GRAMMY Camp, GRAMMY in the Schools Media Team
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No one’s entirely sure who came up with the name MUNA. The band — composed of Josette Maskin, Naomi McPherson, and GRAMMY Camp alumna Katie Gavin — was sitting around their shared California apartment in 2013 brainstorming when the name MUNA was tossed into conversation. Immediately, they loved it. “It really works for a lot of the ways to explain everything about this band,” Gavin explained during a Q&A panel with the 2017 GRAMMY Campers at USC. “…Which is ‘We don’t know how it happened, but it felt right, so we did it.’” Luckily for them, their intuition seems be rock-solid—in less than five years, MUNA has progressed from rattling unassumingly around the underground LA music scene to opening for ex-One Direction member Harry Styles’ first solo tour.
The band’s inception came during Gavin and Maskin’s first day at the University of Southern California, where both were music majors. Gavin’s passion for music, particularly songwriting, had been nurtured by her parents since childhood—leading her both to the 2009 GRAMMY Camp in Los Angeles and viral fame through a YouTube cover of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” in 2011. Maskin had played guitar since age 12 and began playing in local bands throughout high school. The two hit it off and immediately decided to create a project together. However, they were unable to find a definitive sound until encountering McPherson, a Narrative Studies and American Studies & Ethnicity major, at a party. “She came from a family of musicians, but they didn’t make a lot of money and she was trying to not do music because she wanted to make more money,” Gavin described to the group with a laugh. However, her incredible skill with guitar was impossible to ignore and soon after MUNA was born.
Originally, they didn’t find much success—the band often played near-empty shows and were forced to be their own publicists, managers, and audio engineers. Though the countless hours creating press releases and emailing blogs was tiring, stressful, and oftentimes demoralizing, that level of corporate and creative control was ultimately a positive: “It plays a role in our overall story because we live in this time now where people don’t just hear your track on Spotify, they’re going to hear on Spotify and Google you and then read something that The Fader wrote about you and try and understand who you are and what you’re about,” Gavin said. “There’s a more 360º view.” MUNA decided to make what they describe as “dark-pop”—pop music that discusses darker, real-world concepts—to clearly reflect their ideals of acceptance and social awareness. These firm beliefs have attracted lots of positive attention in the industry, notably from Styles, for whom the band will be opening on his debut solo North American and European tours. “He could be playing arenas—and he will be, on his world tour—but he’s playing smaller venues and they were like, ‘You can take anyone you want, who are you interested in?’ And he namechecked us,” Gavin explained.
Even as MUNA’s star continues to rise, the girls remain firmly focused on music —both their love of playing it and the connection it inspires in others. Maskin even goes so far as to dismiss one of their biggest performances to date, a stint on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon because “I didn’t feel like it personally affected anyone. You learn that the things that matter the most are the reasons why you started to do it—playing a live show with my best friends and actually communicating a message that affects people. Those are the moments that matter. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are,” Maskin said.
Both Maskin and Gavin also describe, in awe, the connection their fans have to their music, particularly for an LGBTQ Pride track called “I Know A Place” that was released just after the 2016 Orlando shooting. “It’s become a rallying cry for people in the LGBTQ community, which has been really cool. It’s also been this lovely experience of releasing something and having it really not be yours anymore, in a way—other people take it and they give it their meaning,” Gavin, who, along with the rest of MUNA, identifies as queer, emphasized. Maskin adds, “You forget that when you’re doing this because it’s like ‘Yeah, we have to write another album and we have this tour to go on,’ but you meet people who say, ‘This song has saved my life,’ and that’s the coolest thing.”
Though Katie Gavin is undoubtedly one of the most successful GRAMMY Camp alumnae in the music world, her willingness to open up about her career, life, and music with a group of current GRAMMY Campers proves she is truly as down-to-earth and intelligent as our instructors proclaimed her to be. It was an honor to have both her and Josette Maskin come and share their knowledge with us and, even after only one meeting, it’s clear that they will be spreading their positive message through the music industry for years to come. MUNA, you’ve added all 80 of us to your fan base.
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