– by Patrick Smith
MS MR is two really talented people. Max Hershenow and Lizzy Plapinger have been mates ever since Max noticed Lizzy’s incredible red hair in the halls of their New York Liberal Arts College. Since then, the band has excelled in all areas of their craft. The duo present a striking pair in any press, make unavoidably catchy alternative pop music, create weird and wonderfully stimulating film clips and address their strong humanitarian beliefs with actions to back up their words.
The sultry vocals of Plapinger provide the perfect front to Hershenow’s production. His sounds appear to be the result of an obvious musical I.Q and inventiveness, as well as a lot of experimentation and sculpturing. The bands ability to continue to push the boundaries of pop music, both in the mainstream and indie markets is the result of this creative production and the direct honesty in Palpingers melodies lyrics and melodies. Comparisons to other strong female leads such as Florence Welsh (Florence and the Machine) and Lana Del Ray are obvious, but Plapinger is certainly her own lady. Her pop melodies and deep, critical lyrics are delivered with a passionate and exposed honesty which makes you appreciate that the music MR MS deliver is a direct projection of themselves.
MS MR are in the country as part of the Groovin the Moo festival, as well as for a series of Headline shows, their first in Australia. Their live shows have become something of a spectacle as the band continues to grow, providing a new perspective to the intricate, extremely well produced sounds that you hear through headphones. Their latest album, 2015’s How Does It Feel, was another indication that this band is continuing to push themselves sonically and I can’t wait to catch one of their shows to see how it translates to the stage.
Check out what Lizzie has to say about playing live, growing as a band and the benefits of a university education.
Your playing your first headline show in Perth on the 5th May. Are you excited to get to WA, and have you been before?
We were in Perth at the end of Laneway Festival, which we played two years ago, and we had an awesome day on the beach and became friends with the Pond and Tame (Impala) guys. They were singing the praises of the land for the whole time, so yeah, we are so excited to be back!
And I’m assuming it will be the first time you have been to Bunbury?
Yeah I believe so. We can’t wait for Groovin The Moo! We love playing festivals.
Yeah, and you’ve played some big ones! But you and Max started off as a sort of bedroom production, DIY type thing. How has that transition to the big festival stage been?
It’s been pretty major. With Secondhand Rapture (the bands first album), we had never written music before. So that entire process was just about experimenting and seeing what we were capable of and we were only writing music thinking about being in a studio. We really weren’t thinking about how these songs were going to translate to the stage at all. And then we began touring them for like three years and the songs took on a new life, and so did we as performers as well I think. So, the two of us then focusing on the second record, we needed to bring a new mentality to it because we had changed drastically in terms of who our influences were and who we wanted to be and what we wanted our show to be like. So the second record is definitely written for the stage, which is awesome to be thinking about while we were writing, dreaming about big crowds singing and dancing along with you and how you wanted them to move and how you wanted them to feel. That’s been the most validating part of performing this record, seeing how it translates live and seeing how instantaneously people are getting into the groove. I think it really brought the live show to a stronger place.
Does MS MR tour with a full band for their live shows?
Max and I write the songs together but we play live with a full band, a drummer and synths and sometimes a few more. The best thing about the live show is it sort of takes on more of a rock edge. If you listen to the record its pretty pop but I think we become pretty wild when we are all together on stage, we allow the music to be a bit more raucous and dirty and loud, so it’s a bit of a different thing seeing the band live then it is on record, which I think is an important dynamic.
Speaking of the new record, I feel like it is a much bigger sound through the headphones this time, some more maturity in your writing maybe? Was it a conscious effort to produce this or just the natural progression in your song writing?
I think it’s a bit of both. We have always loved drama and over the top-ness and epic-ness. I think we just had better skills as musicians to be a little bit more articulate with our lyrics and with our sounds, and to be able to focus more on drums and baselines and the like, and really coerce them into doing what we wanted them to do. So this record definitely felt like a big step forward for the two of us. There is more of an immediacy to this record that was perhaps lost a little on the first one.
And this was your first time co-writing, with Tove Lo and MNDR, did you enjoy the process of collaboration on what seems such a personal project?
Yeah it was really awesome, I’d only ever written music by myself or with Max so it was great to get other people in the room with you to push you in other directions. Tove Lo has been a really good friend for a long time so it was a really comfortable time going back and forth, and she had been a big fan of MS MR so it was just a really pleasant experience and definitely made me a better writer. Which I think I’m learning through any sort of collaboration; that it’s not about losing yourself, but about having someone else in the room to remind you who you are and what your perspective is and what your style is. So yeah, I’m really glad we dipped our toe into that water a little bit
MS MR has always pushed the boundaries of pop to different places. Where do you guys get you inspirations and ideas from?
It’s definitely all over the map. A few people we talked about regularly were Timberland and Jai Paul and Ben Kahn. I think what is really interesting about Max’s production is he is really drawn to instruments and sounds where you cant quite tell if they are electronic or orchestral. He will often take an orchestral instrument and fuck with it so much that it sounds like an electronic instrument, and he will also take an electronic sound and massage it so beautifully that you would swear it was something real and organic. It changes your whole perspective. I think similarly we do that with the feel of the song, where sonically it sounds really upbeat but if you dive into the depths of the lyrics and other layers you will realise it is much darker than you think it is. We really get off on putting those two opposing forces next to each other. It brings another intensity and depth to the music.
On your last tour, you donated portions of your ticket sales to the Third Wave Fund. Could you tell us a little bit about Third Wave Fund and why it was important to you?
For us right off the bat we always wanted to use whatever platform we had as a band, however big or small we are, to talk about issues that are important to us and we are humanitarians, you know, we want equality between men and women, between all the sexes and transgender and gay rights and we have always wanted the shows to be a safe place for people to be exactly who they are and to be supportive of one another. I think the thing we liked about Third Wave is that it’s something we could support in that its so grassroots oriented, working with so many different organisations that do a number of different things with so many different people. Also, you know, if there was a problem that any one of our fans was going through they could turn to an organisation like Third Wave for support and community. And I mean we are a band that doesn’t make that much money on the road but it was good to be able to give just a portion of the ticket sales sold. They are a great organisation and to be tied with them forever is really nice.
We are entering a really positive era of pop at the moment with a lot of strong female artists making it off the back of their own talent and DIY attitude. Are there still those evil forces out there looking to exploit these people? You know the whole “look pretty and sing well and we will take care of the rest” sort of thing or can we finally put that to bed?
I think that will always exist. But people are wising up to it, because we are living in a time now were the most important thing you can be is authentic. People will see through the bullshit because you have so many outlets and insights now to see behind the music and it’s becoming just as much about who that person is as what their music is. And so these artists being propped up by the labels and manufactured, it is pretty clear who those people are, there will always be an outlet for it and always be a fan base but people on the majority are less interested. You know, its cool to see someone then like Ed Sheeran to rise from nothing to be the huge star that he is. Weather he is your kind of music or not, he is pretty fucking authentic, you know, he doesn’t look the part, he plays his own instruments, writes his own songs. He has gotten to where he is because of who he is. That’s a really nice reminder in this day and age that the game is being flipped on its head a bit and there is a lane for the artists to do something completely unique and new that hasn’t been done before because people are more receptive to that creativity. My challenge to the artists out there, established or not, come in and do something new, keep people on their toes. I think that’s awesome.
You did something pretty awesome and authentic at university. Neon Gold (Lizzy’s record company) started as a Uni project right? Can you tell us a little about how you started that and maybe give some advice to the university students who don’t see much light at the end of the torturous tunnel?
Yeah, so, Neon Gold I started at school. Max and I were really lucky in that we went to a really awesome liberal arts college that was all about fostering a community and really supporting one another and my teachers were all awesome about providing me the space and extra time while I was running back and forth around the city and running the label.
All the university students who cant see the light at the end of the tunnel; its so terrifying. Its so terrifying! You don’t know what your going to be doing at the end of 4 years but I think the goal of university should be less about focusing on were you will end up and more about experiencing it as it happens to you. I really didn’t enjoy school growing up. I hated high school. I was one of the kids who worked really hard but for whatever reason couldn’t get the grades even though I was pouring myself into it. And when I hit university something changed, Something just switched, you know. It became about studying what I wanted to and meeting people with similar interests and soddenly I fell in love with school.
I think that’s what is great about university that it can be about meeting as many people as possible and taking classes you wouldn’t normally take. It sounds cheesy but I really think if you look at it as an opportunity to experiment with all the different sides of who you could be or who you want to be then that is time well spent. Everyone has the same fears about the end of school and what’s gonna happen. Starting the label at school, it was something I always wanted to do but it was sort of a crazy thing you know, starting a 7” vinyl record label out of my dorm room, that certainly didn’t look like it was going to lead to an actual job at the end of the tunnel but you have to keep reminding yourself to take those seemingly bizarre chances because they might lead to something.
(Watch the clip to hit single Painted HERE)
I need to ask about your film clips because they are phenomenal. They’re always so extravagant and stylised but also incredibly personal.
Thankyou! We have a new one coming soon that will be really fucking cool!!
I bet! Are these you and Max’s creations, or how does that process work?
Max and I are really visual people and we take a lot of pride in the videos. Obviously we team up with writers and directors and the like because we couldn’t do it without them, but yeah, it is something we are really proud of. I think unlike most other pop artists everything you see and hear stems from Max and me. That’s a nice sort of ownership and auteurship for everything we do. And we are huge cinema buffs! So its awesome with the different videos we do to pay homage to different directors and styles of film.
And finally, if you could be any instrument what would it be and who would play you?
I love the mellotron, an instrument we used on the last record. It’s essentially a keyboard but every key is a sample of a sound that has been pitched, which is really fucking awesome. One of the first sort of synthesisers. I have no idea who I would want to play me though!
Thanks heaps for having a chat with us!
No problem. Thank you. Hopefully we will see you at a show!
You Can Catch MS MR at all of the Grooving the Moo dates and also on their headline tour.
Thursday 28 April @ Metro Theatre, Sydney
Friday 29 April @ Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
Tuesday 3 May @ Triffid, Brisbane
Thursday 5 May @ Rosemount Hotel, Perth
-photo credit MS MR Facebook