MUNA is Having a Blast Opening for Harry Styles: Audiences are 'Present, Supportive and Open'
MUNA are no strangers to being stuck in a van for hours on end. “We all have extreme cabin fever,” jokes guitarist Josette Maskin. Ten shows and one festival appearance (at last weekend's Austin City Limits) into their latest tour, MUNA are calling during a 12-hour drive to Dallas from Austin.
Despite the constant moving, spirits are giddy. “We went to Dave & Busters as a band,” says Maskin. “It's the best experience I've ever had in my whole life. I won a ball and a slinky.” Singer Katie Gavin interrupts, miffed: “I only won enough points to get sour straws.”
MUNA’s real prize came a few months ago, when Harry Styles fell in love with their debut album About U and invited the trio on the road with him for his debut solo headlining tour. On June 6, Styles tweeted: “@whereisMUNA will be joining me on tour this year in North America and Europe. Looking forward to it. H”. Virtually overnight, MUNA's Twitter following doubled, as Styles fans flocked to discover the LGBTQ-identifying band that meant a lot to their idol.
Since September 19 in San Francisco, MUNA has been setting the tone for Styles' shows. Guitarist Naomi Mcpherson describes their role as a form of tension relief. “[The fans] come excited to hear a band that Harry likes enough to bring on tour, even if they've never heard us before,” she explains. "Each show feels like everyone is ready to have the hypest night of their life.”
If there were any preconceptions or nerves about what it might be like to open up for Styles' very loud audiences, this trio eradicated them early. “At the very beginning of the tour I was under the impression that we needed to be taking ourselves more seriously: 'This is our chance!'” says Gavin. “After the second show I was like, 'Oh, we need to be doing the same thing we always do, we need to be ourselves.'”
It was early in the tour, at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, that MUNA first got the sort of induction from Styles' fans that resonated more deeply than the mere relief of an engaged audience. During their most anthemic song "I Know A Place" -- a rallying cry for safe environments -- the crowd stood up and raised their hands. At the DAR Constitutional Hall in Washington D.C., the fans put their iPhone lights up during the ballad "Everything.” “Every show, I have been so wonderfully taken aback by how gracious [Harry's] audience has been with us,” says Maskin. "Every show they are present, supportive and open.”
Gaining new listeners and new fans in their own self-named 'MUNAverse' is a welcome advantage to the Styles spotlight, but the group is also encouraged by the fact that the more pensive songs on About U continue to grow and take on more meaning with the new crowds as well. “After what happened in Las Vegas,” says Maskin, “every time I play [‘I Know a Place’] for an audience who's engaged with us, it hits me closer to home. It sounds weird, but I feel lucky to be sharing them with new people.”
The MUNA members have been lauded for their ability to weave different eras of pop music into their electronic-based sound. Being on the Styles tour has had them chewing over how his performance decisions speak to the potential of pop music in 2017. For the fans, for instance, every night is a celebration -- particularly for the younger females in the audience, who experience a party for girlhood and pride in one's identity.
“I was on the eliptical at some hotel we were at, listening to a podcast about climate deniers,” offers Gavin. “There was a quote from George Bush Sr. -- right after he won the election, he said, 'We can now speak the most majestic words a democracy has to offer: the people have spoken.' As soon as I heard that quote, it reminded me of Harry. I see this sea of young people every night who support this person with a simple message, and that's beautiful.”
“The little we've got to know him, he truly embodies what he's trying to tell his fans,” adds Maskin. “It makes me want us to truly commit to sticking with our values and not just talking about it but living it.”
McPherson says that the group has been ruminating on the concept of fandom a lot while traveling. “Fandom intricately relates to activism,” she says. “They make shit happen in such a real way.” Recently, for example, fans came together online to help Cardi B reach the top of the Hot 100 chart with “Bodak Yellow." “That is an example of the people casting their vote via streaming services,” says Gavin. “Fandom activism shows that young people are in control of the music industry now.”
Up next for MUNA: the European leg of Styles’ tour, which begins on Oct. 25 in Paris. What are they anticipating over there? “Lots of bread,” jokes Maskin. “We're excited for the food. We've never toured Europe before, so it'll be nice to be in the car for ten hours looking at signs in a different language. Even though we are jaded old farts, doing something new will soothe our old crusty souls. We'll get to form a new European shell.”