It is the age of Lana Del Rey, where it’s no longer enough to have a catchy song gain traction from a Myspace page, grab the attention of a label, and result in stardom.
Today, the power of strategy cannot be undermined. Image, sound and interactivity are important, which makes MS MR’s aim – to have their music examined with little focus on the duo themselves – all the more noble.
Beginning with a Tumblr page, a self-made collage of gifs and the sound of their debut EP, Candy Bar Creep Show, this New York duo’s method of self-launch was unusual, partnering their four track release with accompanying images to bring the darkness of their homemade project to life.
Considered a success by the pair, made up of singer and founder of Neon Gold Records Lizzy Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow, the project brought wide attention to their music.
The infectiously dark “Hurricane” received positive reception from international tastemakers, and “apocalyptic love ballad,” “Dark Doo Wop” even prompted a remix by Australia’s own Chet Faker.
Now, with the EP out and currently touring with this year’s St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, the duo shrug off the mystery that surrounds them to reveal what’s behind their macabre image, and talk about the concept of that Tumblr “collage”.
“We’ve always been interested in the idea of bringing together some unexpected elements. I think Tumblr is the perfect medium for that,” says Hersenow.
“To be able to collaborate and have photos and videos and remixes, it just gives different spaces of personality,” adds Plapinger.
This personality is clearly injected into their music videos too, with the clip for popular track “Hurricane” being a montage of horror art accompanied by a mixed up sense of romanticism.
“It’s interesting to see how inserting different images and motifs in sections of videos create different moods,” says Lizzy.
“‘Hurricane’ is slightly more kitsch and upbeat to a degree, but our other track ‘Dark Doo Wop’ is this apocalyptic love ballad with all these couples getting married mashed up with footage of war.”
It’s these conflicting elements of light and dark that uphold the balance of their accessibility as artists and their uniqueness of sound.
“That’s the goal for the whole EP,” Hersenow continues. “There are these really sweet things or really dark things, such as the cover being bloody hands holding a cigarette. That’s why we call this, Creep Show” he concludes.
With their music so intricately interwoven with their visual identity, and the chemistry between the two so well adjusted, one would assume the pair had been working alongside each other for a lot longer than the two and a half years they’ve collaborated.
“Max and I went to university together in New York,” explains Plapinger. “I ran a label (Neon Gold Records) and Max had been working with another artist at school.” But the two had never actually worked on anything together.
“When we graduated he emailed me and I admitted I was a musician in my own time. We got a conversation going and brazenly jumped into it head first with our cover of ‘Time Of My Life,” continues the duo’s female half. “After that we realised we had a special connection.”
They moved quickly from making covers into creating originals, and although they’re still relatively new on the musical block, they have a very distinctive vocal sound thanks in large part to their stringent focus on layering.
“I never considered myself to be a singer,” claims Plapinger. “So, I’m more interested in exploring how vocals work as other layers of instrumentation, and how they act in production rather than how they stand on their own.”
“(Vocals are) so interwoven they sound just as important as one another,” she adds.
But the creation of Plapinger’s unique vocal effect requires extensive layering in the production process and has proven to be difficult to pull off during their live sets.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” says the singer. “This is when I wish I had a hologram Lizzy. Max sings some of the vocals and I sing as much as I can, but I hope down the line we’ll be able to take some singers on the road with us.”
Indeed it won’t just be the two of them that have come down for Laneway, they’ll be joined by a drummer and a guitarist/synth player to aid in filling out the sound.
While presenting material live may be a challenging endeavor, the writing process comes naturally to the pair. They pen the melodies and music for each song, in what is a constant process of sending ideas back and forth.
“No piece of the process is done without the other person there at all,” Lizzy assures. “I think the music and the vocals feel tied together and I think it’s because of the way Max and I work and want it to feel.”
Yet as proud as MS MR are about their sound and image, their attitudes seem largely unaffected by their growing popularity. The two cite their inclusion on this year’s Laneway lineup as a moment of genuine amazement.
“We are so insanely excited. It’s totally unreal that we get to play Laneway!” exclaims Plapinger.
“We’ve been talking about going to Australia for maybe, a year,” adds her male counterpart. “So this is just so exciting.”
The pair are utilising a blank slate approach to their first Australian trip, taking any and all recommendations on where to go and what to do and it seems they’ve already got a firm handle on the music culture down under.
“People seem to have a perspective on new music that isn’t there as much in the U.S.” observes Hershenow, “so it’ll be good to meet some true music fans.”
“We think maybe we’ll run into Cut Copy on the street or something like that!” quips Lizzy. “Does that happen?” queries Max.
Upon assurance it becomes clear that this pair, from one of the world’s biggest cities, is genuinely thrilled to be gracing our shores as their young career continues to trend upward.
You can listen to Candy Bar Creep Show here. MS MR are currently on tour with Laneway Festival 2013; dates, maps, and set times here, MS MR also play two sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne, dates below.
MS MR Laneway Festival Sideshows 2013
Monday, February 4 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Thursday February 7 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne – SOLD OUT