Shortly before they took the stage at The Arch in Brighton for the first date of their 2015 European tour, BN1’s Gary Marlowe caught up with Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow of New York duo MS MR. Their conversation covered everything from the challenges of life on the road, to how artists are having to find new ways make money when fewer and fewer people are paying for music, before ending with an insight into their lofty ambitions for the future.
Lizzy, being born and raised in London, you must feel very comfortable here in England?
Lizzy: I do feel very comfortable here. For a long time, I thought I’d come back. I was pretty sure I’d return to London after graduating college, but I moved to New York instead. And now, honestly, New York feels like the right place for me. I still have a lot of friends here, although most of them are from the music business, rather than from growing up. I went to an international school where people moved on pretty much every year. That said, it does feel like coming home.
Although you travel all the time, I guess you rarely get to see very much of where you are?
Max: You don’t get to see the places like a tourist would, but as you get more established you have a bit more flexibility in the way you schedule things and the way you travel. That means we now have a lot more room and space to see things than when we first started out. Our friendgroup is quite international and spread out. Increasingly, we get to see people we know in every city we play. I say that but we don’t have a friendgroup here in Brighton, at least not yet.
Lizzy: We might not know anyone here, but we’ve had a lot of debauched memories in Brighton! We have a lot of fans here and Brighton’s got a great musical history, it’s a great musical town.
Max: Where better to kick off the European tour than right here!
This is your first visit for a couple of years, what things do you miss about England when you’re at home…and when you’re touring over here, what do you miss most about the States?
Lizzy: When we’re here what I miss most is the ease of using your phone and not having to count the minutes. When I’m in the States I really miss British pub culture. Bar culture in the States is quite different to pub culture over here.
Max: These days, there are more similarities than differences.
Lizzy: I used to miss Hobnobs, but you can get them in the States now.
When you began back in 2011, what did you think would happen?
Lizzy: I think we honestly had no idea. We just hoped people would enjoy the music. We didn’t necessarily care how many people, just that someone would like it. Back then, we didn’t even think about the live show, we were just having a good time making the music. At some point we said we’ve made so much music we better share it with people. So really it was just natural next steps.
Max: We’re both ambitious. Right off the bat, we hoped something would happen, but we didn’t allow ourselves to verbalise it. That was an important part of the gestation period of the band, that we weren’t talking about what might happen next.
Lizzy: And the truth is, things did go well and because we had no expectation, everything was a delight or a cherry on top.
Max: It wasn’t until we started this album that we even realised that ‘Hurricane’ was as much of hit as it was. To us, it was like OK, it’s doing well, that’s cool.
You recently said “We’re inspired by Internet culture. We’re a band born on the Internet.” What did you mean by that?
Lizzy: Much of that was down to the fact we released our first EP on Tumblr, something that back then was pretty much unheard of. And from the very beginning, we were so inspired visually by Tumblr. It was something unique at the time. That’s why I said we were born on the internet. Now of course, everyone’s an internet band. But back then, it was something that defined MS MR.
You toured your first album for almost two years…
Max: Three, actually. We toured for a year before we put out ‘Secondhand Rapture’.
That’s a huge amount of time to be away from home and living on the road. Many people think it’s a very glamorous life, but often that’s not the case. So what are the highs and what are the lows?
Lizzy: Well, there was certainly a period on the first record, where I was having a really hard time being away from friends and family, being away from New York City and the song ‘Painted’ really became an extension of that darkness. It also became this beautiful high, because it reignited us talking about music and focusing on the next record. So it was the positive that came out of that darkness.
What were the lows?
Lizzy: Touring is physically so hard.
Max: Because we hadn’t done it before, we didn’t really know how long it was lasting. It sort of felt like this endless vortex.
Lizzy: It was so crazy. And as a new band, we weren’t making any money, we weren’t travelling comfortably, there were a lot us squeezed into a small space. It was really, really hard. Nowadays, the goals are different and it’s thinking have we got the money to put into production and realising that the reason we do this is for the shows. And in the moment of the show you’re so lost in how fucking awesome it is to be playing for people all around the world.
And those emotions certainly come out onstage…
Lizzy: That’s true. We wear our emotions on our sleeve. Some artists may play it cool. But not us!
I believe both of you hadn’t really intended to be in a band. Max you planned on becoming a choreographer and Lizzy wasn’t your dream to be a dancer?
Lizzy: It was, but I was doing nothing to make that dream a reality.
It’s intriguing that you were each thinking along quite similar lines…
Lizzy: I feel that’s like it is with everything between us!
Max: We’re performers at heart. We were both doing very different types of dance, but we both liked dance.
Lizzy: Mine was more a fantastical dream, while Max’s was more of reality. I would have ended up running a label or running a record store. I was always going to end up working in the music industry.
Max: And I would’ve been condemned to poverty!
A lot of bands I talk to recognise that selling records is never going to be the moneymaker it once was. For some the revenue comes from live shows, for others it’s merch, but for the lucky few financial success can come from soundtracks. It’s something of course that you benefited from two years ago when ‘Bones’ was featured on the season 3 trailer for Game Of Thrones.
Max: That was such a huge moment for us. It was the first time we could feel the energy and excitement online. We’d never experienced anything like it. The trailer got something like 40m views on its first day. We were just like reeling a little bit as our song featured so heavily.
Lizzy: And what’s more, it was a show that we loved.
As much as your music, your personal style is a big thing for both of you. Whether it’s the ever-changing colour of Lizzy’s hair or Max’s shades, it seems you’re always a little out there. The Guardian once said of Lizzy “She looks like they sound: loud, bold and very colourful.”
Lizzy: Thank you the Guardian!
Have you both always been bold and colourful?
Max: Yes. Lizzy more than I.
Lizzy, you’re into vintage clothes, what about you Max?
Max: Increasingly, we both dress in vintage. The best things always are.
There’s some great vintage shops in Brighton, have you had the chance to go shopping here?
Max: We’ve had some really good shops here. I tried to go today, but we didn’t have the time.
Lizzy: But more and more, we’re making our own clothes. We design our own stage outfits and that’s been a really natural extension of everything else that we have control over.
We’ve seen Kanye West make the step from stage to catwalk and bring out a collection of shoes and clothes, Is fashion something you’d like to get more involved with?
Lizzy: I’d love to do that. I could see Max and I doing it independently of one another, but I could also see us to doing it under the MS MR label.
Max: We’ve already talked about doing a unisex collection.
Lizzy: It’s something we’d really enjoy. As well as the music, there are a lot of things that interest us. Fashion being just one of them.
So a fashion line might be on the cards, but isn’t the big ambition headlining Glastonbury?
Lizzy: You know for any musician, Glastonbury seems like the heavenly golden gates. It means so much to me because I grew up here, Sometimes I really doubt it will ever happen. If it did, it would just be so mind blowing. We’re both ambitious, but I think now it’s more like, let’s get to a stage where we’re headlining festivals. I think we’d be such a good headliner!
Words: Gary Marlowe
Photo: Images Out Of The Ordinary
Follow MS MR at @msmrsounds
Follow Lizzy at @MissGoldUSA
Follow Max at @alexmaax