How Bushwick and the Internet Shaped MS MR's 'Grimy, Gritty, Dark' New Music

Photo by Luke Gilford

Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow of MS MR are glad to be back on the road, if only because it gets them out of the “glorified dirty closet in Bushwick” where they recorded their new album, July's How Does It Feel. The duo is somewhere in Tennessee when we chat, en route to a show at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge (they’ll be back in New York for their biggest headlining gig in the city yet at Terminal 5 on October 8). They’ve brought with them their signature craft supplies, perfect for last minute costume doctorings. MS MR knows that the visual matters. Back in 2012, they released their debut EP Candy Bar Creep Show on Tumblr in a release so artfully curated it was written about in Wired. Pitchfork called the group “a pop-art design firm, a partnership of sorts that happens to offer pop music among other holdings.”

It’s easy to see where Pitchfork is coming from. MS MR takes their social media, kooky music videos, and stage presence seriously (“We’re super involved in every element of the planning,” Hershenow says). They draw on influences from directors like Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson, like on their single “Hurricane,” which Plapinger describes as a “candy-colored gothic world.” They like to experiment with masculine and feminine fashions and identities, subverting the idea, as Plapinger says, that “pop music is just one thing.”

She and Hershenow met in college at Vassar, after Plapinger started the Neon Gold record label (launching the careers of Passion Pit and Marina and the Diamonds, among others). Helping the careers of other artists shaped MS MR’s eventual sound and aesthetic. “Being on stage as a woman, it’s liberating to experiment, to be seductive and sexual in a tough, bossy way,” Plapinger says. “I like acting like a rock band lead would act.”

Their new album is definitely New York-inspired, even though Hershenow moved to Los Angeles last November. A standout track on the album, "Painted,” has this driving, accelerating beat made up of Plapinger’s wrenching lyrics, “What did he think would happen?” thudding in the background throughout. “We found inspiration in Bushwick the same way we found inspiration in Bed-Stuy for the first record,” Plapinger said. “It’s just sort of barren warehouses, an industrial environment. It lent a grimy, gritty, dark quality to the music.”

Being on the road also means they have made it to the other side of the creative process, no small feat given second-album pressures. These pressures are magnified when you could feasibly become something of a think-piece magnet, a fertile ground for music critics everywhere. It’s easy to fall victim to the viral Internet hype machine.

But MS MR likes to make the machine work for them, releasing smart synth-pop on their own time. “We’re inspired by Internet culture,” Plapinger admits. “We’re a band born on the Internet.”

MS MR will play Terminal 5 on October 8. For ticket information, click here.

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