seem to be in opposition with each other, like in ‘What I Want,’ we’re talking about ‘We’re gonna go out, we’re gonna drink, and party, and have fun. But in the beginning of ‘Runner’s High, [the following track], we’re like ‘We haven’t been drinking, we’re meditating.’ That’s just the way life is, you know? I think i’ve arrived, but I’m swinging on a pendulum forever.”
With Muna, the members were able to breathe life into a project so fluid in terms of genre and sexuality, yet so cohesive in capturing an aural queer journey. Over the course of the album’s 11 tracks, the listener will embark on a path that feels all too familiar. They’ll smile, they’ll cry, they’ll feel the secondhand cringe of adolescence — but most importantly, they’ll dance their ass off.
Muna’s tour in support of the album kicks off on July 28 at Lollapalooza in Chicago. While they are keeping the details of the tour mum for the time being, they promise that each show will be a hot, sweaty, queer wonderland, with plenty of dancing.
“Muna fans are so dope,” says Gavin, “and they turn the f*ck up at every show. It’s just a pleasure at every show, to see people who are there just to see us, and they know every goddamn word, and they sing so loud.”
Muna is out now via Saddest Factory. Stream it here.