It’s odd to think that almost a year ago MS MR was as mysterious to us as Stonehenge. When they burst onto the scene with the amazing “Hurricane”, everyone was talking about them, but no-one knew anything. No names, no faces, just a sound and a video that could induce seizures. Now though that is all different and the naturally charming Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow have been happy to talk about their beginnings, their influences, well pretty much anything that gets asked really.
When we sit down with them in a side room at the Norwich Waterfront, just hours before their utterly fantastic set and while others soundcheck on the stage nearby, it is clear that these are two people as gregarious, warm and relaxed as you could hope to meet. Despite having arrived at the venue just moments before and still in their coats (a wise move as the sleet falls outside and the heating appears largely absent inside) they are in great spirits. They are even enthusiastic about recent experiences with motorway service station food which just goes to show how positive they are.
Their origin is no longer a secret, instead it is a well trodden story of a guy who wanted some input on his music from an acquaintance who had set up a record label, and a record label running girl who took the plunge and shared her lyrics with him. Without really knowing each other that well and without wanting the record label connection to prejudice anything they might produce, they wrote and recorded in secret, not even telling their friends, and released their music anonymously.
While they were both living almost superhero-esque double lives, they found that with great anonymity came great creative freedom. ”There was no sort of outside pressure on any of it”, explains Lizzy. ”It was really just sort of free, creative space for the both of us. It meant that you sort of went to work in your day clothes, and secretly shrugged them off for a night writing session or in the morning before work”. Work for Lizzy at the time was setting up Neon Gold Records and for Max it was a job in a restaurant while also attending dance school.
This arrangement worked particularly well because it helped focus them, ”we would get together and we would have a purpose and we ended up working really efficiently” says Lizzy. That wasn’t all, the secrecy in particular gave them time, to get to know one another and to find out what they were actually about. Max explains, ”It gave us time to establish our musical identity in the, sort of, womb of my spare bedroom before allowing it to be influenced by any outside pressure. Even playing it for friends and getting feedback, that didn’t happen for a long time. I think that was a really important part of the process of creating a unique sound”.
That this MR and MS didn’t really know each other before they agreed to start working together is hard to believe now. They are so at ease with one another and so relaxed, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing and joking, it’s like they have been best friends forever. That rings especially true when it comes to the story of how they came to write “Hurricane”. ”It was a really special song for both of us”, says Lizzy. ”It was the fastest we ever wrote something and came out of really emotional, and just real experiences for the two of us separately and then became a sort of, I don’t know… shared experience through writing a song, so we loved it”.
They are not the only ones, to this day our post on “Hurricane” remains comfortably our most read on the site and proves, as Lizzy notes, that it still has legs. Even now, every week people are still searching and finding it. “That’s really awesome to hear”, smiles Lizzy. ”I think that song has a lot of accessibility I think. It really touches people…” Max agrees, ”It’s really great that people respond to it. I think a lot of our songs are maybe a little less literal in creating their message, “Hurricane” has a very clear theme, I guess it’s instantly readable”.
The plan is, they say, to re-release it as the lead single from their debut album, Second Hand Rapture (to be released in May), and there will soon be a new video as well, a fact that you feel excites and slightly saddens them both. The ‘popilepsy’ video for “Hurricane” was synonymous with the band for so long as it was all we had to go on, it was MS MR.
” It’s funny,” laughs Lizzy, ”that that became the video because it came out of the label having a need to show something in a meeting room, and they wanted to do something cheesy with it and we were like “no no no!” We are precious over this project and we have control over everything, so we had this idea for the video and we were like “we can get this to you like, really fast”. We put that video together in two days or something. It was all our idea, we already had the footage collected, it took no time to put together and then it’s sort of taken on this other role in life because people were so drawn to it”.
“We assumed that we could never play it out because of copyright”, adds Max. “There’s no way we could ever get clearance for that so, it can never be the official official video but it was great that we could put it out”.
Now though they are producing much more polished and grander videos, like the one for their latest single, “Fantasy”, which sounds like it was a blast to make, what with glitter vomiting cheerleaders and Golden Girls lookalikes. ”They were amazing”, says Lizzy, laughing at the memory. ”They were so funny, on set being just typical grandmothers talking about getting iPhones and kids these days” The video itself is more cinematic than one might expect, depicting, as Lizzy notes, ”fantasies gone wrong, that’s what we think of it”. Max expands the idea, ”There is this, like, sheen over the top and there is this really, really, sort of, dirty mess underneath”. Kind of exactly like their music then; beautifully produced with this dark, almost macabre, undercurrent to it. It’s not for nothing we’ve called them the Addams Family of glitch-pop before.
The laughter is coming easily to both Max and Lizzy and this sense of ease they have with each other is clear on stage as well. They grin and boogie together throughout the set, Max behind the keys, Lizzy the mic. The undeniable quality of their live performance, as with their dedication to living double lives and keeping secrets while starting out is due in no small part to their strong work ethic and desire to be as good as they can. When they first revealed themselves to the world they looked shy, nervous and unsure. Since then they have worked and sacrificed to become the confident and amazing performers they are now. It still exists in their writing now, the pair of them working separately in Max’s apartment or studio but convening every 45 minutes or so to share ideas and discuss them. In such an arrangement, explains Max, complete honesty with one another is crucial.
”It’s been a really fluid back and forth at all stages of every song and we really do share the rawest version with each other at the very, very beginning and build it together from there. We started off being brutally honest with each other and just being like ‘I don’t really like that’, ‘I like that’ or ‘I don’t like that, is there something we could do differently?’ and sort of building from there. I think there is not really an ego involved from either of our parts and I think we have both interest in what will service the song and we will write the best song possible”
Lizzy nods in agreement and expands on how this fluid process can have unexpected effects on where they end up, compared with where they began. ”I think honestly, “Ash Tree Lane” is the best example of that. “Ash Tree Lane” started as a completely other song called “Wondering” which I had a tiny scrap of a vocal demo for. We started the track [and] it sort of started taking on sudden life; we had such a fun time on the production of that song. We got really carried away and then eventually when we tried to put the vocal melody on top of it, it didn’t work with the song anymore and I think at that point we had fallen in love with the track so much that it was okay; but that song sort of fell by the wayside because it had informed the process of creating this other new thing and then actually became an experiment in itself. Because it had started from nothing and became this whole other entity and it was a chance to sort of break free and I think, for us, it was a really experimental song and still has that sort of sound on the album. I like the idea that we are not withholding, we are always pushing through, if something gets too tough that’s okay because it can take on another life and just, that is what it is supposed to be”
It’s about choices notes Max, ”you can push through or you give it up” he says. ”Decide it is not right and scrap it, or re-work it, and either of those choices is hard. But I think that we are constantly learning which of those choices to make, when it is worth pushing through, when it is worth scrapping or when it is worth just sort of taking a step back and approaching it with a different eye. Those are the fullest moments and that’s when you get the weirdest combinations of things and the most interesting songs”.
“Ash Tree Lane”
With all these weird combinations, dark undercurrents to their lyrics, videos and visual aesthetic; gothic and often ghoulish sensibilities emanating from them and their online interactions with fans; you’d be forgiven for thinking that growing up they were actually like Wednesday and Pugsley. Were they the kids all dressed in black that the other kids shied away from? Is this why they have cheerleaders vomiting glitter in the “Fantasy” video?
“No” they respond together, completely deadpan before bursting into laughter and Lizzy explains further.
”I don’t think we were those kids. Max and I first came to this process not knowing each other very well and Max and I are quite different people. On a very personal, deep down level we are very similar people and I think we are both really bubbly and empathetic and excitable people but I think we both carry a very deep darkness with us. I think everyone probably does but I think we are worse at showing it to people on a regular basis. The music in some way became this, this space to just, break free, and have sort of conversations with that”.
It’s not all doom and gloom she says and we agree. They make pop music, yes there is indeed shadowiness to it, but it is still pop music and there is also brightness and polish. ”I think it is the marriage of this upbeat pop identity with the weight of what we are really feeling. Sort of an embodiment of our characters and personalities as well, and we are always interested in how light and dark combine forces and sort of create opposite identities and oxymoron’s. We always work in extremes, that is sort of our identity”.
It’s honesty again, it’s authenticity and sincerity; ”it is not about putting on a face” says Lizzy, ”other than what we are and what we are about, and that is both musical style and genre but also lyrical content”. Is this an insight to what the album holds then?
“It’s hard to talk about themes throughout the album”, she continues. “Specifically lyrically because for so long we were writing just on a song by song basis, it took a while for us to see it as a whole body of work. Ultimately the way we picked the songs for the album was much more about the production and the sonic environment. It’s not just a break up album all about me and one boy or whatever, it’s not as simple as that, and I think it pulls from everything into, you know, self introspection. There are breakup songs but also finding new love and questioning our situation and self and… I don’t know, I think people will be hard pressed to find one thing in a theme. I think in general we find one or two things having a greater force on us which is one, our environment.
“I mean most of the material we have written, we have written during a storm or some environmental uprising or the weekend that the rapture was supposed to happen and I think that we really get off and thrive on a certain level of uneasiness and suspense and in between moments where something feels really not right and that just becomes our most fertile moment, that is definitely reflected in the music”.
A fragile state of both mind and situation then is key for their productivity, ”like when you are hung over” laughs Max.
That is not all though, explains Lizzy. ”I think the other half of that is media. Obviously we are kids of the Internet age, we chose to release our music in interesting ways”; each track on the Candy Bar Creep Show EP was released on consecutive weeks via their Tumblr, ”and that is the social media aspect, it really is a piece of who we are but on a greater level than that, we like to theorise and philosophise about what that means and how mediated relationships are and the music transcends all those barriers like that. [The] media and environment in general have shaped our identity and relationship to the music and definitely [our] relationship to each other.
“It’s a very long winded answer! It’s not a political album, it’s neither religious either!”
Long winded is fine by us, such depth and detail is extremely welcome, especially as it was only 10 months ago that we were scrambling around just trying to find out their bloody names! A lot has changed in that time but the music they are producing just keeps getting better and better. There must have been a lot of storms in New York recently for them to be creating such consistently high quality tracks. Either that or the hangovers have been legendary.
“Fantasy” is out now and available digitally. Their debut album, Second Hand Rapture, will be released on 13 May.
All pictures courtesy of Andi Sapey Photography
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