Ethereal synth pop duo MS MR met when they were both students at the elite liberal arts college Vassar, but it wasn’t until they moved to New York after graduation that they began making sweet music together.
Producer Max Hershenow was studying dance at the Martha Graham School while singer Lizzy Plapinger was running the record label Neon Gold. “I started making music on the side,” Hershenow explains, “so I emailed Lizzie to ask if she had any artists who’d be interested in working with me. She replied immediately and slipped her name into the list, and attached a track to the email. I found it really compelling, so we got together and instantly clicked.”
Their musical chemistry was instant, but the pair had no desire to rush anything out. In fact, when their first single ‘Hurricane’ came out, they chose to remain anonymous, hiding behind carefully-cultivated imagery to let the music speak for itself.
“We knew that we wanted to have a wealth of material before we revealed ourselves,” Lizzy Plapinger explains. “You see artists who have one great song but then realise they have nothing to follow it up with. We wanted it to be about more than just one song, we knew right from the start that we wanted to be able to prove ourselves with a bunch of great material. We wanted to have a clear sense of ourselves before putting ourselves in the public eye, and we spent a long time planning that.”
New York itself is vital to the sound and style of MS MR – in fact, Plapinger is adamant that their debut, Secondhand Rapture, could only have been made there. “We wrote the record in Max’s apartment, and embraced the street sounds around him,” she explains. “They’re all right there in the tracks. I definitely write most of my lyrics walking around the city. New York has an incredible community of artists of all mediums – there’s an incredible flow of ideas back and forth. The city’s so inspiring, but it’s one of those weird things where the city can be your best friend and your worst enemy. All of that helps to shape our relationship and the development of the music.”
Max and Lizzy are always immaculately turned-out, and the visual elements of MS MR are all carefully and deliberately chosen by the pair. “We take the music very seriously,” she explains, “but we’re both visual artists, and we saw this as an incredible opportunity to create a world and an aesthetic around the music.” For a pop group signed to a major label, MS MR have an incredible amount of control over their image. “Every visual you see, whether it’s photos of us, videos, album and single artwork – everything you see comes from me and Max,” she continues. “We’re a hands-on DIY pop band at heart, and we feel incredibly grateful to have support from the label in terms of getting our releases out, and for the fact that they trust us enough to let us look after that side of it.”
MS MR were last in Australia for the Laneway festival, and will return this month for Splendour in the Grass as well as several side shows – their Sydney performance will be their biggest headlining slot to date. “I hope we’ve grown and developed since we were there last,” Hershenow says. “We’re still a young band, but I feel like we’re getting bigger and better with every show. We’re more powerful on stage now, we have a proper set. Australia has supported us a lot, and we’re incredibly appreciative and thankful for that.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN