Dream pop feels inherently appropriate as the soundtrack to a first year of college. The genre is tinged with the shoegaze-y sadness of leaving your old home behind but also the ambient, ethereal quality of having an entirely new world in front of you. UT freshman Justin Viera, who plays under the moniker Muah, may be the perfect vessel for this genre.
Story by Ignacio Martinez
Photos by Kristin Evans
Viera began making music under the Muah handle in late 2015. Noticing the lack of rising dream pop artists, Viera says he wanted to fill the gap in the resurging genre, following in the footsteps of established bands like Beach House.
Muah released a self-titled, four-song EP earlier this year. Creative force Viera provides the guitar and vocals for the dreamy tracks, with the help of bassist Eli Olson. Coming a long way from playing DJ sets with MIDI controllers in his kitchen, Muah now plays regular shows at local venues and frequents the West Campus co-op circuit.
Before coming to Austin, Viera lived in McAllen, Texas, a city within the region affectionately known as “The Valley.” Running right along the Texas-Mexico border, “The Valley” serves as a hot-bed of cross-cultural pollination for the Chicano youth living there. Viera, very much a product of this environment, describes his time in McAllen fondly. “Growing up in a place that has a lot of cultural background made it easy to be inspired and creative,” Viera says. It is this inclination toward the arts that pushed Viera to seriously create music as early as his junior year of high school.
Viera’s interest in music was also inspired by his family. “My dad was a band director and always played in the church choir,” Viera says. “His two main instruments are piano and trumpet, but I thought those were lame when I was trying to be an emo sad kid in high school, so I decided guitar would be the coolest thing to do.” Viera says that he now realizes subversion has been a part of his artistic identity since the very beginning.
McAllen’s immersion in Latino culture also includes a strict adherence to traditional Catholic ideologies. Viera says that despite the amicable nature and strong sense of community in area, “In McAllen, being queer is not exactly the easiest to express.” After years of safeguarding his intersectional identity from the outside world, coming out was a cathartic experience for Viera.
He says he had his first real epiphany in regards to making music shortly after doing so. “I believe it was the summer leading into my senior year, and I was going through a lot of depression and sickness at the time in my life,” Viera says. “I had just come out to all my friends the past September on my 17th birthday, and I was finally living an open life about who I was. I felt a lot was on my mind, and I had to get it out somehow.”
Writing from personal experience, much of Muah’s music deals with the hardships a member of the LGBTQ community faces. Viera is strong proponent of social progress through the creation of art that people who face marginalization can identify with. As Muah progresses as a musician, he hopes to serve as an inspiration for other queer chicano youth back home in “The Valley,” revealing the artistic achievements available to them when they fully accept who they are.