"So I heard the bad news, nobody likes me and I'm gonna die alone," rang the stomping return of MUNA. Earlier this year, the trio Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin, tweeted out that "the greatest band in the world muna will be releasing music this year", a tweet that summed up their growth as a band, as people, and the strength of their new album 'Saves The World'.
They've been through a lot to get here though. Calling yourselves the greatest band in the world might sound arrogant, but as one RuPaul once said, if you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else? We're kidding, MUNA's self-confidence was actually brought out of a very dark place. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, MUNA combatted a serious case of imposter syndrome and realised they are in fact, the greatest band in the world.
Since the release of 'About U' two years ago, the band's timeline has been "touring, and then getting depressed, then making this album and working on being less depressed", in their own words. So they toured their debut (with Harry Styles, no less), and cemented themselves as one of the most exciting forces in pop, becoming queer icons for fans.
We catch up with them on a day in which Dork HQ, UK, might actually be hotter than where MUNA are on the other end of the line, in California, to find out what's been going on in those years off.
"I kinda feel like we've gone through a second adolescence," says Josette. "A period of growth and questioning our identities as human beings and what we want that to actually really be. From when the first record came out to now, it was actually becoming a professional band and knowing what that means to each of us. I think that has made us all grow as people; it's been an interesting and difficult experience."
"Since the release of the first record, it's become a fact of life that this is our profession and this is what we do for work," adds Naomi, "which is such an amazing blessing, but also comes with a good deal of responsibility to make sure that we're making authentic art and not succumbing to outside pressure. We're trying to stay true to why we started this band in the first place, which was we love music, and for us, it's sometimes the only way to say something in a way that makes sense, or to reflect on one's life."
And reflect they did. It seems like they've been looking after each other in this period too. Even the fact that each of them check-in that the other has finished talking before they add something else, with no interrupting, it's really lovely, and gives you the impression they've been going through it all together.
"I feel like the process, and flow for us has been at a very natural pace," says Katie. "We were in acceptance of how hard it actually is to get better and to make changes as a human being, and how much of that process is out of our control. It's very much mirrored in our professional life. We measure our professional success as the art that we're making, and that's the main thing. I dunno how we measure our personal growth, but we've all committed to making changes that occur over a really long term process, and require a serious commitment and recommitment, but it's real change. Everything is so fucking fast right now, that if you're believing that, it makes you feel like shit because actually changing takes a long time."
A large part of MUNA's growth, as is evident on 'Saves The World', is a realisation of their own self-worth, individually and as a band. Taking the time to give themselves a pat on the back wasn't in the schedule, but they actively changed that. On 'Saves The World' 's opener, 'Grow', Katie croons, "I want to grow old, I want to lay down, I want to let go". It's hard to not believe her.
"The first record cycle, for me as an individual, I don't really have a history of celebrating my victories or claiming ownership of things I've been able to achieve," Katie says. "I think that may be endemic to the entertainment industry; if you have any success, you're taught 'don't take time to feel comfortable in that because it will go away'. The first cycle, we were just a bit obsessed with working. I don't think we really had a lot of those moments. Maybe Jo and Naomi did, I think we tried a little bit - maybe when we were in fucking Paris with Harry Styles. But this cycle, we're trying to put these personal changes to the test, like okay now I've done something I'm really proud of, can I be proud of it? Can I feel like I deserve this? And not just keep focusing on the anxiety of what the future is gonna hold? Can I own this?"
But in a world where Megan Rapinoe can't even celebrate her World Cup victory without being called arrogant, how are women supposed to big themselves up?
"Katie and I were having this discussion the other day about the way that certain people discuss art and how it's easier for people who are born male to say 'I need to make art! I'll die if I don't make art!'," Naomi says. "If you're female or femme adjacent, the world is telling you from the day that you're born that your opinion doesn't matter as much as other people's, so you're like 'well I wanna make art but also should I just shut the fuck up? Are people gonna think I'm annoying?'
"There's a subtext to the narrative of taking ownership of what you're doing and being proud of yourself that is rebelling against what we are taught to feel and how we're taught to behave. If we are openly like 'yeah our album is fucking amazing, and we worked our asses off, and if this album is successful, we fucking deserve that', people are gonna be like, 'well they're just a bunch of self-aggrandising dickheads'. It's interesting to deal with it. And despite every bone in your body telling you that you shouldn't be proud of what you've done, that you have failed, I think you have to be like 'I did a good job'. Period."
So while the album is called 'Saves The World', it's really about saving yourself. It's an introspective record that focuses on wanting to change your life and to change the patterns you've found yourself in. With the bombastic 'Number One Fan' aside, a lot of the tracks swell with a sadness as Katie picks herself apart and puts herself back together.
"The record has a lot to do with shame," she says. "There are a lot of people struggling in many different ways right now, and whether you wanna attribute that to personal trauma, or you wanna think about this being kind of an unprecedented time in human history, where we don't really know how we're gonna survive on this planet, and there's so much political turmoil. For me, I'm trying to really be honest about myself and the ways that my specific struggle has looked, and putting that story out there for other people.
"That wasn't something I was ready to do on the first record, and I didn't even know that I wasn't ready. I didn't know that there was stuff that I was holding back as an artist, but I'm in a place now where I have a little bit less shame around just what it's meant for me to be me. I think that trying to create that space for more people to let themselves be free in different ways, that's starting to become clear to me. It's more our coming of age record than the first."
"It requires being brutally honest with yourself," adds Naomi. "It's not just doing yoga and meditating and drinking a juice, you have to work on facing that voice that tells you that you're a piece of shit, and also owning up if you've made mistakes, so it's kind of all that."
The record swirls through various genres (or not, Josette says the modern band is genreless), spanning Robyn-esque retro-futuristic on 'Never', 90s teen movie soundtrack greatness on 'Good News (Ya Ya Song)', and chugging night-drive 'Memento', but the tent poles come right at the start and end, with 'Number One Fan' (duh), and the six-minute autobiographic 'It's Gonna Be Okay'.
"If the record is about saving yourself, 'Number One Fan' is the song that anyone can hold onto to remind themselves that they are worthy of self-love, and sonically we were trying to be minimalist and maximalist," Naomi says of why they released it first. "And I mean what is a better lyric choice than putting out 'so I heard the bad news, nobody likes me and I'm gonna die alone'. We're trying to go guns blazing with this record, and telling people who MUNA is and MUNA can be anything that we want it to, and I think this song kinda shows that."
As for 'It's Gonna Be Okay', Katie effectively tells us her life story up to the present moment, every low point out on the table, featuring the lyric "you're gonna think about suicide, yeah you're gonna call your mom" in the first minute. Ooft.
"The song is just the story of someone growing up," Katie says. "We're all in our mid-20s now, and that's what the making of this record has been. It's more of a reflection of that, and it exemplifies what the record is about, but also what growing up is about to anyone who's looking to see the patterns in your life and trying to make changes."
"If you were to take the arc of the song and what it gets into and hear that as a 17-year-old who has yet to have a good part of their life unfold in front of them," Naomi adds, "it seems pretty overwhelming and crazy, but I think the purpose of the song is to encourage both ourselves and the listener to keep choosing to fight another day, even when it seems really dark, because it's gonna be okay."
"That song feels really seminal to our career as a band and to this record. I don't necessarily know a song like it, and I think it's kind of a statement," Josette says.
It's also the only song of MUNA's that includes gendered pronouns. While skipping them on the first album was an accident, it became something of note, and is one of the reasons the trio were hailed as queer icons. It's interesting too that MUNA were the ones chosen as the main support on Harry Styles' European tour in 2017, where his audience of largely teenage girls and young women were most likely to be affected by MUNA's music (he knows what he's doing).
"I think that he was using us in some way to make a statement and I thought it was really fucking cool," Josette says. "He decided to take a queer, mainly female-identifying band on tour to support him, and I really thought it was a cool move on his part, and it was just really humbling to get to tour with him. It was more of an affirmation of who we are as a band and that that thing is meaningful and that people, y' know, care about it.
"With his platform, it was a lesson for us in being okay with self promotion. That was something we still struggle with and are trying to get better at with this record cycle, but it was just really cool to be able to play for people all over the world and to be opening for a guy whose main thing is to treat people with kindness. It was a reflection of him, as well as a reflection of us."
So we're back to the present day. The TL;DR is that the world at large has gotten significantly worse since MUNA went away, so it's a good job they're back to save it, right? If there's anything to be learned from 'Saves The World' – and trust us, there's plenty – it's that being your own hero is more important than being everyone's hero, and that, in some ways, bettering yourself is ultimately a bigger challenge than saving the world.
"When we were writing this record, especially in the beginning we were kind of obsessed with Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey," notes Josette. "We kind of dropped that idea, but as we continued to write, we wanted it to have kind of an arc of death and rebirth, and I think it tells a story similar to that.
Naomi adds, "I think the intent of the story is to be like a circle in the sense that, it's not to say we've got it all figured out, and that this is how to help yourself, but just recognising certain patterns that you have in your life and realising that they're going to come up again. You're not done with your battle after it's fought."
Taken from the September issue of Dork. MUNA's album 'Saves The World' is out 6th September.
Featuring Muna, The Murder Capital, Shura, Ezra Furman, Spector and loads more.