MUNA Expands The Munaverse By Manifesting A Tour Bus, Taylor Swift Dates & More
Cover of Pollstar’s April 10, 2023 issue: MUNA is pictured backstage at the Aware Super Theatre in Sydney, Australia, on March 14. Photo by Jess Gleeson

When MUNA took the stage in February 2022 at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, New Jersey– one of a handful of headline shows added to the indie pop band’s routing to go along with support dates on Kacey Musgraves’ “Star-Crossed: Unveiled Tour” – it was clear that the trio had reached another level in its career.

“Those were some of the first that sold out super quickly. I remember sitting backstage with [MUNA] after and I said, ‘OK, this is the moment we’re headliners,’” says CAA’s Rachel Pestik, who initially worked with the band on the management side along with manager Heather Kolker of Other Operation. “I think [CAA’s Mike] Marquis said, ‘We’re writing our own ticket.’”

Marquis says, “That was a good moment. It was an amazing show.” Noting that it was apparent early on how skilled MUNA was, from their heartfelt lyrics to their dynamic live shows, he added that since the team started working with the band in 2016 “we were just betting the talent’s gonna win over time and if it takes one year or if it takes five more years there’s just no way this isn’t going to work because they’re that fucking good.”

This is a band made up of three rising queer heroes whose story is rooted in perseverance, highlighted by the sweet success of redemption after being dropped by a major label, with a team that has always had its back.

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SAVING THE WORLD: MUNA plays Sydney WorldPride 2023’s Rainbow Republic at The Domain March 5, 2023. Photo by Jess Gleeson

MUNA’s world – aka the Munaverse – has continued to expand since that night at Asbury Lanes, from the lauded response to the band’s third studio album, a full-fledged North American headline tour in summer/fall 2022, debut Australian dates in March supporting Lorde’s “Solar Power Tour” and incredibly, the chance to play for stadium-sized crowds by landing a spot on Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour.”
“I mean, we talk about writing your own ticket, but when Taylor calls, you answer,” Pestik says.

And after all, the members of MUNA – lead vocalist Katie Gavin (she/her), guitarist Josette Maskin (she/her) and multi-instrumentalist/producer Naomi McPherson (they/them) – basically manifested the Swift support dates.

“We had been manifesting for some time that we really wanted to be doing more headline tours but if we did a support tour [in 2023] we wanted to open for Taylor Swift,” Gavin tells Pollstar two days after MUNA joined Swift on tour for the first time with a March 31 show at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“We were talking the other day, we don’t even really feel like we’re a big enough band to warrant being direct support on this tour but she likes our music and believed in us,” Gavin says. “She gave us that slot and it’s so humbling and it just feels amazing. Playing the first show the other night was really, really fun and it’s just really, really gratifying. It’s a big moment for us. So we’re trying to actually take it in.”

Maskin adds, “The only thing that was really hard was her stage is freaking huge and I don’t think any of us had been preparing to run so much and such a big distance but it was just fun. Her audience is so willing to go on a ride with any artists that she is bringing with her on tour. So I’m just excited to do it again. … To be honest, she’s changing our lives.”
MORE THAN SADDEST FACTORY: Naomi McPherson, Katie Gavin and Josette Maskin of MUNA perform at Lena Horne Bandshell at Prospect Park on June 15, 2022, in New York City. Photo by Kevin Kane / Getty Images

MUNA formed in 2013 while the members were studying at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. McPherson explains that she and Gavin were dating at the time (they’ve since broken up) and the three of them lived in the same off-campus housing building.

“Jo and Katie were in my apartment, we were just talking about music and then I played a little bit of guitar for whatever reason. We scheduled time to play together and Katie was doing cool stuff [with the digital audio workstation] Ableton and she was the only one who really knew how to make electronic music,” McPherson says.

“We just never stopped making music. We thought we were good because we were and we still think we’re good. And here we are,” they quip.

MUNA’s influences include Imogen Heap, the “Lilith Fair era of songwriters” such as Tracy Chapman (who Gavin calls her “north star”), Tori Amos and Robyn (who the band agrees is “Mother”). Gavin also points to The Cure and Tears For Fears, bands who showed that you could “make interesting, New Wave-y, electronic music involving guitars in a really experimental way.”

Gavin adds, “I remember with our first album, we were talking a lot about the idea that the personal is political. Because we were already out as a queer band from the jump, everything that we were doing was kind of inherently politicized. I’m very interested in people that can write songs that have social meaning that also really get to the heart and aren’t just songs that are coming from the head.”

After self-releasing the EP More Perfect in 2014, MUNA was signed to RCA in the U.S. and Columbia in the U.K. and by 2016 the band had secured its management and agency representation. Kolker says she was impressed with how phenomenal the songwriting and production was at such an early stage, with the lyrics “one of the things that just jumped off the page.”

The trio’s debut full-length studio album, 2017’s About U, includes a few tracks that have especially resonated with fans including “Loudspeaker,” which Gavin penned as an anthem of speaking one’s truth after being sexually assaulted and “I Know a Place,” which was written following the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

“When we wrote a song about a place where there weren’t any weapons and people could have fun and dance we weren’t imagining that [‘I Know A Place’] would take on the layer of meaning that it did after the Pulse shooting,” Gavin, the band’s primary lyricist, says. “And then, even now when we’re playing a Taylor Swift show in Texas, I know there are trans kids who have had to leave the state because they’re afraid of getting separated from their families because gender affirming care is now being regarded as a form of child abuse. I didn’t imagine that times would be so shitty, but the fact that these songs have been chosen by members of our community to be the places that they turn to to have some release or some sense of healing gives our lives a sense of meaning as a band.” 1
WE KNOW A PLACE: MUNA performs onstage during the “Star-Crossed: Unveiled Tour” with Kacey Musgraves at Arena on Feb. 20, 2022, in Los Angeles. Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images

MUNA has put effort into its live shows to ensure that in addition to being a fun night – which Marquis describes as something between the energy of a punk rock show and an electronic gig – that the performances provide a safe, welcome space.

“It is a real gay church experience,” Kolker says. “It’s inclusive, all about making everybody feel good. When you come from a place where you have felt marginalized in your life, it makes you want to do everything you can to help somebody not feel that way, even if it’s just for that moment.”

Roughly half a year after MUNA’s debut album was released, the band joined Harry Styles on his 2017 debut solo tour in North America and Europe. As Pestik notes, throughout their career MUNA’s been an “artist’s artist, with artists gravitating toward them.”

When routing MUNA’s headline dates, Marquis and Pestik have been deliberate about not solely concentrating shows in major coastal cities. Marquis says, “We [also] need to play St. Louis and Detroit and Atlanta and Austin and Phoenix and Kansas City. If you look at their tour last year there were a lot of places where I don’t think you’d assume the traditional MUNA fan is, but we always made it a point to build their business more widely than a lot of other artists do.”

Pestik adds, “On their early tours, we called some of these clubs in the Midwest after the show was confirmed to say you gotta make sure the bathrooms are gender neutral and [if they said] we’re not gonna do that it was like well, the band’s not gonna play.”

Following 2019’s Saves the World, MUNA was dropped by Universal Music Publishing Group and then RCA Records in early 2020.

The music industry is littered with casualties who’ve been dropped by their labels and a lesser band may have given up.

“Artist development on an industry level isn’t really what it used to be. If it’s not happening right away it can turn into a rough road for an artist,” Kolker says. “But we knew that there was something worth fighting for and that being dropped from the label and the publisher was not the end of the road, at all, for MUNA.”

In May 2021 MUNA became the second band signed to indie singer/songwriter Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records, an imprint of independent record label Dead Oceans – which Kolker calls “a game changer.”

MUNA joined Bridgers on the September 2021 portion of her “Reunion Tour,” the same month the band released the single “Silk Chiffon,” a playful, upbeat tune celebrating queer love, featuring vocals from Bridgers. The single is included on MUNA’s debut on Saddest Factory, which was released in June 2022.

“It’s our most expansive record in terms of sounds and genres that we were exploring. There’s songs that are really joyful and really melancholic. There’s songs that are really sure of themselves and songs that are full of self doubt. So really the only cohesive element is that they’re all MUNA,” Gavin says of the self-titled LP that incorporates synth-pop, new wave, disco and country pop.

“We did have a sense that this is a reintroduction, if not an introduction to a lot of people. So that is kind of funny because now we are being introduced to a lot of people literally on the stage of a fucking stadium.”

MUNA supported the album with a 2022 headline tour that boasted three sold-out nights at New York’s 1,150-capacity Irving Plaza Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 and wrapped with two hometown shows at Los Angeles’ 2,300-capacity Wiltern Oct. 25-26. Box office reports submitted to Pollstar in 2022 for MUNA include two nights at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., in September that sold 2,400 tickets and grossed $72,000 and an Aug. 8 show at Minneapolis’ First Avenue that sold 1,550 tickets and grossed $43,400.

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LIFE’S SO FUN: MUNA performs with Phoebe Bridgers (far right) during the 2021 Governors Ball Music Festival at Citi Field on Sept. 25, 2021, in New York City. After getting dropped from RCA, MUNA signed with Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records. Bridgers is featured on MUNA’s single “Silk Chiffon.” Photo by Taylor Hill / Getty Images / Governors Ball

“It’s been a really great year and a half for this team, and I’m just so excited about what’s going to come from here,” Kolker says. “I do feel like it’s only the beginning.” She adds that the most exciting thing is watching MUNA grow on a live level including being able to put money into production and lighting design.

“We’ve been a touring band for a really long time and we’ve just had really minimal production. It’s awesome to be able to have a bit more of a budget,” Gavin says. “We have Coachella coming up and we have been working with a creative director figuring out what we can add in terms of production design that we might be able to take with us for the rest of the ‘Eras Tour.’ And this is the first time that we’ve been able to have a new member on the team doing lighting. It’s really cool to get to be imaginative in that way.”

MUNA’s 2023 plans include the band’s debut at Austin City Limits, North American headline dates booked through July – including two nights at New York’s 3,000-capacity Terminal 5 on May 8-9 – and European dates in August including Reading and Leeds.

“This year is the year that we’ve dreamed up for them forever,” Pestik says.

Reflecting on milestones, Gavin brings up the first time the band used manifesting: “We had a big drawing of a bus on our whiteboard when we were making Saves the World because we wanted it so badly. We were so tired of touring in a van but you get to savor all of these moments and appreciate it so much more because we’ve climbed every step of the way.”

Maskin chimes in, “I do have one thing to add and let me tell you after that bus tour, we were back on a freaking van. Life puts you back in the van – but you make it back to the bus if you don’t quit.”