Ms Mr are fascinated by contradiction
Somethingyousaid.com’s Harriet Cheney has a conversation with New Yorkers Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow, otherwise know as Ms Mr, about being ‘sweet-sinister’:
When it’s been less than a year since you released your debut single and you’ve already received praise such as Pitchfork‘s Best New Track for Hurricane, “Prepare to be blown away” (The Guardian) and “a very promising debut” (The Wall Street Journal), it’s pretty safe to assume that your music career is off to a flying start. Meet Ms Mr, a musical duo out of New York who create dreamy pop with a sinister edge. Lizzy Plapinger (Ms) and Max Hershenow (Mr) released their first single, Hurricane, in May of 2012, which was quickly followed by their EP, Candy Bar Creep Show.
I meet the duo in a bar on a beautiful Sydney day. The ridiculously sweet and genuine pair greet me like an old friend, despite having been up at the crack of dawn for radio publicity calls. With Lizzy framed by her blue hair and a mini lipstick print top and Max wearing comic book print pants, we immediately launch into a hair and fashion conversation, which means that before the interview even begins, I am smitten.
Ms Mr find themselves in Australia for The Laneway Festivals and a couple of sideshows yet they don’t really know how they came into contact with the Australian market. “Literally someone slipped something into my drink and I woke up in Sydney,” jokes Max. I mention that the first time I heard Hurricane was on Triple J radio station in June last year when Zan Rowe played it as her ‘Catch of the Day’. Lizzy beams with gratitude for Triple J. “They’re probably the reason that all our things have happened all over the world. They’ve been our biggest supporter and Australia’s definitely our most enthusiastic market.” Coming in a #42 in January’s Hottest 100 is testament to this. The audiences at the Laneway Festival are the biggest that Ms Mr have ever played to. “To have all those people know the words to your songs is incredible”, gushes Lizzy. “I might expect this for Fantasy and Hurricane, but the other ones… we would start a song and literally by the last chorus people would be singing along.”
So overwhelmed by their continual rise in popularity and the increasing size of the audiences, Lizzy sometimes finds it hard to stay in character. “The music is dark and brooding, so I’m up there [on stage] and I’m trying to perform and keep a straight face. But, I can’t help it… I keep cracking smiles because [the crowd] is so amazing.” They describe The Laneway Festival as ‘mental’ in a good way, not only because of the crowds, but also because of the other artists that they’ve gotten to meet and tour with. Max says he’s “had a thing for Bat For Lashes for a long time. She is a mesmerising performer and an incredible dancer”. Lizzy agrees, but adds that she had “all her Mick Jagger epoch fantasies come true” when she saw Nick Allbrook from Pond do his crazy on-stage antics.
Ms Mr are fascinated by contradiction. They agreed that the term ‘sweet-sinister’ nicely summed up the mood of their songs. The pair are much more upbeat than their lyrics might suggest. They use their music to explore the darker side of life. It’s an acknowledgement that even the most positive people have a less shiny underlay. Lizzy sees “the seedy underbelly of the music… wrapped in this pop sheen” as “a great reflection of that other piece of [them]selves.” So, why the attraction to the darker side? Max explains “I think it’s a really fertile spot for creative inspiration. Those sort of juxtapositions are what I find really interesting… where the seams don’t quite meet up, that’s what’s exciting for me.”
And, they’re consistent with the juxtaposition theme. The cover of their EP combines the image of a bloody hand holding a cigarette with a pretty manicure, the name of their EP is Candy Bar Creep Show and the music videos for their four released singles combine images of classic screen sirens alongside skeletons and dripping blood.
Although Ms Mr want to be known as musicians first and foremost, there is no denying that the visuals are a big part of who the band are. They released all their singles via their Tumblr page and see it as the perfect platform to present a visual identity that’s complementary to their music.
Max thinks that, as artists of this age, they have a incredible opportunity and almost obligation to see how their music might transcend different mediums. This comes from someone who didn’t grow up in a household that even had a TV. Lizzy sees this fresh perspective combined with her nostalgic love of film as the secret to their captivating film clips. Take the film clip for Hurricane for instance, it’s a montage of flashing movie stills, animations, words, subliminal advertising and post modern art. These images are accompanied by the lyrics “welcome to the inner workings of my mind,” implying that the mind is confronted with constant over-stimulation ideals and imperfect ideas. The top comment is “This is like tumblr in a video”. The next comment is “I was afraid to blink.”
Quite consciously, Ms Mr are emphasising this hyper-immediacy. Plapinger says, “The music has a self awareness. Even in the production there’s planned glitched and electronic tweeks and things that aren’t perfect. We wanted to reference the physical and visual environment that we’re used to living in, in the new internet age.”
With their debut album, Second Hand Rapture, coming out on May 10th, a bigger taste of who Ms Mr are musically will be on offer. They say that each song has a different personality and perhaps even a different genre. You can hear influences such as Lana Del Ray (on Dark Doo Wop), Florence Welsh (on Bones) and some say Poliça in other songs as well. The pair are excited about the album’s release, but more excited about the door it’s opened to allow further experimentation because they feel that there’s so much more to explore. As their music and confidence develops, they’re starting to feel like anything is possible. Lizzy tells me, “This sounds like a really cheesy thing to say, but I think it’s going to be the best year of our lives. Everyday something happens that a year ago would have totally blown my mind.” Max chimes in, in a singing whisper, “Anything can happen…” and we all laugh.
While things are going swimmingly and Ms Mr are looking forward to touring the new album, they’re not ones to just coast along. They know New York is cut-throat and tell me “You’ve got to push through to survive.” They are well placed in the industry within New York – Max having been a producer for quite a few years and Lizzy, having co-founded Neon Gold records (who have signed Gotye among other great bands) when she was just 19. They have many friends who are artists, photographers and designers. “We hope to rise together with a bunch of people. We’re all facing the same challenges. That’s what being in your 20s is about and we’re having fun with it.”
With all these foundations in place, I’m excited to see what the creative, articulate, media savvy Ms Mr do next.
Words by Harriet Cheney.