MS MR is every bit as cool as you’d think they’d be and they’re nice. Like really genuinely nice people. Based out of New York City, this Tumblr-glitch-pop-duo have been taking the indie music world by storm, and rightfully so. Both Lizzy Plapinger & Max Hershenow have incredible backgrounds leading up to their latest project and like any collaborating pair they’re finishing each other’s sentences, laughing about inside jokes that no one else in the room gets (in a polite way) and are excited about sharing the joy of being on tour.
As a personal favourite of ours, and as a part of our Influence series, we were fortunate enough to get a chance to speak with Plapinger & Hershenow before their opening performance for Jessie Ware at the Opera House in early April. As you can tell by the lengthy interview below, we definitely took the opportunity to pick their creative brains and figure out what makes these two create the sounds and visuals that they do.
How are you guys enjoying tour so far?
Max Hershenow: This is pretty much our first real day because we had two shows in New York [to start], so we got to stay at home which is really the ideal way to tour. You get all the benefits and you get to stay in your own bed!
Lizzy Plapinger: Totally! And to get to play venues like Music Hall and Webster is just so amazing because those are places that we go to see all of our favourite bands and to suddenly be on the same stage as them is awesome! And it also means that all of your friends get to come out to the gig. My parents also came up, which was awesome. It felt like a good solid start, a lot of support and now we can sort of relax and enjoy the rest of the tour.
What do you think will be the best and worst part of touring?
LP: The worst thing about touring is that you’re not in NYC. It’s so amazing that you’re living there and we miss it a lot. But, the best thing about being on tour is that you’re traveling…
MH: …that you’re not in NYC. Haha.
How do you guys think it will be different when you guys are touring as the headlining act?
MH: We’re a baby band, just emerging, and we don’t know who our own fans are yet. Because when you’re doing support you’re performing for someone else’s fans. Hopefully you’re taking them as your own as well but you don’t really know what constitutes a MS MR fan. I’m hoping to meet people who are genuine fans.
Well you’re looking at two right here!
You have both been involved in the industry for a long time, how did you decide that you wanted to explore your own musical adventures?
LP: Interesting… We’ve both come from different places. I have always been obsessed with music. I grew up in London and started going to shows from a very, very early age and became quite obsessive about music. I would go to this record store called Rock Trade, in Notting Hill and Tower Records and became best friends with a guy named Derek [Davies] and he was also obsessed with music. I would send him stuff from London and he would send me stuff from the States. It was a really great relationship and we’ve always dreamed about starting a record label.
We got to college and we were both independently working as many internships in music as possible to get an understanding [of the industry] with the dream of starting our own label. We decided to do it ourselves in our sophomore year of college when Derek found Passion Pit. We started a 7” label based on labels we grew up loving from London like Chess Club and Young & Lost.
We were fortunate that by the time I graduated, we started getting offers from major labels for our label to be signed as a subsidiary. So Derek and I signed a record deal to Columbia the day after I graduated and that was amazing! So we’ve been doing that for the past 3 years in New York.
Music I’ve obviously loved in a professional capacity for my whole life and I’ve always been interested in working on the [performing] side of things. I’ve always loved singing and performing so when I graduated from school, and I had a bit more time, I started writing a little bit myself but not thinking anything would come of it, more for personal pleasure and experimenting.
It wasn’t until I got an email from Max who was looking for other new artists to work with, I don’t know what clicked, but it just felt like the right opportunity to share with someone that I had been doing this. He was so removed from my world in the industry that it felt totally safe to send him something and he would give me an honest opinion not based on anything that I had done previously. If he absolutely hated it, I’d never have to see him again, because we weren’t that close. If he did like it, then it could be another piece to my personality that I could explore!
MH: I started playing piano when I was really young and was interested in performance, theatre and dance, pretty much all growing up. When I went to college I discovered modern dance and that overwhelmed my whole college experience and really became the focus.
My first foray into recording music was from the dance perspective because I was choreographing a lot and wasn’t happy with the music I was finding to choreograph to. I was like “I can write better music than this!” So I started recording myself: really low fi and terrible quality.
I started a duo with a friend, which was cute and we had really good songs. I learned about structure, recording with people and working with someone but it was very DIY and not very serious.
I then went to the Martha Graham School for a semester. I was paying my dues working as a waiter like all creative people in NYC do.
Dance was happening a little bit, but Lizzy and I started working together and it started taking off. So I thought to myself, “This is a really good opportunity,” so I quit Martha Graham and started focusing on MS MR and other production stuff in NYC.
So you guys are obviously excited about doing this together? You couldn’t picture doing it with anyone else?
LP: I would never have been comfortable sending my music to anyone else. [Max] came into my life at the right time. It was an experiment, we didn’t know musically what it would be like when we finally got together and for both of us I think that’s the most magical piece about this. It feels very cheesy to compare it falling in love, but you’re always looking for your soul mate, your right match and you go through people to find who that person is for you. I think finding a musical partner is totally the same thing. Max and I hit it out of the park! Finding the perfect person on your first go is crazy. When we first started working, we didn’t really know how to articulate our musical identities so there wasn’t a lot of discussion about what sort of music were we going to make, who were our idols, what were we going to bring to the table and it fell into place. We were totally on the same page. The soundscape we wanted to design and the environment we wanted to make, it just happened instantly.
So did you guys use Tumblr (Lizzy whispers, “I love Tumblr!”) as an inspiration board for what you wanted your image to be or was it just a place to put pretty pictures?
MH: There are a lot of parallels between how we work musically and the way we work with Tumblr. It was about throwing up ideas. We’re both so creative, driven by it and obsessive about it in a way, so Tumblr was a great outlet to pass visual ideas back and forth and start developing this collage that we could draw from.
LP: We have a living and breathing mood board of exactly what we want to do. It’s a stream of consciousness, an insight into where our heads at, what we’re looking at and feeling inspired by. We’re very attached to the collage and mixed media aspect of this project. Its super important to us and it’s something that we embrace because it’s clearly very current in terms of how people relate, share information and distribute music. When we were first discussing how we would want to release our music, before we even knew we were a band, the EP was released on Tumblr as this mixed media package, it was something we were really excited about. We’re musicians first and we wanted the music to be the reason people came to the project but it’s wonderful to put so many faces and personalities to a piece of music through photos and videos. [We’re lucky] to be able to collaborate with people at such an early stage, which is also an important part of this project, bringing on artists who just started to get their name out as well. We want to build a community around us [of people] who are all striving to take their work to the next level. That’s totally what NY is about and definitely our group of friends and that’s a really satisfy piece of the project.
MH: Touching on that, while we want to be musicians first, we’re excited about the potential of the internet to create an environment for people to listen to the music in. I want to put people in a really specific mindset so they’re listening to [MS MR] music by seeing a visual that transforms them and takes them somewhere else. That’s what was exciting about developing the Tumblr and musical identity at the same time.
When it comes to the actual creative branding, do you guys do it yourselves?
MH & LP: We do everything!
LP: Everything you see, everything you hear is direct from us. It’s awesome; we have total control over the project. It’s pretty unheard of.
MH: Especially considering we’re on a major label. We started developing relationships with great photographers and videographers right off the bat. So it’s good to come up with them and find people that are really new and that are willing to take a chance on us and we’re willing to take a chance on them. That community is constantly growing; we’re excited to keep finding people. As our profile has increased, we’re getting more opportunities to find new artists. We’re constantly emailing each other.
Editors’ note: this sounds really familiar…
LP: Totally. “Just found this photographer on Tumblr, on Facebook, do you like this? Should I email her about this? Is that weird or is that ok?”
MH: Some of our found footage videos we’re edited by David Dean Burkhart. We found his videos on Vimeo, we liked one and there was this exchange of messages and he ended up editing our videos. This person we never met except for on the internet!
LP: He’s our go-to guy for a lot of stuff and we’ve never met! It’s totally crazy.
MH: It speaks to the ethos of what we’re trying to do.
What is your favourite song on the album?
MH: It’s a weekly thing.
LP: It’s a luxury problem to have. I think today, “Head Is Not My Home”. I love performing it live and it has a kick and base about it. It’s a little bit country and a bit of a psych-warp feel to it. I [just] love that bridge! (Lizzy starts humming the bridge) And it sounds so huge on the record.
MH: I’m gonna say “Think of You” this time, I haven’t said that mostly because Lizzy doesn’t like that song as much as I do. It’s our big pure pop song. It’s really fun to perform.
LP: What’s nice about “Think Of You” is when we get to these interviews, we talk about our creative aspirations and technologically where we pull from things, but we’re not assholes about it. At the end of the day, we’re making pop music, we’re not curing cancer. We want people to be entertained and its fun for us to write this sort of tune. We love pop and it’s good to embrace it.
Photography by Tara Bartolini