MUNA: ‘We Like to Reimagine the Songs for a Live Setting’

MUNA: ‘We Like to Reimagine the Songs for a Live Setting’

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MUNA: ‘We Like to Reimagine the Songs for a Live Setting’

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LA-based pop trio MUNA is known for creatively blending genres. LOUDER spoke with band member NAOMI MCPHERSON about self-producing their latest album and how they translate its intricate textures to their live performances.

LOUDER: Your new record, MUNA, hits on so many different themes and emotions, along with a blend of genres and various instrumentation. Before we jump into talking about the gear, I’m curious about the band’s creative process.

Because your music is self-produced, it’s evident that your control over the creative direction plays a big part in the music, and that definitely comes through on the record. What does that creative process look like? Do you typically sit down to write and record the songs as a trio, build ideas separately, or a mix of both?

Naomi McPherson: Thanks so much for saying that. Ultimately, there's no one way that a song comes to fruition, so I'd say it's mostly a mix of both. I will say, we all do love to take our own time with the parts that we're responsible for whether that's production, songwriting, instrumentation ... sometimes we need to marinate by ourselves and then return to the group with an idea for a part or lyrics or an aspect of the production. Other times, it happens all together, and everyone is just having ideas in the room all at once. It's always a very collaborative process and everyone cares a lot and has a lot of ideas.

Has your experience with Phoebe Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory changed or shaped your approach to making the new album, compared to previous records? Did recording on an indie label alter your approach at all?

It didn't much change our approach to the recording of the record. We've always been super hands on, and I think we just felt more empowered artistically and that the final call was ultimately ours to make.

This record goes in lots of new directions for the band. How did you go about exploring these musical choices in the studio?

I think we felt emboldened by the slightly genre-bendy choices we made on our second record to continue in that direction for the third. With regards to our musical tastes ... we like what we like, and often those influences and sounds that we're attracted to as a band can be quite disparate. So we just embraced that and trusted that if we handled the arrangements and production with care, the songs would speak for themselves and hopefully strike a chord with our listeners.

Was there any gear that was super important for you in the recording process? Or perhaps there was an instrument or other piece of gear that came out of left field and ended up making it on the album?

I think in some ways, the restrictions of the pandemic made us have to get quite creative gear-wise. I bought a Fender mini '57 twin amp for $40 that ended up sounding great for Josette's slide parts miked with a Shure SM57 and processed with Valhalla Vintage Verb and a little bit of some doubling and chorus from Valhalla Supermassive. That'll probably be on every MUNA record to some extent.

All your music, from your first record to the most recent, has a lot of emotion and dynamic range. I recently saw your set at Lollapalooza and there was just so much energy on stage and in the audience. What does the process look like for you all – taking the record and translating it to a live performance? Do you use a lot of the same gear you used in the studio, or do you reimagine some songs for the live performance?

We more often than not like to reimagine the songs slightly in small and large ways for live settings. Of course, retaining the quality of the original recordings, but injecting it with the energy that it needs to get a crowd feeling excited. Particularly our drummer Sarab and bassist Geo hammer out giving the rhythm section engaging dynamics that often deviate slightly from the albums as the drums and bass are often programmed. We MD everything ourselves — the five of us on stage, with some occasional help from our good buddy Brian Jones (formerly a touring member of Vampire Weekend, currently with Paramore) and our production manager Ivan. A lot of the time, parts will get changed, adapted, or added to ensure that the live versions of the songs are stimulating and bringing something new to an audience.

Katie putting the KSM11 to work! Photo credit: @someokayphotos

You’ve been trusting Shure microphones and wireless equipment on stage for your US tour – including our new KSM11 wireless microphone. As far as vocals, I’m curious what features you look for in your stage mics. Anything in particular?

The KSM11 is such a great condenser for live scenarios. It's amazing that as active as Katie is on stage — and as close as she sometimes is to the kit — that her vocals are so clear of any disruption or interference. I was recently watching a video that a fan had taken from ACL and was astonished by not only the very good top end clarity, but also by the fullness of her lows and mids that it's able to capture and translate even in a festival setting in a very alto-y song like ‘Home By Now’, for example. It's a wonderful mic and gets you as close to the sound of the record as possible whilst retaining an authentically live vocal sound, which is great for us as a band listening through our in-ears and also hopefully for our fans.

Last question and I’ve got to know — considering Katie is from the Chicago area just like Shure and you’ve played iconic local venues like SubT — do you have any insider Chicago tips or favorite locations that are must-visits when you are in town?

Katie is actually from the suburbs, so when we're going through, we sometimes try to go up north of the city and hit Homer's Ice Cream. She's particularly fond of the cappuccino chip!

Check out MUNA's latest album here and learn more about the new KSM11 vocal microphone here.