Before synth-pop duo MS MR unveiled its true persona, the duo emerged from the shadowy realms of Tumblr with "Hurricane" and its lush visual accompaniment. Featuring rapid-fire imagery that immersed viewers in the band's synth-pop sound, the clip spread across the Internet like wildfire. Now, more than a year later, MS MR has shed its anonymity and spread well beyond the web.
Today we know that MS stands for Neon Gold label founder Lizzy Plapinger, while MR is bandmate and co-Vassar alumni Max Hershenow. Since revealing themselves, the band also has also released a gorgeous debut album in the form of Second Hand Rapture, played Letterman, and are currently amidst the hurly-burly of a tour that has them hitting festivals from New York to Australia. We caught up with Lizzy and Max to talk style, anonymity, and their upcoming guide to awesome local thrifting.
Photographed by Bek Andersen
First thing's first: How did you meet?
Max: We went to school together at Vassar College upstate. I was at dance school, the Martha Graham school in New York, and knew about Lizzie and Neon Gold. I was producing on the side and e-mailed her asking if she was looking for artists. She sent me some of the material she had been writing on the side because she had never played it for anyone. We got together and fell into place."
So, you guys didn’t actually know each other in college?
Lizzy: "It’s such a small school that you’ll see someone on campus and you’ll know they go to your school, but you don’t run in the same friend circles. We both knew who the other was; we just hadn’t collided yet."
Lizzy, your hair has been a lot of different colors in the past few months. We’re wondering how you keep it healthy and what inspires the color changes?
Lizzy: "I can’t wash it that much, so I usually put Moroccan oil on it. I don’t really know why I change the color so often. I get into, like, a color crush, and I think it’s the next thing, but I genuinely don’t know until I’m sitting in the salon chair. It’s sort of wherever my head is at."
Max: "There’s only so many places you can go with it, too."
Lizzy: "Yeah, because the colors you have dictate what colors it can bleed into. If it’s blue, it’s almost impossible to go orange. We did my roots orange and the ends have various shades of blues and purples. I always love colors in trios. I’ve naturally gravitated to certain color tones. It’s what I’ve always been doing, except it’s now with my hair."
Do you have any idea what color you'll choose next?
Lizzy: "I want to go watermelon. I want to go neon-neon pinks, and neon-neon greens — like highlighter colors."
Lizzie wears a vintage blouse with a vintage skort from MGR. Her fishnets are from American Apparel.
Do you guys get to do much shopping while you're on tour?
Lizzy: "Totally. Every time we’re on tour, the first thing I do is look up the vintage stores and go vintage shopping. That’s sort of our go-to activity when we’re on tour."
Max: "It’s a really good way to get to know the city. If you go to one store and ask someone where another good store is you get to know the city better — it’s fun like that."
Lizzy: "Most recently — where were we? We were in Chicago and I bought a denim onesie that has long flannel sleeves and an attached flannel hoodie. I’m so psyched about it; I literally can’t wait to wear it. Every day I open my eyes and ask myself, 'Could I wear it today?”
Max: "We were in Vancouver recently, and I bought a bright orange — brighter than Lizzy's hair is now — fleece puffer hoodie, but I can’t wear it now. It’s too hot."
Are there any shops that you've visited that you especially like?
Lizzy: "That one in Vancouver is one we really, really loved. We’re keeping a running list."
Max: "The one across the street from the Commodore Ballroom [Ed note: probably USED House of Vintage]."
Lizzy: "And, eventually, in time, we’ll release our world of vintage guides ‘cause we’re getting good."
Max wears a "vintage" Target T-shirt.
Who are some of the music or fashion icons you've looked up to?
Max: "Bruce Springsteen is the one I can think of. Bruce is it. I like his attitude."
Lizzy: "For me, music and fashion are totally intertwined, so the women who I’ve grown up being obsessed with are Gwen Stefani, Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry, Karen O. These really aggressive, strong, but still entirely sexy, and fierce women. I like that they’re not too girlie, but they’re still powerful and feminine. On a good day, I’ve been compared to one or two of them. That is the best form of flattery."
Max's classic eight-hole Docs.
Have you met any of them?
Lizzy: "No, I haven’t met any of them. If I were to meet any of them, I feel like I’d be friends with Shirley Manson; I feel like I would like Shirley Manson."
Just hanging out in a cutoff Topman shirt and River Island pants (on Max) and a Topshop jumpsuit (on Lizzie).
If you could have a theme song, what would it be?
Max: "Oh man."
Lizzy: "The one I want to say would be inappropriate."
Max: "What is it?"
Lizzy: "In college I was really obsessed with ‘My Dick’ by Mickey Avalon."
Max: "That would be your theme song?"
Lizzy: "It would be like me walking down the hall…"
Lizzy: "Oh wait, no, the theme song to Daria. Let’s go with that one."
Max: "I’m going to stick with the Bruce Springsteen theme and say 'Born To Run.”
Nice. What about your favorite karaoke song?
Lizzy: "Oh, 'Only Happy When It Rains' by Garbage, and 'Sugar Pie Honey Bunch."
Max: "I don’t even know what my favorite karaoke song is, but I know that it will be an ABBA song."
Check out those Forever 21 platforms!
How did you dress in high school? Is it weird looking back on old phases in your fashion development?
Lizzy: "In high school, I had come into my alternative phase. I went shopping at Urban Outfitters, but my mom used to go antiquing, and she would buy antiques in London and try to sell them in the States. I’d go to these antique fairs with her and that’s when I started to get into vintage clothes. I remember this one time I was into more classic '50s, Victorian — I mean, really, really beautiful, almost costume clothes. I would mix those with Urban Outfitters stuff. I think it was a taste of my style developing, but it was still at the beginning, you know? Definitely Urban Outfitters."
Max: "I lived in Latin America during high school, so it wasn’t a very fashion-oriented scene. In Honduras there was a bizarre trend where you would buy jeans and bleach a line down the middle, so it was worn out in that line. I had a pair of those. I was sort of preppy, wearing a lot of collared shirts and Diesel."
Lizzy: "That’s very European of you."
The record has all these really strong visual elements. How did you view the relationship of sound with your videos and video collages?
Max: "One of our core philosophies is that we may present a lot of information, but it’s not necessarily connected in a narrative. We have an idea of what the narrative is, but maybe it’s sort of an aesthetic idea, and we’ve put the information out there to let people make their own assumptions about it. For us, we’re always interested in these different interpretations of the music. That’s why remixes are so important to us; that’s why we did the Tumblr video because we like the idea of many, many interpretations of the same song under the same idea in one package. I don’t think you have to choose one video. Each video is a snapshot of our visual identity in that moment. I think that they work in tandem to provide different faces to a multifaceted thing. It’s difficult to articulate, but I think it helps to have all these different ideas."
Lizzy: "Hopefully, you’re writing music that’s more three dimensional with different meanings and something that is not so surface level. I think about 'Bones' and the first video is a cut from Labyrinth. It’s the first song we wanted to put out a video for. We thought it could have been the soundtrack to that scene. Putting it together was seamless. We knew what scene it was going to be, we cut it, and added to it, and it worked perfectly. Then, we did the lyric video. It was cool to work with text and font, which is another interesting way to define your aesthetic. It’s a nice opportunity to not put up a 'Hurricane' video and try to create new material from all this collected material. The next video was 'Secondhand Rapture' and that was an entirely different montage that was directly from our album cover shoot. With each different video, you get a new face, and a different interpretation of the song."
Max: "We’ve said before that we recorded the album a year ago, we released it, and by the time you release an album, you’ve already evolved from it. What’s cool about the videos is that we can keep releasing them, and it’s a more up-to-date touchstone of where we are aesthetically — which is amplified by Tumblr’s up-to-the-minute posts."
There was a sort of anonymity in the beginning of the project. Why didn't you want to share your names?
Lizzy: "It was sort of a mixture of things. The first being that we’re making pop music — and I say that term really proudly — but I think a lot of times, pop music becomes too much about the person behind the music, and that’s not what interests us. For us, it’s really about the music, and there’s something nice about having it validated just by its sound. The other half is that I’ve had my foot in the industry for a few years now, and for better or worse, we didn’t want the music to be judged by that. We also feared that if we came out with our names, and people knew who I was, it’d become more about me than about Max. That would be the most inaccurate interpretation of this project because we’re such a strong unit and everything we do is 50/50. We wanted to come out as an incredibly strong duo, and I think that happened really successfully."
How does the division of time work between your label, Neon Gold, and the band work?
Lizzy: "It’s a challenge, but Max and I are multidimensional people, and we have a lot of interests, so I feel like when we’re doing our own thing, we’re doing our own thing, but it’s in tandem of being on the road. We’re mixing lifestyles, but we’re living in a time where it’s easy to communicate with each other and be on top of everything. For me, I have Derek, my business partner, who’s at the helm more than ever before while I’m on the road and building our company up, too. I think we’re respectful of our mutual dreams and our individual dreams. However we can be a support shoulder for one another, we’ll do that."
How do you maintain a strong relationship with all the time spent together?
Max: "We look at it like a marriage."
Lizzy: "I imagine that this is what marriage is like."
Max: "This is the most intense relationship I’ve ever been in."
Lizzy: "I think because we spend so much time together, we’re good at knowing we don’t have to be talking if we’re in the same place. I think we pick up on each other’s feelings because we spend so much time together. We’re quite empathetic toward one another."
Max: "We’re good at giving each other space..."
Lizzy: "...And being communicative about everything. The only times we’re not nice to one another is when one of us has misunderstood what the other is saying, and you have a five-minute conversation explaining that 'it’s not what you meant.' We’re lucky. I think we’re very, very honest with each other."
Max: "We didn’t know each other before we started making music together. That we’re on the same page about a lot of things is pretty remarkable. The fact that we don’t want to kill each other yet is incredible. Hopefully it’ll happen for 25 years."
What’s coming up next?
Lizzy: "It is touring until the end of time."
Max: "Yeah, for another two years?"
Lizzy: "Hopefully! If our record does really well, we won’t need to be on the road, but we’re heading into festival season this summer. It’s something we haven’t done before. We’ve done a handful of festivals, but..."
Max: "We’re so scared. It’s happening right now."
Lizzy: "We’re literally on the brink of festival season."
Is there any festival that you’re particularly excited to play?
Lizzy: "Hopefully, Governor’s Ball. It’s a hometown show. It’s our favorite lineup of any festival we’re playing this summer. All of our favorite bands are playing. On a basic level, it’s a huge honor to be on that list. Not to mention so many of our friends from New York are playing and coming to the show. It’s so important to us."
Max: "I’m really excited to go back to Australia. We were there for Laneway in February and we’ll be going back for Splendour In The Grass in July. Australia was just a dream we had in the very beginning, and it’s just propelled past every hope I had. I’m excited to be back into it."