Photo by Catie Laffon

Dark Pop Trio MUNA Goes Against the Grain

The Los Angeles “dark pop” trio MUNA does not seem like the band to be buying a DJ booth-adjacent table at Hakkasan. Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin are around the same age as many of those standing in snaking lines around the MGM Grand foyer, sure, but their aesthetic is less “fist-pumping reveler” and more “worldly art school student.” And yet, it’s a remix of the band’s song “Winterbreak” by dance-music titan Tiësto that has garnered almost 20 million plays on Spotify.

“He checked out the song and wanted to remix it,” McPherson says. “We don’t really like listening to EDM that much, but everyone in our camp was like, ‘You should try it!’ We’ve had a lot of bad remixes before, but he absolutely slaughtered it—in a good way.”

A lot has been going MUNA’s way in 2016, with the release of their EP, Loudspeaker, Tiësto’s remix becoming a summer dance anthem, an appearance at Lollapalooza and now, possibly their highest profile tour to date, opening for Grouplove on a 27-show, six-week jaunt that starts at Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas on October 5. It’s all leading up to the band’s debut album, very tentatively set for early 2017, and for which at least a track listing is completed (and has been teased on the group’s social media pages).

But while the surge of recognition is hitting now, the band still has its eyes on the future. For a group comprised of such young members—no one is over the age of 24—the longevity of their songs is of major concern. There is no “Selfie” here (a la The Chainsmokers), nor nods to a hashtagged slogan or meme. Instead, there are lyrics that speak to universal, everlasting concerns: a doomed but inescapable love (“Winterbreak”), the refusal to hide emotionally (“Loudspeaker”) and the self-doubt after being blindsided by a breakup (“So Special”).

“I really care about being emotionally authentic in our songs, and we want the lyrics to stand the test of time,” Gavin says. “That’s important to us. There are certain songs [that artists are releasing] that just aren’t going to be relevant in a few years.”

Those may sound like dark subjects for a pop band to explore. But the trio combines them with an irresistible, ’80s-tinged pop sound, like if a John Hughes movie soundtrack got a rhythm-heavy remix. In the same way a comedian can approach tough topics through humor, MUNA is able to open itself up, to be vulnerable, thanks to pulsating pop production. It’s a long way from the group’s more experimental roots; MUNA’s first EP, called More Perfect, has now been fully removed from the Internet (scrubbed, McPherson has said, in favor of a retooling of the band’s sound).

“I just want to help people feel less alone.” – Katie Gavin

“The only thing that’s really changed is that we’re a weird hybrid of a crystalline pop group and a college jam band,” Gavin says. “We started from just jamming together and following whatever weird musical instincts. We didn’t have a plan to start a pop group. Our early work was different, but we made a decision that we wanted to try to fuse all of these different things.”

That combination of soul-searching lyrics and accessible music has already brought the group wide acclaim, and from a variety of sources. Whereas a group of three young, queer women might have once been pigeonholed and put in a box, MUNA (a somewhat unplanned union of “luna” and “moon”) has landed a major label deal, placement at festivals and on tours, and attracted an audience drawn to the radically inclusive feel of its shows.

“We’ll be in random cities and people will come up to us,” Gavin says. “There was a middle-aged white guy who said, ‘I had a really hard year, and I just wanted to say thank you, because your music got me through it.’ And I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ I don’t know what it is, but people are connecting. I just want to help people feel less alone.”

Grouplove with MUNA and Dilly Dally at Brooklyn Bowl

Oct. 5, 7:30 p.m., $28.50-$38, BrooklynBowl.com/LasVegas.

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