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 album, Secondhand Rapture, peaked at the number two spot on Billboard's Heatseekers Album chart, with their standout single "Hurricane" remaining on the US chart for nearly 30 weeks, also dipping into the tenth spot. 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. 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," furthers Plapinger.
The duo met on a whim. At the time, Max was studying dance and Plapinger was working at Neon Gold Records, the New York label she co-founded. After a brief email exchange, they formed an alliance based on their similar ambitions. Both didn't really know how to write songs or what exactly they wanted to distribute, but their articulate and driven selves 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 furthers.
MS MR act like a real life Mr. and Mrs. Together they speak in tones that marry their voices with their dimensions—being with one another and in constant communication helps strengthen that bond, but also begs the question: What do you do when you just want a break from each other? "You need to be smart about how you are spending time together. 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," says Plapinger.
But they're well aware of how full on their partnership is, both agreeing that neither will have another relationship like this again.
"I can't handle more than one of this," Hersehenow says chuckling.
"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 balance," explains Plapinger.
MS MR have toured with the likes of Marina and The Diamonds, Jessie Ware, and Bastille, played major festivals from Bonnaroo, to Governors Ball, Outside Lands to Coachella's main stage—a feat they gleam 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 the staple music festival this year, they appreciate being off the stage too, well, sort of. "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, I want to be up there right now!'" says Hersehenow.
MS MR aren't box huggers when it comes to defining their sound or their music preferences for that matter. They're aware that pop music is "no longer strictly bound to this Top 40 landscape," as Plapinger notes. Their first record blended organic and electronic sounds, and the forthcoming record highlights what they've become. Particularly how much Max 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. 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," explains Hersehenow.
The first glimpse of the new album comes with the release of "Painted", a four minute thunderstorm of belting vocals, similar to that of Florence Welch, 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."
From having their music featured on the runway by Tom Ford, to helping design a capsule collection for the New York fashion label Pyer Moss, to neon hair and jumpsuits, to spastic performances—MS MR's standout is striking. 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 environment and now armed with a brand new lighting rig (which was used for the first time in Toronto last week), those spastic performances will be even more 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. 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," explains Plapinger. "Whether you hate or love 'Painted' [you should] 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 are part of multiple upcoming festivals including Lollapalooza and Osheaga.