story / Shannon Kurlander
photographer / Angelo Kritikos
MS MR are a vision in pop; outfitted head to toe in vibrant colors as vivid as their music. They are far more than just pop props. Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow are their own bosses. The duo design their stage-ready wardrobe, write all their own songs and record under Plapinger’s buzz-worthy label, Neon Gold. MS MR return to their DIY city roots for their sophomore record How Does It Feel; writing and recording in a small, windowless Bushwick studio. The album is a surreal and psychedelic assertion of their creativity, aided with the special appearance of pop forces like Tove Lo and MNDR.
There seems to be a lot of pressure surrounding an artists’ sophomore record; was this the case when writing and recording How Does It Feel?
We think we did a really good job of not succumbing to the pressure of the second record – or at least as well as anyone can. Our process centers around making music that feels right to us above all else, so staying true to our instincts and emotions is built into the way we write. We also made some important choices: after an aborted experiment writing in a big studio upstate with unlimited music making tools at our disposal, we realized that we needed to replicate the environment of the first record as much as we could to retain total creative control and gave us the freedom to experiment. So we went back to our roots and rented a small, windowless, no frills room in Bushwick and recorded on a bare-bones setup: a keyboard, two synths, a microphone and a laptop.
You’d think writing music in such a technically primitive space would be creatively restrictive, but there’s actually something liberating about creating music within limitations: our music’s escapist qualities are only heightened and strengthened in that environment. And in a very practical sense, the fact that we paid for the space ourselves gave us a buffer between our process and the label and our friends: by the time we were ready to start sharing the music with our team we were confident in what we had created.
That’s not say there weren’t moments or days when it was hard to break free of own psyches and fears about the next steps…we gained a certain amount of success and credibility on Secondhand Rapture, and the most challenging part of the process was writing a second album that felt like a continuation of the ideas we’d started on the first album while also showcasing our growth as musicians. Ultimately we realized that it’s about strong, honest and emotional songwriting – once you have the song everything else just sort of falls in place around it.
This time around you co-wrote with artists such as Tove Lo and MNDR: why collaborate and what was the process like working with such big names in pop?
We’re extremely proud of the fact that we’re a pop act that writes our own music, and there’s a lot of power in the fact that we wrote and produced Secondhand Rapture almost completely alone, a rare feat in pop. But because we have only ever made music with one another (and our drummer Zach, who wrote and produced most of HDIF with us), we were curious about writing with other people while still being super protective of our sound and process. After we’d written the majority of album we decided to experiment with co-writes for the first time – we came at them from a position of confidence already knowing the sound and story of the record, but had hit a creative wall and need to inject some new energy into the process.
We decided to approach Tove Lo, MNDR and Justin and Jeremiah Raisen because we admired their work and were already friends so there was already a foundation of familiarity and respect. Ultimately each session was a massively positive experience – it was incredibly helpful to have outside perspectives, but they really only augmented and reinforced our musical identity. We left feeling like we’d been pushed outside of our comfort zones in ways that led to some of the breakthrough moments on the album.
After bumping elbows and performing alongside great acts at festivals like Lollapalooza; who are some of your favorite artists to watch right now?
It’s such an exciting time for music and one of our greatest pleasures as a band is to be able to explore new music at festivals after we perform! Last month we saw Tame Impala perform at Splendour in the Grass in Australia and even though we’ve seen them a million times it NEVER gets old. We can’t recommend it enough – it’s absolutely mind blowing…the music sounds absolutely flawless, not to mention the visuals are awesome and reinforce the epic spectacle of the show.
Another one of our favorite artists is the French singer Christine and the Queens. We’ve seen her a bunch of times and it’s always incredible, from massive festival stages with huge production to tiny club shows. She feels like the second coming of Michael Jackson – her performances blend gender and genre, and you can’t help but dance and sing along with her (and her amazing backup dancers), no matter if she’s singing in French or English. There’s a seemingly effortless grace and ease to her voice and presence that is entirely enchanting, captivating and inspiring.
I read somewhere that the stage is where you truly feel the most comfortable – in what other spaces do you feel totally complete?
Lizzy: I think the stage is genuinely where I feel happiest and if you’ve ever seen a MS MR show whether we’re at a dive bar, a great venue or a festival stage I have a huge smile splashed across my face. There’s something so incredibly powerful and intimate about
sharing your music with people. I don’t care if it’s a small crowd or so many people I can barely make out faces – I want every single person to feel like I’m singing and connecting directly with them. That space definitely gives me its own kind of comfort. Other than that I love being home in New York! Especially being with all my friends in my back yard or around the corner at Commodore eating queso and having beers. After living this lifestyle for a few years it’s becoming less about places and spaces that make me feel complete and more about my friends and being able to bring them together wherever we are in the world.
Max: For me there’s something incredibly satisfying and almost addictive about being in the studio writing new songs. At the beginning of a session there’s the feeling of limitless potential, and at the end of the day you have something so specific to you that didn’t exist eights hours earlier…it’s like magic.
How important is visual aesthetic to MS MR?
The visual element of MS MR is incredibly important. The music has and always should come first, but we’ve always viewed MS MR as a multimedia project, and being able to
explore our interests in fashion, videos and photography is really fulfilling and something that has continued to distinguish us as a band. We control every element of the project, and we love that no matter what medium you’re experiencing our music through you’re seeing into a universe of our direct creation. We love our surreal, psychedelic, jewel-toned world and welcome anyone and everyone to be a part of it.
It seems you both really embrace the DIY attitude from writing your own music to designing your own clothes. What is another project you would love to take on?
We’re especially loving making our own tour outfits right now! It’s great to have a direct extension of creative vision literally on our bodies for everyone to see, especially on a
festival stage where sometimes the clothes on our back are the only way we have to set a tone on stage.
Lizzy: There are so many other areas I would love to experiment in! I would love to do art installations/sculpture, and hope as our stage production evolves I may get the chance to. I’d also love to do something in mens fashion.
Max: I’m always playing around with different ideas…right now I want to create some sort of DJ event/show that involves over-the-top costumes (and outfit changes), dancing, a set and cool lighting. But first I need to learn to DJ…
What’s one life motto told by MS MR?
You get more bees with honey.