If Muna were a meme, they’d be that one of Nicole Kidman. Not the one of her not knowing how to clap – the other one, from 2001. She’s supposedly just left her lawyers office after finalising her divorce from Tom Cruise and she looks jubilant. The sun’s shining and she’s stretching her face and arms out, towards the warm rays. Strutting towards greater things.
The energising warmth Muna are strutting towards? One of queer joy. While they had some hesitancy to be labelled first and foremost as a gay band in the early days of their careers (all three members identify as queer and keys player Naomi McPherson is non-binary), the Californian band have come to fully and visually embrace this aspect of their identities.
At the band’s Coachella sets in April, guitarist Josette Maskin wore a black tank top with ‘Dyke’ spelled out in diamantes across the chest. It's not unusual for the trio to make out during their shows and discussion about the fact that Gavin and McPherson used to date isn't off the table – though on their podcast Gayotic, they joke that queer exes are really more akin to siblings.
The music video for Silk Chiffon, their collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers that has proven to be their biggest hit to date, is a candy-coloured fever dream homage to the early 2000s queer cult film But I'm a Cheerleader.
At their culture awards held in New York this weekend, Matt Rodgers and Bowen Yang of the Las Culturistas podcast awarded the Muna Award for Hottest Queer. The nominees were all three members of the band, the band’s fans and actor Matt Bomer.
“There's a couple of moments in our career where we feel we've been claimed by our community and that means a lot,” Gavin tells me when we chat in the lead up to their March appearance at Sydney World Pride, where they joined Kim Petras, G Flip, Peach PRC and Ava Max on the bill at the closing concert.
Once that party wrapped up Muna stayed Down Under for two weeks, joining Lorde as the support act on the Australian leg of her Solar Power tour. The pairing came about through mutual contact Amber Dreadon, the New Zealand makeup artist who played a pivotal role in cementing the Royals singer’s signature beauty look and has been the band's go-to MUA “from the jump”. A few months later Lorde would join the band on stage in New York to perform Bridgers’ part in Silk Chiffon.
Their latest self-titled album, released in 2022, functions as a re-introduction of sorts for Muna. Early on the pandemic the band were released from their record contract with label RCA, who pegged the parting as being economically motivated. Though the catalyst for some major soul-searching for the group, the breakup would ultimately bring about better things for the trio, who were snapped up by Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records. The Punisher singer has described the LA-raised artists as “creative geniuses” and told Variety that their first release under her imprint is “one of my favourite albums of the past 10 years”.
Like their embrace of unbridled queerness, the album shines with the wide-striding confidence that springs from knowing exactly who you are and boldly declaring what it is that you desire. Across the 11 track release the trio manage to condense the euphoria of queer joy into four minute pop songs, while also lyrically distilling the tumult that continues to be the reality of LGBTQIA+ life in 2023.
On What I Want, Gavin pipes about making up for lost time:
“I've spent way too, too, too many years not knowing what
What I wanted, how to get it, how to live it and now
I'm gonna make up for it all at once
‘Cause that's, that's just what I want.”
The critical nature of timing factored into the decision for the release, their third album, to be self-titled too. “We definitely believed that as artists, especially not cis men... we don't think our prime happens in our early 20s”, Gavin says of the name choice.
“I think we had to grow up a lot and figure out who we really are or come to terms with the fact that that's going to be a lifelong journey and just kind of be more honest about the nuances of that.
“To have that sense of self assuredness – that was really hard earned. I think we really earned the self-titled. It took us a while and I'm really glad that we didn't open with that as our debut, we had to get to a place where we felt it.”
They might have grown into the power of their artistry, but at their core it seems like they remain the same three college friends who've been making music together for a decade.
“When we're playing I kind of feel like a queer superhero,” Gavin says. “Then in between songs I just feel like I'm hanging out with my friends. I also think our fans have that attitude with us. I don't really think they think of us as being super larger than life and that's something that makes it doable for me.
“If I'm nervous before a show I go side-stage and I just watch people in the audience. I hope it doesn't sound creepy, but I just remind myself that these are our people and they know that we're just human and they know what our struggles are and they don't care that we're not perfect. That's what makes it doable for me to do these crazy fucking shows.”
The ‘crazy’ shows Gavin is referring to have come about because they've sort of asserted themselves as the favourite band of your favourite band.
In 2017 they were chosen to support Harry Styles on the North American and European legs of his solo tour; they've since supported The 1975, Kacey Musgraves and Bleachers. This year they supported Taylor Swift on her Eras tour, with Swift telling the crowd at one show, “They’re a band I love so much,they’re honestly all over every playlist of mine”.
10 years into their own careers, with the popularity from inside and outside the industry riding high, McPherson says these support acts continue to prove invaluable.
“Everytime we open for someone we learn something, it's just amazing to see how hard people work to get to where they are. It ain't no picnic and the bigger the show gets the more there is going on behind the scenes.”
One such learning experience occurred when Canadian indie pop duo (and twins) Tegan and Sara joined the band on their Gayotic podcast, with the trio openly seeking advice on traversing the economic realities of the music industry – those financials that proved too risky for RCA. Revealing that the band shares hotel rooms and beds to keep costs down when touring, Gavin questioned “Are we actually as influential culturally as we think we are? Because sometimes it doesn't feel like we're.. because we're still not making money. But I think we're kind of important, and I think we're kind of great, but it's not adding up”.
Tegan and Sara implored them to keep going, and if ticket sales are a bellwether, the tide might be changing. Tickets for their October show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles went on sale last week, and sold out within five minutes. One follower commented “i can’t believe that i can’t gatekeep you guys anymore”.
Though they're candid about their own humanity, collectively and individually Muna know the other-wordly significance music and musical artists can take on in the minds of a young audience. Not least because growing up musical artists filled a role model void in their own lives too.
Maskin cites St Vincent as the artist that expanded their realm of possibilities as a teen. “I just thought it was so cool to hear someone be so out there with a guitar.
“I feel like the people that I hung out with in High School were super sexist, and it was just super cool to listen to someone who owned being a musician and was a woman.”
For McPherson, who grew up in a jazz obsessed household, it was the music of Stevie Nicks that provided a portal into the world of Rock and Roll. “When I started listening to rock music the only music people were showing me was music by men so I was like 'well I guess people who aren't men don't do this,’” they recall.
“Then someone showed me Edge of Seventeen and I was like ‘holy shit, this is the coolest thing I've ever heard’... like this is possible, an alternate reality is possible and the thing that people might tell you is not possible, that's just not true.”
Gavin recalls how the artistry of Tegan and Sara changed the direction of her life, despite her not being aware of her own queer identity. “I was really inspired by what they did on their own, finding their own unique voice. I started songwriting at a really young age and I think they kept me going in that direction.”
Similarly Tracy Chapman provided an early example of the lyrical parallelism that Gavin's intimate songwriting is now praised for. “I just love when someone is able to write a song that is simultaneously about larger issues in society and about the human heart.”