Since forming in 2011, New York-based powerhouse MS MR have seized the music world in the throes of their unique variety of dream pop and dark wave. With two studio albums under their belt, it’s truly been a journey for vocalist Lizzy Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow.
Set to appear at Groovin The Moo and a string of sideshows, Plapinger sat down to talk about finding yourself, taking her leap of faith with co-writing on the new record, and bouncing back after losing half their second album.
How does the NY scene compare to immersing yourself in Aussie culture and playing here for us?
It’s a totally different beast. New York crowds are generally pretty jaded and hard to win over, but every time we’ve played in Australia, the crowds are fucking insane in the best way possible. Just super enthusiastic listeners, really early adopters of music. I think some of our favourite shows have been in Australia.
We’re pretty stoked with dipping out of Melbourne and Sydney and getting to headline shows in Brisbane and Perth. It’s going to be a really awesome, new experience for us.
So neither you nor Max actually set out on this path. You cofounded the music label Neon Gold and Max wanted to be a dance choreographer. What was it like making music together for the first time?
It was really awesome. What was so cool was that neither of us had ever made music before. We both knew we loved it and had some sort of relationship to it. So to be able to just not be so technical about it but allow ourselves to be emotional and visceral was really beautiful. I think we’ve maintained that relationship even now.
But there was a naïve magic to what we were doing. “Bones” was the first song we ever wrote and to this day it’s a core MS MR song… it really laid the foundation for everything that came after it. People spend their whole lives searching for music partners and there’s something lovely about the fact that Max and I fell into one another’s worlds.
It’s so much time to spend together that it’s hard to manoeuvre between all the different responsibilities of our relationship. At the end of the day, to be able to pull back from our duties and just be friends to one another is the most important thing. It’s a bit weird now that he’s moved to LA because we’re still in constant communication.
It’s not always easy, it’s like having a twin brother. But this journey wouldn’t have been as enjoyable without one another. Especially to share terrible moments when everything’s going to shit, it’s great to have someone to lean back on and commiserate with.
Finding music partners and yourself as well can be really challenging and you were on that journey making Secondhand Rapture (2013). How did you guys ‘find yourselves’?
With the first record, because we hadn’t made music before we didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about what we wanted the music to be like. All we could do was go from Step A to B and C and see what came, and each song was a bit of a surprise because we never totally knew where it would take us.
There was something really powerful about approaching the second record, being better musicians and able to take our experiences of being on the road for three years prior and inject that mindset into what we were doing. There was a more immediate nature because we could write the pop songs that we really wanted… But all the while, still maintaining this element of allowing ourselves to be as free as we wanted to be… that’s really important.
I love the contrast you guys bring. How does that play out on How Does it Feel in terms of electronic and organic instrumentation?
It’s something that’s always been challenging and what Max does really beautifully as a producer. We wanted to pay a lot more attention to the percussion and the bass, so our drummer [Zach Nicita]… it was really awesome to get his perspective. Max and he spent a lot of time really picking apart sounds and sampling unusual things within the studio and then tampering with them in an electronic way.
One of my favourites is the percussion on No Guilt in Pleasure, which has a pop, wasteland, industrial feel to it that’s fucking awesome.
There’s also some co-writing on this record with Tove Lo and MNDR, which you were “really nervous” about doing. What was that like?
It was definitely really daunting, and because I’m not that experienced of a writer. So was I going to be too nervous about speaking about my ideas, or feel like someone else was injecting their own voice into what we were doing? That was really naïve of me, because what was so great about having someone else is they’re there to reinforce your voice. People like Tove Lo and MNDR… you trust and respect them because musically you already know you like what they’ve done.
So it ended up being a huge learning experience for me, and opened my mind to working with more people in the future. To be the best version of yourself, you need to work with people who make you uncomfortable and push you forward.
I’m really glad that I took the jump.
Yeah, absolutely! Now you and Max have both talked about performing highlights like playing Splendour in 2013 and your first TV show [Letterman], but what have been your personal milestones offstage?
One of my favourite moments was very early on in our career. I’m born and raised in London and used to listen to XFM every day on the way to school, and there was a DJ called Zane Lowe. He was my local DJ growing up, and introduced me to probably every band that I know and love. When “Hurricane” first came out, he was one of the first people to play it, and it was such a mind-blowing experience.
What have been some of the low points on tour that have been a real learning curve?
The fact that we’ve been robbed three times on the road is just soul-crushing. We did a show in Miami a couple months into recording the new record, and my computer got taken, and every song and lyric I’ve ever written was just gone. Half the record was lost. There wasn’t really anything to do except get a new computer, get back into the studio and refresh. There wasn’t even time to worry that it happened, we had to keep pushing on.
It was really upsetting, but I think we came out stronger from it and ended up writing “All the Things Lost” about that experience, and that’s probably one of my favourite songs we’re ever recorded.
So what’s next for you guys?
We’ve been writing, but we’re conscious that people move so quickly through music. It takes a really long time to put an album together and it’s about bringing as much attention to it as possible. We put so much into it, we don’t want it to be just a six-month campaign. So definitely keeping on tour, and we have a few more videos coming together, which is something we get so much pleasure out of doing.
We’re experimenting with some other fields, potentially sound-tracking a short film and talking to a producer about working on a musical. I don’t really know what will come together. But this world has opened up so much further than we ever thought it would, and it’ll be fun to keep expanding people’s expectations of what we can do as a band.