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Q&A: MS MR

The NYC band on hanging out with HAIM, rocking
Coachella and channeling the New York vibe

Lalitha Suhasini Jun 16, 2014
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Max Hershenow (left) and Lizzy Plapinger in New York in May. Photo: Courtesy of Ray-Ban

Max Hershenow (left) and Lizzy Plapinger in New York in May. Photo: Courtesy of Ray-Ban

Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow, the yin and yang of pop band MS MR, have been touring relentlessly since the start of the year. The duo had just returned from their first Coachella experience when we meet them in New York for District 37, a gig to launch Ray-Ban’s new range of eyewear. From the time Plapinger and Hershenow formed MS MR in 2011, their group has been compared to everyone from Lana Del Rey to HAIM, but they have now managed to find a vibrant synth-led sound that they can call their own. In this interview, they talk about being road warriors and grungy venues with dirty bathrooms.

 

Your tours have been a leap from when you guys started off. What’s it been like?

Max: The festivals have been amazing. We think of our careers as a gradual in­cline upwards marked by a few milestone moments. Coachella definitely felt like one of those.

Lizzy: We’re off next to Bonnaroo, which is huge. We’ve never been there. We’ve heard it’s the US version of Glaston­bury so we’re expecting it to be mayhem. We were on tour with Grouplove for six weeks. It’s in­teresting for us to do both ”“ spend a week in the studio and then take off for these festi­vals. This year more than any other, we’re spending more time in New York. New York is such an important part of band, music and who we are, so it’s hard to be away espe­cially when the city’s inspired you so much. To be back here is a real treat.

 

How has New York influenced your music?

Max: We were students, who graduat­ed from school, and moved to New York. So being in this city and out on our own was exciting. We’ve always said that the album [Secondhand Rapture] couldn’t have been written in a different place. The city has inspired us on so many lev­els. The songs were written in my apart­ment here and Lizzy writes lyrics on the street sometimes and the environment pushed us to experiment with so many genres. There is something very New York about that ”” that melting pot aes­thetic to our sound.

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Was your first gig in New York?

Lizzy: It was. We had practised for months before the first show and there were some bumps, but we weren’t as nervous as we thought we would be. There were way too many people in the audience than we would have liked. It was at Glasslands in Brooklyn. Tiny venue. It’s so Brooklyn in so many ways ”“ different artists come in and change the stage set up every time they perform. Every band that comes to New York often plays their first show there. It’s dirty and grungy ”” the bathrooms are really gross. But it’s always fun to do a show there.

Max: There’s also this band trajectory through the city ”“ you start at Glasslands and then move to Mercury Lounge. It’s exciting to work your way up and have those markers that you can look back at and say: “Ok, sold out Bowery. Next up, Webster Hall.”

 

Who do you hang out with on the road?

Last year, we played with Alt-J at every festival and hung out with them. We’re hanging with HAIM all the time. We just toured with Grouplove. They also played at every festival we play. We often have slots right next to each other and they’re some of our best friends. It’s like family away from home.

 

Which bands did you look up to during your student days?

Max: When I lived in Latin America, I had all these Shakira DVDs and I obsessively watched them. I wanted to perform like her. We talk about Arcade Fire all the time and we really admire their ethos. We saw them at Coachella. They have these clever little stage ideas ”” they’re smart without being overwrought.

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Lizzy: I also think about Beyonce on stage all the time. Karen O is probably one of my favorite per­formers ever. I saw her at Coachella two years ago with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and she’s probably one of the most wild, badass front rock women I’ve ever seen. I often raise the bar for myself to try and be a little bit more like her and bring out the wild, eccentric side of myself.

 

What made you want to cover “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem?

Lizzy: They’re one of our favorite bands. They’re also hometown New York heroes so for us it’s another statement of our love and connection with the city. We started messing around with it in rehearsals and then we needed a cover for Like A Version in Aus­tralia and we thought ”˜Let’s do the LCD cover’. It took on a life of its own. Our fans over here were really excited to know that we were fans of the band and it was great fun for us on stage to find out who the LCD fans were in the audience. It’s now become one of the highlights of our set.

Max: It’s fun to put your own spin on some­one else’s song and I think it always teaches you something about music. We also do a cover of Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” and the cadence of songs and how different people write is really important. That’s really gratifying to learn from artists you love.

 

Will your next album feature guests?

Max: We’re open to it if the right opportuni­ty comes up. It’s not something we’re actively seeking out.

Lizzy: I’d love to do a duet at some point.

 

What’s the new album sounding like?

Lizzy: Big pop record. It’s a lot more electron­ic. We’ve been on the road for the past two years and we feel like we really want to dance more on stage, so we’re writing songs that might allow us that freedom on a performance level.

This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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