Muna: ‘Silk Chiffon’, new album interview

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Muna was stuck. In 2019, the band – songwriter and lead vocalist Katie Gavin, 29, and multi-instrumentalists and producers Naomi McPherson, 29, and Josette Maskin, 28 – were at a rare co-writing session with their new friend Mitski, who was helping them polish an unfinished melody called “No Idea”.

At the time, it was just a verse, a chorus, and a vague, half-joking concept: “That was going to be our dyke band song,” Gavin says, wittily ( and that of the group) which is the trademark.

Mitski liked the idea, encouraging the trio to focus on 2000-era Max Martin keyboard sounds and helping them write a second verse, but “No Idea” was still far from complete. Muna has gone through different iterations of the song: disco, funk, electronic. They were obsessed with the bass sound, which seemed “trapped in a certain groove”, in the words of McPherson.

“If I’m being honest,” Maskin says, “that song was maybe the most traumatic in terms of the battle we had with it.”

Eventually, with the help of a few select reference points (“Oh Baby” by LCD Soundsystem, “Deadly Valentine” by Charlotte Gainesbourg) and a new arpeggiated synth riff, Muna arrived at a finished product for “No Idea”, which sounds like a cross between vintage Daft Punk and the Backstreet Boys to “Larger Than Life”, with a touch of ghost hunters theme song – and not quite like anything Muna has released before.

“No Idea” is just a small part of the freewheeling experimentation and deliberate genre-hopping on munathe group’s third album to be released on June 24. The record presents a more pronounced and refined display of the mix of textured dance music, moody synth-rock, Janet Jackson-inspired pop-R&B and Shania Twain-debted anthemic country that the band explored in 2019. save the world. “The sound on this record explodes in a ton of different directions,” says Gavin.

Nearly a decade after forming in 2013, Muna is rapidly transitioning from being a relatively unknown “Los Angeles musicians’ favorite musician” to a crossover pop phenomenon in her own right. In recent years, the group has opened for Harry Styles, appeared on Taylor Swift’s playlistsand gained fans like Tegan and Sara and Demi Lovato.

That rise accelerated last year, when the band followed up with their 2020 single dance single “Bodies.” – which quickly became their second most played song on Spotify – signing with Phoebe Bridgers’ indie imprint and releasing “Silk Chiffon,” the even catchier song that kicks off muna. Partly thanks to its Bridgers feature, this latest single exposed Muna to whole new fanbases, giving them their first-ever alternative radio hit.

The trio recently completed an opening arena tour for Kacey Musgraves, where they were received with an enthusiasm and energy typically reserved for headliners. “Half the place was singing ‘Silk Chiffon’,” says Musgraves songwriter Ian Fitchuk, who helped create the chorus for Muna’s single with songwriting partner Daniel Tashian. “I was like, ‘How did this happen?'”

Muna has a lot to say about how it all turned out: how their production chops and songwriting prowess slowly improved with each album; on how dropping a contract with RCA in 2020 forced some necessary existential reflection; on how briefly losing their “sad bag” reputation to a pop sugar rush like “Silk Chiffon” changed their lives.

When Gavin first brought the “Silk Chiffon” sketch to Fitchuck and Tashian in Nashville in early 2020, she had written the song’s pre-chorus and verses, but wasn’t quite sure where to go from here. the.

“She started singing ‘Life is so fun’ and I was like, ‘What a weird thing, singing about roller skates,'” says Fitchuk, who at the time didn’t know that Gavin is, in fact, a roller-skating enthusiast. skater.

When Tashian suggested the song’s chorus might begin by shouting the word “Silk!” followed by a break, Gavin was thrown out first.

“So I just leaned into it, and that seems to be the case for a lot of the record – we just leaned into it…” Gavin says, before breaking off. “Oh wait, I don’t want to use that phrase. “Leaning over” is a patron expression. »

“The Yahoo CEO vibe,” McPherson says.

“I’m here for the Muna Inc. era,” says Maskin.

“That should have been the name of the album,” says Gavin.

Muna’s Origin Storywho met at USC, has been said enough times for Maskin to sum it up in one sentence. “Katie saw me across the room, said ‘Gay,’ and then we started playing music together,” says Maskin, who grew up in Los Angeles playing in a series of early bands. (Grape Ape, Blue Thunder) before eventually forming a band with Gavin called Cuddleslut.

This band never released any music and only performed one show, which Maskin wasn’t actually present at – she had run away to attend Coachella and was replaced by their mutual friend McPherson, who grew up in a family of jazz musicians and spent most of their teenage years resisting the urge to make a living from music. “You deny the call as much as you can,” McPherson says. “But at some point you realize that the thing you’re best at might be the best thing you should be doing.”

By the time Cuddleslut played his one and only show, Gavin had already been enjoying his own short-lived solo music career. After growing up in suburban Chicago, she had a little rush to fame when, at age 17, her 2010 cover of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” played viral on Youtube.

Today, Gavin looks back on that time with a mixture of grace and gratitude for the lessons it taught him. “‘Whip My Hair’ was my first experience of my white privilege being reckoned with, because a few people called me about the politics of a white girl with long brown hair doing a cover of a song that Willow Smith did as a child to celebrate black women’s hair,” she says. “I had been writing songs for a long time and wanted a platform, but that was when I realized , ‘Oh, I don’t know shit.’

Gavin put her musical ambitions on hold after that and spent her freshman year at NYU, an experience she talked about in Muna’s 2019 song. “It’s gonna be okay, baby”“You’re going to move to New York and experience communism/Drop a girl, after reading Frantz Fanon to her.”

Shortly after Gavin’s move to California, Muna got started and the trio embarked on their mission to do synth-driven dark-pop meditations as “a queer identification band whose language is truly connected.” at the academy. Recount rolling stone in 2017. They quickly landed a record deal with RCA, and enjoyed a first wave of success, opening for Styles and Bleachers on the soulful dance-pop strength of their 2017 debut, About you.

But the band’s sound, geared around an idea of ​​pop music but bearing little resemblance to anything actually playing on Top 40 radio, quickly made the band hard to categorize (last year they were joking describe themselves as a “religious queer electro synth pop country alt rock band”).

“Maybe a major label has had a harder time figuring out who we really are and where we belong,” Gavin says. And so, in 2020, Muna was unceremoniously dropped for “not making enough money”, as they now call it – an unwelcome surprise that ended up leading to one of her most creative periods.

When she recently played Muna’s new album for a friend, Gavin was struck by the comments she received in response, starting with a comment on About you.

“The first record, there was more of a feeling of, ‘I’m in a lot of pain and I don’t know what to do about it,'” she recalled of her friend’s remark. save the world was absolutely a reckoning with that, trying to learn how to make different choices, and that was a moving thing to hear.

Gavin sees muna as representing the next chapter in the ongoing story she tells on her band’s three records. “If there’s anything that’s consistent in terms of what I’ve brought to the table as a lyricist on this record, it’s that sense of agency and that ownership of desire, let that desire be to be with someone, or to be out of a relationship, or to make a change in your life.

That sense of agency is present everywhere, whether Gavin expresses his desire on the club-ready “What I Want” or explores his regrets on the electro-pop “Home By Now.”

“Do I have too high expectations for others? What is love supposed to look like? Gavin said. “It almost sounds like little kid questions, but it’s always been really helpful for me to think, ‘Hey, I can put these on a record and believe other people have the same questions.

When Gavin started writing those “little kid’s thing” anthems with Muna in the early 2010s, she intended to make dance music, but in recent years she’s found herself reverting to her acoustic roots and to write more on the guitar.

That’s how she wrote “Kind of Girl,” the powerful mandolin-infused country ballad that serves as by Muna emotional centerpiece. The song is an ode to the ability to constantly redefine yourself, and while it hasn’t even been released, it has rightfully already taken on new meanings for the band. “It’s really poignant for us as queer people who have had to let others know how we want to be perceived,” Gavin says.

She talks about personal evolution, but the more Gavin talks, the clearer it becomes that the song’s lesson applies just as well to Muna’s decade-long musical project. “Just the willingness to step in and say, ‘My identity can change drastically from one day to the next,'” she says. what I really want for myself.”

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