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Interview: MS MR

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on June 12, 2013

We chatted to Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow from MS MR about their debut album Second Hand Rapture (SHR), David Letterman and Game of Thrones. Ever since their Tumblr facilitated release of EP Candy Bar Creep Show, the world has been buzzing with their “noir pop” vibes.

MS MR formed out of college, and began with an email exchange between Lizzy, who owned Neon Gold records and Max, who was producing music. Max was looking for a singer and when Lizzy sent him some of her own demos, things kicked off. Since then they haven’t looked back, taking the world by storm with hits “Hurricane” and “Bones”.

Tumblr played a huge role in the release of their EP and they’ve got a new multimedia outlet for SHR aptly named “Second Hand Capture”. Check out what they had to say:

Hi, where are you calling from?

Lizzy: Hi, I’m in Manhattan and Max is in Brooklyn.

What have you guys been up to?

L: We just did our first US headline tour we were doing that for a few days around the North East and went to Canada for a little bit. We’d done a few headline gigs around Europe but we hadn’t been able to do that in our home country yet. So that was pretty rad.

How do feel about the release of SHR?

L: So happy, we have been sitting on it for a while. It was pretty much done last fall. In the mean time, up until now, we’ve been getting the live show ready and getting all the video and artwork in place. So by the time it came out Max and I were ready to show it to everyone. We were really satisfied to have the material out there and play to people who know the words to your songs.

How did you come up with the name Second Hand Rapture?

Max: Naming the album wasn’t going to be a single concept, not one relationship or one breakup, so there wasn’t really a lyrical print to tie everything together. So when we looked back we were choosing bits that really inspired us through the writing process. The first was our relationship to media and the sort of media way in which we experience the world. Media through your computer screen creates a sort of intimacy, which for us was that was the secondhand part. We were really inspired to write when there were moments of bad weather, or impending storms. “Hurricane” is the most obvious example of this, which we wrote right after Hurricane Irene was threatening New York. It’s about the idea of the rapture, the tension in the air in New York especially when a storm is about to hit.

Second hand capture, the multimedia accompaniment to SHR has also been released, how do you feel about the results of this?

L: Incredibly satisfied, Max and I had always dreamed of achieving a video for every song and people always laughed at us when we kept bringing it up, but we really wanted to make it happen. Max and I are very strong and visually oriented, everything you see is an extension of our version of aesthetics. But we called in a lot of other friends and artists to accomplish that vision. It was such a nice way of turning it around and being able to pay homage to those people who help define the visual side of the project. So we were lucky to bring in Tyler, Luke and all sorts of people who have done artwork for the album and the EP and some of the video directors and some of the people who did the initial footage videos. And it was great because it allowed us to make every video for every song and to also to look at other interpretations and it sort of created another way for people to interact with the album. And to us it’s all about creating an environment and how people experience the music. We’re really proud of it, and we hope it gets the attention we both feel it deserves.

Check it out here:

Will you be releasing any more official videos as well?

M: We will be releasing some more videos, in fact we’re working on a couple of videos now, so stay tuned.

Does one of you take creative control when it comes to the concepts for the videos?

L: No, I think everything is really shared between Max and me and everything you see is directly from us. Depending on what the song is, we usually have a gut initial reaction of we want it to be about, how we want it to feel. It’s easier to talk about the texture and the vibe of the video before the narrative or context for it. We toss those things over and line up an idea between the two of us and then when we reach out to directors, we come with that in mind and even how we can morph that idea to become more united. And so it feels like a healthy back and forth for whoever we end up working with. And that’s definitely been the case for the past few videos we’ve made.

The first half of the album is songs from the EP, did you always intend this?

L: As we were writing, we had the record in mind as a whole. We had the whole album together and finished back before we knew what was going to be on the EP. So we always knew those 4 songs would be on the album because, for us, it’s all out of the same time period. They all really stem from the same place. Those 4 songs are really MS MR 101, and the rest of the album gave more, some of the range and interests and styles. And also with the album release you have better press and a greater outreach and so I feel like we really didn’t want to leave those 4 songs behind. Those songs are crucial to our story and development so we didn’t want to lose them.

Considering the monumental success of “Hurricane” and “Bones”, did you feel pressure for the rest of the songs on the album to be as great as the EP?

M: Well we’d already written everything by the time we had a record deal or anything. That was one of our first commitments to each other, we really didn’t want to be a flash in the pan band. We were really committed to making this a long term career. So often with new bands, they put out one song and then they have so much pressure to write or output something, they’re really rushed, they don’t have the time, and there’s a lot of emotional pressure. It was really important to us that before we ever stepped forward, we had a really solid body of work.

How was it to work with such a renowned producer like Tom Elmhirst (Produced for Amy Winehouse, Adele, The Black Keys, Florence, Jonsi and Noah and the Whale)?

M: I produced the whole album in my apartment, and then we finished everything as best as we could have and we thought we could just mix it and be done. But then as we started talking to the label and thinking how we were going to release it we wanted to add more additional production and record some of the computerised elements on live instruments. We were thinking about who we wanted to direct the album, Tom Elmhirst was at the top of our list, we thought it was a dream that wouldn’t actually come true. Then the label said it could happen, and we did a test run of “Hurricane” and it came back just perfectly. So then we went in with Tom and spent the week with him in New York. From my perspective, working with another musical person, with just the two of us, it felt like he was taking it out of our hands, but we both ended up feeling that instead he made the record that we really wanted to make, and just didn’t have the skills to take to the next level. And every element he added made the record feel more like us, it never felt like he put his own thumbprints over it, just a genius genius vision.

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Lizzy, how has it been balancing MS MR with the record label you own: Neon Gold?

L: It’s definitely an ongoing battle for Max, and I’m really lucky in that both my boys, Derek and Max, are incredibly amazing partners, and I think Max understands my love and commitment to Neon Gold and Derek understands my love and commitment to MS MR and so I’m lucky to have both of them. When I’m on the road, MS MR is my focus, but we have a lot of downtime, a lot of time is spent in the car travelling so it’s pretty easy for me to listen to music and give feedback and continue to work a lot with the label. And when I’m back in New York it just means that days off, that should be days off, turn into meetings all day for Neon Gold. And so it’s just about being as efficient with my time as possible. Max and I are incredibly supportive of each other, I think we both have a lot of different interests but we just want to see all of our dreams fully realised.

Who are your favourite artists of 2013?

L: There’s so many that we’re in love with. Haim, good friends of ours and incredible musicians, I think they’re going to be huge. Haerts are an amazing band, on Columbia Records also. And Mø, who’s become a really dear friend and someone who Max has worked a lot with from Denmark, definitely one you want to keep an eye on, she’s something special.

You recently did an amazing cover of LCD soundsystems “Dance Yourself Clean” and Mø’s “Pilgrim”, how did you enjoy doing these?

M: We both love doing covers, they’re a very interesting way to peer into another artists psyche and I think you learn a lot from it. It’s really fun for us to put our own spin on it.

Your song “Bones” was the feature song for the season 3 trailer for “The Game of Thrones”. I understand you’re big fans, have you watched the latest episode (Red Wedding)?

L: Have you watched it Max?

M: No I haven’t, so don’t give anything away.

L: All I’ve told him is to not watch it at night or alone.

How was it to be on David Letterman?

L: Pretty wild. It’s really bizarre to grow up and be able to see that show and know that it’s a staple for American tv and to suddenly go on it. I think it was much weirder for us to watch it later than to actually do it. But it was just such an incredible opportunity, we’re such a young band, the album had just come out, it just felt like perfect timing. I think for our parents that was a really big deal too, because a lot of the attention we get on the internet on blogs or on hypemachine, it’s not a world that they totally comprehend and so to play on Letterman sort of cements in their minds a context for how well we’re doing so that’s really special you know.

How often do you listen to your own music?

L: I used to listen to it a lot more when we were mixing it and making notes. I haven’t listened to it since it came out.

M: I don’t listen to it anymore. The mixing process is sort of the most taxing process for us. Writing a song, we get it out really fast, in a day or two. But going back over it, you can be really nit-picky and you get sick of listening to it. I’m looking forward to taking a break and going back in a couple of months going back and listening to it again.

You’re back in Australia for Splendour in the Grass, what can we expect from your show?

L: I think we’re growing and evolving with each show and Australia is one of our biggest fan bases, so for us it’s always a place we want to go back to the most because people know the music. We had high expectations for Laneway and even those were exceeded, and since Splendour is on a whole other level of excitement for us, I’m sure it will continue to exceed our expectations.

Any plans for the next album?

L: Well we’re always writing but its kind of out of our hands in that its influenced a little bit by hoping that the album does really well, and if SHR continues to do really well then we’ll let this record go for a little while. But Max and I always have our eyes on the prize and definitely thinking about the next record. We’ll take our time,we’re not in a rush, we’re playing the long game. We would never release anything we’re not happy or satisfied or proud of. We’ll take however long we need to continue to do right by us. But it would be really nice to be able flip the record around really quickly.

If you had to play one song from the Moon looking back at Earth, what would it be?

L: Probably something classic like the Beatles

M: It would not be one of ours, I’ll tell you that…

Tickets to MS MR’s Splendour sideshows are available here:

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