What is a year without a "song of the summer" or, in the very least, something to dance to in a crowd of people?
Obviously, this post-pandemic summer is different than any others — a time when racial justice movements are underway and social distancing needs to be taken seriously. After months of pure isolation, many are realizing that we need each other now more than ever, desperately clinging to any human connection. Wouldn't it be great to have a song that reflects this?
Enter "Bodies," an epic dance track by queer pop-rockers, MUNA, (singer Katie Gavin, guitarist/synth player Naomi McPherson and guitarist Josette Maskin) and electronic DJ duo, The Knocks (Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner and James "JPatt" Patterson).
With lyrics penned by Gavin while rollerblading and supported with instrumentals created by The Knocks, "Bodies" was a collaborative effort — one that both bands describe as "effortless" and "magical." From its glistening synths to its massive beat drops, you can hear why.
Gavin's ethereal, layered vocals coincide with nostalgic lyrics that yearn for a bygone era of meeting sweaty concertgoers at basement shows — something we see now that we took for granted. "Bodies" describes the summer we almost had, expected to have, and can still somewhat have, if we find some sense of joy in our current situation, although it was ironically written pre-pandemic.
The track (and single-shot visual of Gavin rollerblading) arrived July 31, after both bands decided to delay its initial June release to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. What MUNA and The Knocks have realized since is how we need the sentiment of "Bodies" now more than ever — a song reminding us how important true connection is after spending months at a physical and emotional distance.
PAPER sat down with both bands as they reminisced on the surreal, wholesome creation process of "Bodies," how each member has spent time in quarantine and ultimately, how powerful dance music is in bringing people closer together.
I've been dancing to "Bodies" nonstop. Could you talk through its creation process and your individual roles?
Ben (B-Roc): I've been a huge fan of MUNA for a while. We have a lot of mutual friends and we were heading out to LA to work on our record. I hit up our A&R last minute— we already had our sessions booked and I was like, "I really want to get in with [MUNA]." I had this weird tingling that I knew we'd get something awesome. We had a track that we had made — a little instrumental start. You always make tracks when you're getting ready for a session with the people in mind. There are always a few options, but you hope that the one that you want them on is the one they want [to be on, also]. The one we really wanted [MUNA] on was the one they liked the most. Katie then took the track home and started vibing out with it.
Katie Gavin: I really liked that track and beat. I actually picked it and wanted it to work because I really love rollerblading and I thought, This is the right BPM and tempo for me to groove to it. I'm still learning how to collaborate. I think every artist knows it's a long process, but I was comfortable enough with them to say, "Hey, can I take the track and have time with it tomorrow morning?" I [usually] need time with [a song] to let it be revealed and what the song is going to be about, so I took the instrumental in my headphones while I was blading the next morning. The lyrics then started coming to me. I knew the way I wanted the words to sound and then Naomi, Josette and I went back to their spot the next day, and I sang them what the idea was. It was, overall, one of those rare experiences — I don't think we've ever had an experience collaborating where it felt like it happened so easily.
Ben (B-Roc): The best ones really happen that way.
Katie: Yeah! [Laughs] It feels like that never happens. They liked what I came up with and we fleshed out the rest of the song that day. We were talking about how weird it is to reflect back on that day because it was the first inkling of what was about to hit us, in terms of the pandemic. We were thinking about going to Saddle Ranch, a bar, that night. We were joking about touching elbows with each other rather than hugging goodbye — in some ways with no idea what was about to hit us. The actual session happened really naturally.
That was right before the pandemic hit?
Katie: I'm thinking it was the first week of March.
Ben (B-Roc): We rented a house in LA for the month to write. We were joking that we quarantined ourselves up there before we even knew that was going to be a real thing. We didn't really see anyone or go anywhere, we just stayed in the house and people came to us, so when we left it was like going back into more quarantining. It's also really ironic because if you listen to the song now, it feels like we wrote it about the time, because it's about being nostalgic for dance parties and that time of being in a sweaty place with a bunch of people moving, and it wasn't about that. It was really about the pure form of that nostalgia, not related to COVID-19, so it's interesting.
Naomi McPherson: It's crazy how it all went down. Josette and I were talking about how our New Years' resolution this year was to be more social, so everything has been a big dunk on that [laughs].
Josette Maskin: That was our last chance to go out! My girlfriend was sick and we were thinking, "Oh, maybe next weekend." Next weekend has still yet to happen [laughs].
I know you delayed the release of "Bodies" to focus on the current racial justice movements. Could you expand on how you used this time for activism?
James (JPatt): We felt like it was a weird time to be releasing music and taking the focus away from what was needed — we felt our voices needed to be more focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and making sure people were being made aware of that. We made the decision to push back the release. I'm in New York and I was attending protests during that time and I've been following resources, retweeting and reposting them, and I still am. It didn't feel right to be putting out music in that moment.
Katie: Ultimately what we all came to agree on is that "normal life" is not a thing anymore. It's not like we're going to wait for this to "blow over" because it absolutely shouldn't. It should be our new reality to be in the streets and protesting until shit actually changes. This has been going on for obviously centuries, but I remember when Trayvon Martin was killed and the Mike Brown verdict came in, and it's really amazing to see that it's come to a head for a lot of people and not just a certain percentage of people. It seems everyone is feeling inspired by each other and what everyone is doing — showing up in the streets. I'm hoping that can continue until we're all free.
Is there anything you hope listeners will take away from the track?
Ben (B-Roc): I think it's a great escapism song. I love to listen to it when I'm running or driving. The second it starts, you feel like you're with Katie in this place, talking about where she is [in the song,] in the suburbs and reminiscing about the past summer. It definitely hits a whole lot harder now, especially with what's going on. I hope that's what people can get from it, a chance to— no matter what you're doing— close your eyes, dance, go nuts and feel like you're in that place. A lot of our earlier shows were done in sweaty basements and places without real sound systems, with fire codes probably being broken, and ["Bodies"] just reminded me of these times that we maybe took for granted. Now, you feel like you took it for granted, but it makes you really appreciate it that much more.
Katie: One of the realizations in the midst of the pandemic and the uprising, I think both of these global events are making me aware of the way that we're all really interdependent. The new thing about the way people are showing up for this uprising and revolution is that there's that intersectionality and the idea of "I need to support." As a queer person, I need to support queer people everywhere, of all races. The idea of needing each other shows up in a totally different way. For me, personally, I'm quarantined and I live alone, so going through this experience, you are aware of how much you need to be around other people and to be able to physically touch other people. We need each other, so I want this song to be a celebration of that, of how important it is for us to be interconnected and to recognize that that is a truth of what it means to be a human.
What was the energy like creating this song as two separate, beloved bands?
Naomi: I think we're all in love [all laugh.] I saw them and it was—
Ben (B-Roc): It was love at first sight [laughs].
Naomi: Thank you for calling us beloved! That's nice to hear. This was one of those things that worked. When Josette and I came to the session the second day and we heard the track we were like, "This is cool," and Katie sang the "way-oh" part at the end of the track and we thought, "This is going to be a slap." It felt good.
Ben (B-Roc): That's what everyone was saying. "Way-oh" was the moment! I remember specifically when she started singing that, I think we had a night the night before where everyone was hungover. The other producer we worked with was definitely still asleep in the basement.
James (JPatt): Oh, yeah [laughs].
Ben (B-Roc): He hadn't come up yet and Katie was singing the idea. I literally remember JPatt in the kitchen making cereal or something because our studio there was in the middle of the house. The second she started singing the "way-oh's," JPatt and I were like—
James (JPatt): "That's it!"
Ben (B-Roc): Yeah! We had this eye contact like, "Yep, this is fucking awesome."
James (JPatt): Like, "Record that, record that!"
Ben (B-Roc): It was one of those moments, and that is such a rare, cool thing, especially after coming from and sitting in [so many] sessions with people where you don't know if it's going to work and then you're stuck sitting in a room with them for six hours making something that no one is ever going to hear. I remember that snapshot moment of JPatt standing in the kitchen, half-hungover, saying, "This is fire" [laughs]. Then, [the other producer] woke up from downstairs and the track changed so much. The heart of the song happened so fast, it was a really cool moment. For me, I was pumped and I fucking knew it. I wanted the session to happen so bad and I wanted it to be good. It was definitely an awesome moment when it all clicked.
Katie: It was also cool to see the way that y'all work together in terms of everybody with their different session open and sending each other files and the way that you guys build a track up. The whole process was interesting because of that melody that we had before I wrote the lyrics over it. I was singing random melodies over the track for a long time and I think you can't really do that if you don't feel comfortable in the environment, so I'm grateful. MUNA started because it was hard for us to find people that we could feel comfortable jamming around. It's cool to be able to be in a place where there are other people I feel safe being creative with. I think that's meaningful and it's not a small deal.
James (JPatt): We fell straight into that comfort level almost immediately. Usually when we do these sessions with people, there is a day of feeling each other out, they start a track later in the session and the next day you get back to it, but [this time] it was like, "Hey, you're awesome, let's make a great song," and that's what happened.
Ben (B-Roc): I think it also helped that we were aware of each other. When Katie came in, she was like, "Oh, we used to listen to your song, 'Classic,'" and I was like, "I've listened to your album like 10 million times." We had this weird connection where we both also came from organic places as bands or a duo, or whatever we are. I know [MUNA] met in college, they were a college band, they've really hit the pavement with touring, they've been doing it for a while and have this credibility and history and they're not some new one. We've been around for 10 years also, so it felt right, people from completely different spaces — but also — who share similar experiences whether it's touring, or we both put out albums and haven't had smash hits off either of them, but we both feel like we're still getting started. We got to share a lot of anecdotes and stories about dealing with labels and touring. It felt like we had been friends before.
Katie: I'm really grateful that James and Ben let us fulfill our dreams for the song's video. We got to work with our friends in LA, to make what we could during the pandemic. That was another element that I feel grateful for. That's something that has come out of the pandemic, when people just try and do what they can with what they have available, you remember how fulfilling that is. I'm happy that we have this video of skating because that's really how this song was written.
Ben (B-Roc): Full circle AF!
Photo courtesy of The Knocks/ MUNA