Most bands record their albums in recording studios. But MS MR are not most bands—we knew that from the get-go. The dance-pop duo, composed of Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow (pronounced “miz mister”), released two singles upon graduating from Vassar College in 2010 with virtually no musical experience. Serendipitously, they'd eventually land on their critically-acclaimed 2013 debut Secondhand Rapture. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that, to produce their hyped-about follow-up, How Does It Feel (out today), they went rogue and locked themselves in a windowless room in Brooklyn for four months.
“I probably wouldn’t recommend it to others, but it served its purpose,” Hershenow tells InStyle. “There was an initiative to finish all of the songs so we could get the f--k out of there.” What resulted was an eclectic mix of ‘70s-tinged tracks that still maintain the group’s trademark synthy dance vibe. We caught up with Plapinger and Hershenow at the InStyle offices in advance of their summer tour, going on now through November. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
This album sounds decidedly ‘70s. Was that intentional?
Lizzy: I think we both feel like this album is very much an evolution of Secondhand Rapture, and, in some ways, a more mature and more nuanced pop sound for us. The last one was a lot of curiosity and experimentation—neither one of us had ever been in a band before—so every song was its own experiment in seeing what we were capable of. There was a pure naiveté and rawness to it. It’s great to feel like now we have the skills come into a second record and be intentional about what we’re making and see it through.
Max: I think we struck a balance of knowing who we are and where we’re going, but still giving ourselves the room to let the music take us into new and unexpected directions. We wrote the songs thinking so much about how we would perform them live: how we wanted to move, and how we wanted the audience to move. Our measure of success is so much in the show.
How do you want the audience to move, in your ideal scenario?
Lizzy: So far, people have been really up for dancing. I think that’s a testament to our fans. They’re not too cool. They’re not going to stand there with their arms crossed. We love dancing on stage and being those wild, raucous versions of ourselves and bringing that energy into the music. This album was about exploring all the corners of making people want to dance—not making a dance record in the conventional sense—but exploring all areas of movement, from people fist-pumping and singing along to grinding with the person next to you and getting pretty sensual.
Lizzy, a lot of people have compared your raspy voice to the great Florence Welch. Do you agree with that assessment?
Lizzy: It is incredibly flattering to a degree that no one will ever thoroughly understand because she means so much to me. I’m such a huge fan. I personally would not put us in the same category, not as a slight, honestly because I think she’s just such a powerful singer, but what I admire about her voice is that she isn’t always on the note—it’s raw or raspy. Those imperfections are what make something feel real and earnest and emotional.
Have you always had a raspiness to your voice?
Lizzy: It was something I was teased about when I was little. I smoke a lot, to be honest. That was something that took a turn in high school. But I never sang until this project. I think Max was one of the first people that I ever sang in front of. A lot of this process has been about exploring this range of musicianship and what we’re capable of.
You guys have great style. Where do you like to shop?
Max: A lot of ASOS, a lot of vintage. We like mixing low and high.
Lizzy: We like buying things from H&M and making them look really high-end. There’s a skill to that.
Max: This record lets us glam it up a bit. It lets us be elegant and sweet and sexy but have that rocker, glam edge. It’s been a new era for us to play with.
Lizzy: It’s our modern spin on glam rock.
How does your day-to-day wardrobe differ from onstage?
Lizzy: I feel like our lines are completely blurring where we don’t really care what we wear onstage or not. When you’re playing a festival, that’s when you can really take it up a notch and become a totally theatrical version of yourself.
Max: Plus, you have so much space on the festival stage, so you want things that can move.
Lizzy: I hope it gets more and more wild and we’re able to amp it up more and more. Multicolored feather tuxedo, here I come!
Listen to "Criminals" below, and buy How Does It Feel for $8 on the iTunes Store.