Rising star MUNYA on her first year making bedroom pop

[For those of you who aren’t familiar with her work, go listen to the songs “Hotel Delmano” and “Benjamin,” before you continue reading this.]

The Band Room inside KXLU is a performance space. It’s hosted thousands of live sessions throughout the decades, and it’s about to host one more. Except this time, if the artist tries to sing, I’m afraid I’d have to ask her to stop. 

MUNYA has bleached hair and a Space Camp sweatshirt on. A friendly smile lights up her face.

I’ve joined her in a Google Hangout and can see the makings of her Montreal apartment behind her. She comments on the vinyl stacks behind me and, lifting my computer, I show her how they nearly touch the ceiling. I explain the room’s purpose, and her response surprises me.

“I never create in a studio. I made my first EP at my sister’s house in her kitchen. I was living with her and I have no place to stay,” MUNYA elaborates. “And I was just setting up my stuff while she was at work cause I didn’t want to bother her.”

Through a thick and melodious Quebec French accent, MUNYA explains how whenever she attempts to work in a studio, she ends up ditching it for the comforts of creating in her own bed. And who can blame her. I think we would all make music sitting criss-cross on our comforters if it sounded like hers.

“I usually start my day in the morning, so I’ll make coffee, make breakfast, and then I light a candle so it doesn’t smell like toast, eggs,” MUNYA details. “And then I set up my stuff, like my gear and all my pedals, my guitar, everything, my keyboard, and my journal.” 

She keeps a journal for inspiration, for “ideas and drawings and everything,” and she’s always had one, as far back as she can remember, but not nearly as far back as she’s been playing music.

Growing up, MUNYA was the only artist in the family, so her mother made sure she cultivated her talents starting at age four.

“My mom pushed me. She really encouraged me to play piano. So, everything I knew was classical music; Beethoven, Debussy, a lot of pianists,” she explains. ”They were big, big, big influences for me.”   

When she left home to study Jazz at the University of Montreal, her years of classical studies became less consuming and more so a foundation and jumping-off point.

“Then when I discovered that there was more than classical, I was like, oh my God. And I really fell in love with jazz music and I fell in love with Bill Evans, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and, oh my God, George Benson and Quincy Jones.”

MUNYA is obsessed in jazz, and it shows in her own stylings. She raves about the complexities of the instrumentals and the intuitiveness of the improvisation.

“I still have this dream of doing a Jazz tour where I just play the drums. Probably not right now. I need to tour as MUNYA,” she jokes. “Maybe one day.”

When MUNYA found electronic music, she began a battle of the genres in her mind and creative career. She loved so many different kinds of music and picking just one became an unavoidable and creaky bridge to cross as an artist. 

At this point, she was playing with several different local bands, but couldn’t perfect her own sound.

“It’s hard to start something and finish it. Yeah, we always start and then like you’re so excited about it. Then you have a good idea and then like you have to spend time and you just need a bridge or you know,” MUNYA explains. “And after a week I listened to it again and I’m like, ah, this is shit and I just deleted it.”

It wasn’t until she got a chance gig at a friend’s pop-up that she sat down and fleshed out her first real 30 minute set.

“I think I had one song and she said, you want to do a set? And I was like, yeah, sure,” MUNYA mused. “And then I said yes without realizing what it was. And I had to make like a full 30 minute set of original music. And I was like, what the hell? But then that’s good cause I got a kick in the pants I needed.”

After that show, which was a “shit show” in MUNYA’s own words, she realized she wanted to take it seriously. She quit her job, moved in with her sister and made her first EP, entitled North Hatley which contained three songs. It was shortly followed by the release of two singles, “Hotel Delmano” and “If I’m Gone Tomorrow (It’s Because of Aliens).” 

And still with all that behind her, she has no idea how it all came together.

“How do you make music? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m in the zone.  It’s tough to write a good song. And I’m not comparing myself to Madonna, but right now I’m wondering how did I wrote those songs?” posits MUNYA. “It’s as if I was possessed or something; it’s all very intuitive. It’s very spontaneous and I’ve never wrote a song like thinking it’s going to be in English or in French. I write the chords, the melody, the drums, and then suddenly, I have words coming in my head.”

She knows better than anyone how hard it is to trust oneself as an artist. She explains that slowing down through meditation has been a good start.

“it’s very similar, like this zone where you don’t think about tomorrow, you don’t think about yesterday. You’re just in the present moment and it’s very fluid. You just do it.”

She gushes about a book she’s reading called Becoming Supernatural which explores the physical aspects of meditation including contracting one’s muscles and diaphragm, as well as the metal components of letting go of fear.

“We’re just so scared and we’re just so insecure. It just feels good to think about something else,” MUNYA discloses.

We both share a laugh. Ain’t that the truth.

The fact of the matter is MUNYA, like most people, has been and will continue to be afraid, but what’s brilliant about her is that she hasn’t let it stop her. 

She let’s this fear guide her out of her comfort zone and into the spotlight where she can share her music with us.

Not only that, but her art too. That’s right, she drew all the artwork for her releases.

“ I enjoy making drawings more than making music,” she reveals. 

“That’s controversial,” I kid.

She argues that sometimes there’s this pressure with music, “but drawing, it’s really like meditation which takes a while.”

The cover for the North Hatley LP took upwards of 60 to 70 hours. 

Well, art might be more of a comfort to her than creating music, that and the actual act of performing. She’s toured up a storm in the last year or so, hitting all the major U.S. cities.

Her favorites to tour in so far have all been along the West Coast; San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland. One of her favorite shows was playing the Chapel in S.F.

As far as festivals go, she’s played her fair share of them, most recently SXSW.

Despite the fact that mixed reviews abound for SXSW as far as artist compensation, MUNYA looks at her time at the festival fondly.

“It was very inspiring to be there with all of the people that I know because we’re on the same playlist or because I like their music or we had the same showcases,” sighed MUNYA.

Even while being a smaller act respectively, a good number of her fans came to watch her perform.

“I met two people, they drove an hour and a half to go see my 30 minutes show. I was like no, I felt bad for them,” MUNYA teased.

For an optimistic performer such as herself, the positives outweigh the negatives, but she couldn’t help but mention how playing 7 shows in 4 days with only 15 minutes to set up for each show is stressful.

“It’s a very good way to learn how to set up your equipment quickly, and how to deal with technical problems. I remember one night I did a show and then my guitar wasn’t working,” MUNYA recalled. “So, I just took the microphone and started singing and my manager told me to stop.”

As far as compensation goes, she acknowledges that she was lucky to have some for two of her shows, but admitted that “it’s very expensive for an artist to go” especially with hotels boosting prices. “We struggle, we spend so much money on touring and transportation and all that stuff.  I understand,” she maintained.

MUNYA is a glass half full kind of artist, and she will ultimately see the positive side of any situation she finds herself in. While it’s her inability to do anything else that keeps her going, it’s her attitude and talent that have made her a success.

MUNYA’’s Inspiration Playlist: Men I Trust, Barrie, Crumb, Japanese Breakfast, Mac Demarco, Infinite Bisous, Cocteau Twins, HOMESHAKE, Omar Apollo, Morabeza Tobacco and Ariel Pink.

Dream Collab: Cardi B.

Upcoming shows: MUNYA is playing at the Osheaga Music & Arts Festival in Montreal on August 2nd. Get your tickets here if you’re lucky enough to be in the area.

Words and Interview by Jenny Lee.

Image © Aurélie Jouan