There aren’t many more glamorous artists on the scene than Ms Mr.
The NYC two piece, electro / indie outfit made up of Lizzy Plapinger andMax Hershenow have been carving a fabulous trail in their wake ever since releasing their debut album Secondhand Rapture in 2013.
Frocked to the nines and lighting up the dance floor with their equally sensual / danceable formula of disco meets dark wave, they’re one of the more perfect examples of the ever closing gap between genres – one minute you’re convulsing to the beat, the next you’re pashing the stranger next to you in glorious ecstasy.
The duo is now set to return to Splendour In The Grass, just weeks after releasing their sophomore album How Does It Feel, with the electrifying single ‘Painted’ ready and waiting to inspire some serious d-floor grinding.
We caught up with Max Hershenow to discuss the uncomfortable DIY process of recording the new album, why he finds it easy to stay glamorous on the road but not so much at home, and how the feelings of plants inspired their latest video.
I was looking at your schedule of tour dates, as well as the places you’ve played over the last couple of years. You’ve been touring the world relentlessly and in that time you’ve managed to record a whole new album, while Lizzy also runs her own label – Neon Gold. Do you guys ever get to sleep?
Well, part of it is that we’ve carefully planned it out so that there’s a façade that we were on the road more than we actually were [laughs]. We basically started wrapping up the last record cycle at the beginning of last year and started sporadically writing over the first half of 2014. We were still touring a little bit, so we’d tour and come back, tour and come back. And then we were sort of distracted and a bit all over the place for the summer and then really decide to knuckle down.
So we took three and a half months off into the fall and rented a little studio in Bushwick in Brooklyn, and really just hashed it out. We spent every single day in this gross, windowless room, where it was incredibly hot in the summer and really cold when it got cold and no ventilation and super, super DIY, which was really the goal of trying to recreate, as much as we could, the environment from the first record. So over those three months we really hashed it out and forced ourselves to get everything out that we needed to get out.
Well, I was going to ask you had your experiences over the last couple of years and the rise and success of the band find their way onto the album’s themes and sounds and feelings. But now I have to ask was it a hybrid of the two – your external experiences and that environment of where you recorded – did they both have a strong influence?
Yes, absolutely! There were so many things that we learnt from being on the road that we wanted to bring into the writing process while staying true to ourselves and that was the balance that we were trying to strike. And honestly, when we first started writing we had lost our way a little bit and it took us a few months to sort of come back in and identify what made us “us” again. But while we were on the road we spent two and half years becoming better musicians and better vocalists and better writers and also developing a better vocabulary for talking about music and knowing what we wanted. We love performing and we love dancing on stage and we wanted to make music that people could dance to and move with and that felt like it was intentionally for festivals and for the live environment, which is something we never even considered for the first record. So we went into the writing process thinking about songs that were bass and drums driven that forced you to move – and not just fist-pumping move – but music you could grind to a little bit and that were sensual and sexy and more up tempo.
That being said, we realised that we had something very special and that we have a very unique identity that feels very much us and we wanted to keep that alive. So we tried writing in big fancy studios and we tried writing with engineers and things like that, but ultimately we realised that our best work comes when it’s just us in a room with a computer and a microphone and our vocal booth is like a f*cking blanket tacked onto the wall. It’s not fancy but it’s ours – there’s no lable breathing down our neck, there’s no-one asking us how we’re doing or why we don’t have the perfect single yet and really allowed us to have the space to explore.
And you can really hear that division between wanting to make people move as well as capture that sensual sound perfectly articulated in the first single ‘Painted’. Is that a good barometer for the rest of the record? Does it set the tone for what else we can expect or are there more twists and turns on there than what people might suspect?
Well, there is definitely a lot more high energy and up tempo songs. But I think ‘Painted’ misleads a little bit. I think the rest of the record is a lot more like our first record, but it combines some of the elements from ‘Painted’ with more of our original-ness or sound. But it’s cool – I think if you were a fan of us before you won’t be disappointed, but we’re opening up our musical landscape and hopefully more and more people will be into it. And honestly we’re so excited to be coming back to Splendour because we had such a f*cking good time there. It was honestly one of the first shows where we were like, “Oh my god this is so cool that we get to do this.”
Did you feel much pressure with this album to follow up on the success of Secondhand Rapture? Or was it the other way round in that you knew that there was a concrete audience there for you guys to deliver music to?
Honestly, I think when we went into the studio – there’re days where you get distracted or you feel like you’re collapsing under the pressure and there were still shitty times with it. But honestly, we really focused again and just made sure the music that we were making was music that we liked and that we loved first and foremost. And I think the record feels as genuine and heartfelt and real as the first one because we were able to put those things aside in the writing room. Some days were more successful than others but generally it was really focused on making sure the music itself was what we imagined it being. And I really feel like this record is the perfect next step for us. It’s like the songs we always imagined we could create but just didn’t have the skills to create on the first record.
You guys are synonymous not only with glamorous music but really glamorous looks – you both are always pictured with really fabulous outfits – are those kinds of looks difficult to maintain on the road?
No it’s not hard. It’s really fun! Looking amazing is an extension of our visual brand, which is so important to us, that we can carry with us all the time. So if we’re going on a festival stage where there’s not time to have your own background or your own set, it’s like you’re bringing the aesthetic with you at all times. And mostly it’s really fun. Honestly, we spend so much time vintage shopping when we’re on the road. We always go home with two more bags than we came with. And there’s this weird vortex where you go into tour world and you sort of forget what is normal to wear because your world is just so different. I’ll get off tour and I’ll go out with my friends and I’ll be like, “Oh my god, what am I wearing?! This looks ridiculous in any other normal setting.” It’s this weird world that its own entirely.
And those outfits obviously found their way into your latest video for ‘Painted’, which came out about a month ago and is a really, visually stunning shoot, with crazy costumes and an intricate, retro, sci-fi looking set. Who came up with the concept for the video and where did the idea of, I guess the duality between the humans, yourselves and plant life come from?
Like with all our videos, it’s always a collaboration with whichever director we work with, for this we worked with a director out of LA called Tabitha Denholm, who is pretty astonishing. And we all really liked the idea of the complex between nature and man made and of the idea of exploring that space and playing off the line “What did you think would happen when you put me in a natural space?” which is in the song. And we had been referencing a lot of Stanley Kubrick,A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Oddissey – we liked that aesthetic a lot. And then Tabitha had been a big fan of this documentary called The Secret Life Of Plants that is where they did all these studies on plants where they attached electrodes to them and measured their responses to the environment. They would like, cut down another plant that was right next to the plant with the electrodes on it and you could see it basically screaming on the screen. So we liked the idea of this retro-futuristic, pseudo-science of nature, I guess. The idea of hallucinating our performance into existence felt really cool to us, and like a fun way to explore the song.
And finally, you’re set to perform at Splendour In The Grass just a couple of weeks after the release of the record, which is super exciting for us. What should fans be ready for?
I think they should definitely get ready to dance as hard as they can. They should be ready to sing along – there’s a lot of songs that we wrote specifically “How Does It Feel” which came out two days ago was written to be chanted along with at a festival, and they should be ready for some intimate moments. We always encourage a good make out in the middle of a Ms Mr set.