Go to any indie music festival and there are bound to be hordes of musicians donning skinny jeans and beards. Take a look at MS MR on stage, and one could witness a rainbow-haired singer with the biggest grin in a scuba-diving outfit and a keyboardist wearing white mesh boxers. It’s a peculiar but refreshing sight… a band noticeably having fun on stage.
Positioned aside from the prim and polished pop divas, Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow have been providing a fresh take on mainstream pop in recent years. They don’t shy away from a catchy melody, but hold onto an underlying broodiness both thematically and musically, such as in the single “Bones,” which was appropriately featured in the season three trailer for Game of Thrones.
Whether the New Yorkers are incorporating cheerleaders vomiting confetti in the music video for “Fantasy,” or a bloody, impeccably manicured hand holding a cigarette on the cover of the EP Candy Bar Creep Show, MS MR have carved out a niche for juxtaposing light-colored visuals and brooding themes.
Considering the duo has only been a band for three years, the live shows pack an energy and exude a confidence usually reserved for bands well into several albums. After an exhilarating set at Chipotle’s Cultivate Festival near Dallas, MS MR chatted backstage about creating a visual identity, the status of recording a new record, and lots of love for the band Jungle.
So how does it feel knowing that Secondhand Rapture… it’s almost been a year and a half since it’s been out?
Lizzy: It feels crazy! I like, simultaneously feel like no time has passed at all and it came out yesterday, but I also feel like we’ve been on the road for five years.
Max: [Laughs] We’re ready to get some new music out there too, you know? It’s like, everyone always says … do we really get sick of playing the same songs, and yes, we are sick of playing them, but I don’t feel like I hate them or anything. I feel like I love performing them and everything, but I don’t know, I want to like mix it up a little bit, and we’ve grown a lot as musicians, so I’m pumped to get new music out there too.
Yeah, I see that. Each time I see you guys you get more excited and more pumped up. Is it just you’re feeling more comfortable on stage?
Lizzy: I think it’s an element of just like, yeah, definitely getting more comfortable and growing as performers at each show. I also think because we’ve been playing the songs, for a year now, you’re so confident doing what you’re doing you allow yourself to be fully invested and aware of the crowd, and that’s the best feeling.
Max: You can just lose yourself to it…
Max: …And not worry about playing the right notes all of the time, or mostly. [Laughs]
How much do you rehearse before you go on a leg of a tour?
Max & Lizzy: Not at all. [Laughs]
Lizzy: We should do it more! Yeah, we really don’t.
Max: The problem is, like yeah… it works out just fine.
Yeah, it works fine. Like I know, I head you last time… you did a LCD Soundsystem cover, how long have you been doing the Arctic Monkeys cover [of “Do I Wanna Know”]?
Max: Probably a year, maybe?
Lizzy: I think that we started doing it maybe since December- maybe it was before that.
Max: I don’t know, it’s been about a year. It’s a great one.
Lizzy: We love that record. We love them…
Max: …And people always sing along.
It’s a good pop record.
Lizzy: Yeah, definitely, and we get to get our most sultry on it, which I really like.
And I love how the color schemes for your videos are very pastel and bright, but yet you still have these dark undertones in your music. Is that something conscious that you’ve created, or is that just something that kind of happened?
Max: It was totally conscious, and I think we’ve… while we were writing the music too, you know, we found that the sort of clashing moments that were the most inspirational for us, [were] where we were writing these sort of dark songs, but with sort of a pop sheen over them. We really wanted to throw them out to the visual side of things. The Candy Bar Creep Show EP cover is sort of like the best example of that, just a bloodied hand holding a cigarette, but pastels and pretty coloring.
Lizzy: It’s like Technicolor gothic.
I like that. Are you thinking about that already for like, the next album? Are you going to continue with that, or thinking about a different way to visualize it?
Lizzy: I think we’re…we’ve already evolved, already as musicians and visually, so I think it’ll be an extension of what we’ve already done but we’re definitely always looking for ways to push ourselves and take it further.
Max: And I’m proud of the fact that… I feel like it’s a rich, visual palette for us to play around with, but I think we’re excited to continue exploring these ideas.
Who usually does your music videos, or who comes up with the ideas for your music videos? Is it a collaboration?
Lizzy: It’s mostly Max and me throwing around ideas, and we come up with like, the seed of an idea, and then we pick a lot of, I don’t know, we go around looking for new artists or directors who are sort of trying to establish themselves, and so we’ve been lucky that all of the videos that we’ve done to this point have really been with up and coming directors at the time but actually now are very established, which is really exciting to be a part of.
Did they watch the other music videos when they were directing them, because it feels like they’re kind of… they’re very cohesive?
Max: Ah, that’s funny. That’s good to hear.
Lizzy: That’s great, that’s good to hear. I don’t know that I feel that, so I’m glad to hear that [Laughs]. I don’t think so. I think personally I feel like they’re all like a different, weird turn away from each other, but they also feel rooted in us. I hope with each video you sort of get more and more of a sense of our personality and the aesthetic, and that is definitely what we want to continue with on the next record.
Yeah, I like also… I know that a lot of the discussion has been about your style and stuff like that. Do you think about that along with the production? Is that part of it to you, or is that just something separate?
Lizzy: It’s something that we think about in that we just have a lot of fun with it, and it’s something that we’re really excited about it. I think we’re always constantly like putting images visually, being like “oh my God, I was in Forever 21 and I saw this jacket.” Like, that’s just sort of who we are, but it is something we think about.
Max: And when we’re on a stage like this where, you know, there’s not an opportunity to bring our own production, or, you know, make the stage our own, fashion’s a great way sort of set the tone in a way, and especially in the first couple of years when we had no money and we were winging it. It’s a good way to have some statement right off the bat.
Lizzy: And we get a little bit more creative license, or we think we can get away with things that we can’t in day to day life, like today on stage. This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever bought, it’s perfect!
Max: And I literally wore mesh boxers on stage.
Lizzy: Yeah! [Laughs]
And in Dallas most people would stare at you but when you’re here it doesn’t matter!
Lizzy: I don’t wear a scuba-diving outfit around town usually, but on stage it’s all appropriate!
So because of that, now that you’ve had more success and notoriety, with the next tour- I know it’s a little ways away, but would you put on a bigger production perhaps?
Max: Absolutely. That’s definitely a priority for the next cycle. I think with that we felt like that was the one area that we didn’t get to fully develop on this first record, definitely. Because our visual identity is so integral to the rest of who we are, we definitely want to bring that to the stage and play around with it, but that is the idea, so we’ve already started bouncing back and forth.
So you’re kind of in the early stages right now?
Lizzy: We are, which is exciting, because at this point it’s just like, the dream collage, like this is what we’d like to happen and then you get to get more realistic as it goes on, so now..
Max: We have our Madison Square Garden vision, and that’s what we’re working with right now, understanding we’ll have to pare down, just a little bit. [Laughs]
Lizzy: No pressure.
Max: No, six-month plan. [Laughs]
So do you write on the road, or is that more of a studio plan that you have?
Lizzy: Max can write on the road. I have a much more difficult time with it, but we’ve mostly been in the studio writing for the past couple of months, and I think that’s where we sort of feel like our best writing is done. It’s hard though, you’re so tired and distracted.
Max: It’s a different thing. We’ve only done one bus tour, but that could be more time and more flexibility. Hopefully we’ll start integrating that a little bit more into the touring part of things, because …sometimes you feel like you sort of lose touch with one side of it. I want there to be more back and forth if possible, maybe that’s right as we are… we’ll keep experimenting with stuff.
So are you using a producer, or will you self-produce again?
Lizzy: We’re self-producing again, yeah.
Max: We brought in our drummer back to sort of become the … our everything. [Laughs]
[To Lizzy] I know that you started Neon Gold Records. Has that helped you when you started navigating the music industry and seeing prospective record labels?
Lizzy: Definitely. I feel like it’s really nice that it’s creative. It’s not really separate and really unique to sort of Max and I’s relationship, but it’s definitely been really helpful in terms of creating a campaign and thinking of what articles we want for ourselves, and what logistics are to get to that place, and knowing the sort of control we can take over it.
Max: I spent a lot of time as a… if I had been going into it as a solo artist without Lizzy’s knowledge I wouldn’t have known how much power you have as an artist, and I think a lot of people when first starting out don’t realize that. They think that once you sign a record deal it’s all going to be taken care of, or you maintain a…
Or a million dollars comes floating in…
Lizzy: Yeah, you see it and you realize it actually…the best work that ever done is actually stuff that comes direct from you and you can do it yourself.
So, are you playing… you’re still going around the U.S., right? You’re still touring about North America?
Lizzy: We’re doing one-off shows basically every weekend. We’re really in the studio right now, so we’re really off the road, and doing these things here and there.
Max: It’s sort of nice to write during the week and then go perform on the weekend.
Lizzy: It’s sort of like sharpening your teeth.
Max: Except we have no days off.
Lizzy: That’s fine, we don’t even really notice it.
Max: It’s the weekend.
Do you have like, pet peeves with each other because you’re [both] on the road so much?
Lizzy: I don’t think so. I mean, like, I think when you’re spending a lot of time with anyone it gets to a certain point where you just understand the other person’s space and needs and wants, but I feel like we’ve definitely grown… we can read each other well.
Max: Our relationship is better than I think- it certainly hasn’t gotten worse. You’d think as we’re like on the road a longer we’d get worse and worse, but I feel like we’re in such a strong relationship that it doesn’t feel weird.
So also, what do you think your music would sound like if you were both solo artists, and only worked by yourselves?
Lizzy: That is a really interesting question. Um…
Positive or negative…
Lizzy: I think mine would be more a cappella and beat-based.
Max: But you also like guitars a lot.
Lizzy: I do. I do, yeah. I wonder if it would take more of a rock edge to it.
Max: And I don’t play guitar, so we can’t have that. I don’t know what mine would be. It might be more, it probably would be more electronic and like, I don’t even know. That’s a hard question.
Lizzy: And it’s so weird, and it’s interesting because there’s a lot of great overlap and our biggest overlap is that we both love pop music and we never shy away from that, and we’re constantly embracing that genre, but I feel like whatever genres we don’t necessarily bring on, they find their way into the music anyway, so we’re always pushing one another. I feel like more and more of our tastes are becoming more and more aligned to the point where I think it would be hard to distinguish what we would sound like separately because it’s like, we’re constantly changing…
So you’re used to it…
Lizzy: Yeah, we’re definitely used to it.
Max: And now we listen to… maybe when we started off we listened to more different types of music and now we’re specifically together all of the time. We’re always traveling back and forth with our earbuds.
That new Jungle record…
Lizzy: So good!
Lizzy: I still haven’t seen them, have you seen them live?
Lizzy: Have you seen them live yet?
Max: What are we talking about?
Max: Oh, no. We are …
Lizzy: I want to so badly. They played New York a bunch of times.
I keep thinking that if you’re in a band you’ve seen every band 50 times.
Max: Well, no…
Lizzy: It’s so funny because we keep missing each other. If you’re lucky, someone’s playing the same night as you and maybe, like, your schedules align. A festival can be great to see other bands. I’m waiting on it. It’s so good.
Las Vegas, NV @ Life is Beautiful Festival
Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy (Red Bull Sound Select)
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