MS MR, the undeniably infectious duo consisting of Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hersehenow, have spent the last year honing their new album, set for release this coming July via Columbia Records. Their 2013 debut, Secondhand Rapture, peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Heatseekers Album chart, with standout single "Hurricane" remaining on the US chart for nearly 30 weeks. Their follow-up album brings along the sonic-stretching electronic pop they've previously mapped out, but their darker musings have been transformed into a more hopeful sound.
"When we came into the studio this time around we were talking a lot about intentionality. It was less about dabbling here and there and more about how we see ourselves on stage and in our videos," explains Hersehenow.
"There was sort of a disconnect between the music, which was dark and broody and then how we were in person because we are quite bubbly and we get really excited on stage," adds Plapinger. "I think we wanted to bring that into the second record; we'll never get rid of the darkness and inner turmoil, but I think we've sort of turned that notion on its head and in some ways this record is a step forward from that. It's an evolution of perseverance and using that darkness as a way to move forward."
The duo met almost by mistake. At the time, Hersehenow was studying dance and Plapinger was working at Neon Gold Records, the New York label she co-founded with Derek Davies, originally as a singles-only label. After a brief email exchange, they formed an alliance based on their similar ambitions. Neither really knew how to write songs or what exactly they wanted to produce, but their articulate and driven creative minds began building the bones of MS MR. "We were pretty naïve about the process and because we didn't know each other, we didn't have to talk about our point of inspiration or what the songs were about," Plapinger says.
MS MR act like a real life Mr. and Mrs. thanks to near-constant communication and round-the-clock touring and recording schedules. Though they are not a couple, they have a tight bond, which begs the question: What do you do when you just want a break? "You need to be smart about how you are spending time together," says Plapinger. "Ultimately we are really respectful of one another and if we spend too much time together, we're straightforward about taking some time apart; it's not resentful or anything though."
"I can't handle more than one of this," Hersehenow laughs, referring to the relationship with his bandmate.
"It's your best friend, your business partner, it's your brother, it is all the intensities of all your most important relationships rolled into one and that's [a lot to] balance," explains Plapinger.
MS MR have toured with the likes of Marina and The Diamonds, Jessie Ware, and Bastille, played major festivals including Bonnaroo, Governors Ball, Outside Lands, and even Coachella's main stage—a feat they beam about. "It was a huge moment for us in our career and lives, it was really fucking awesome," says Plapinger.
Although they didn't play that particular festival again this year, they appreciate being off the stage too. "Even though you know it's not your turn and know that you'll inevitably play a bunch of festivals next year, there's a time when I'm like,'I'm exhausted or way too messed up to be on stage but I want to be up there right now!'" Hersehenow says.
Plapinger says they're aware that pop music is "no longer strictly bound to this Top 40 landscape." Their first record blended organic and electronic sounds, and their next highlights what they've become—particularly how much Hersehenow has strengthened as a producer. "I think when we realized our niche with electronic music and R&B, we wanted to blend more of the electronic," he explains. "We found there was more breadth of emotion that could be pulled out of it if you combine the two. When that came together I started to know that I could orchestrate great string sounds. I am a piano player at heart so those are things I shouldn't ignore, although, I know now how to program beats and I understand how to mix."
The first glimpse of the new album comes with the release of "Painted", a four minute thunderstorm of belting vocals, reminiscent of Florence & the Machine, set against brilliant tempo cadence that includes horn and drum explosions, and in-your-face lyrical repetition. "Painted" adds to their catalog of indignant anthems like "Head Is Not My Home," "Bones," and "Think Of You."
Beyond festival stages, their music has been featured on a Tom Ford runway and they haved helped design a capsule collection for the New York fashion label Pyer Moss. The neon hair and jumpsuits accentuate their spastic stage performances, creating a standout MS MR on a sartorial level. They've found a way to take all the scattered snowflakes in their head and form an icy snowball which stings instantly upon impact. They also know how to use their fashion sense to create an on-stage atmosphere and now, armed with a brand new lighting rig (which was used for the first time in Toronto last week), those performances will be even more visually elevated.
"I think the key is to not get into thinking about what you need to do to please other people, but rather stay true to what you want to achieve," says Plapinger. "We have always been vocal about how we are a very ambitious band, and that we love pop music and see ourselves sort of straddling the line between the alternative, electronic, and Top 40. Whether you hate or love 'Painted,' stick with us because I think you are going to find something on this record. There's a lot of range on it."
MS MR play several festivals this summer including Lollapalooza and Osheaga.