ABOVE: MS MR. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARLOTTE RUTHERFORD.
MS MR‘s Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow are gearing up for the release of their sophomore album, How Does It Feel. On the LP, the moody pop duo—whose debut Secondhand Rapture was released in 2013—experiments with more drums and bass, while sonically remaining in the pop world. When she’s not acting as one half of MS MR, Plapinger spends her time running the label Neon Gold with fellow co-founder Derek Davies.
Here we are pleased to premiere “Criminals,” a trance-leaning track off of MS MR’s forthcoming album. The song tackles the push and pull of a toxic relationship through Plapinger’s hypnotic vocal chops. Alongside the audio premiere is a ’70s-esque visual, depicting a motorcycle as it rides down an unending and unchanging road. MS MR’s Plapinger and Hershenow talked to us about their glam rock style, making more engaging music for live shows, and the challenges that come with fame.
ILANA KAPLAN: How do you think your upcoming record is different than your debut? Do you think you still have a haunting, dramatic vibe on the album?
LIZZY PLAPINGER: I think it still has the same flair for drama and moodiness that we sort of established on the first record, but I think the biggest difference is how energetic and direct a record it is. Secondhand Rapture had the first songs we had ever written, and we didn’t think too much about how they’d translate to the stage. After being on the road for three years, we discovered ourselves as performers and how much we loved dancing and engaging the audience on stage. When we came back to focus on whatever the next record was going to be, we knew we wanted to inject that energy into it and wanted to craft a record that was meant to be played on big stages with big audiences. I hope we’ve achieved that. We wanted our album to be anthemic.
KAPLAN: “Criminals” is such a pop banger. What’s the story behind the track?
PLAPINGER: “Criminals” is such a fun pop track. I think it’s one of our favorite tracks on the record. The song itself is about being in a toxic and tumultuous relationship and trying to pull away but there’s not really a way out. I think it was a song we had a huge amount of fun writing. I think you can hear the enthusiasm and energy within the track.
KAPLAN: Was it based off of your personal relationships?
PLAPINGER: Absolutely, all of our songs are autobiographical. I don’t think we know any other way of writing. I think we’ve all probably experienced a relationship where we’re in the throws of it that is so toxic, but for better or for worse, you get sort of a high off of the relationship.
KAPLAN: What’s been the biggest challenge for you both as MS MR has risen to fame?
MAX HERSHENOW: Honestly we’ve evolved a lot as people and as musicians and artists in this process. I think we were smart about it; we were never forced into a position where we weren’t ready to take the next step. I think we’ve just been ready for that next era. We definitely feel like that with this album—it’s a much more pop-focused album. We’re really ready to take the next step.
KAPLAN: Lizzy, how do you balance running Neon Gold records and MS MR? Has it ever felt overwhelming to do both?
PLAPINGER: It’s definitely a lot, but I’m so lucky I have partners in both things. I have a partner in Derek who I run Neon Gold with and a partner in Max in MS MR. I think having partners help keep me focused and sane. At the end of the day, music is the thing I love most in the world. I’m happy to spend every second of my life dedicated to it, whether it’s in the creative or being behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s really nice to step back from what we’re doing in MS MR and help other artists find their voices and their visions. I think being in MS MR has made me a much more empathetic A&R and really talk to our artists and go through their campaign and goals. I think there’s a really nice back and forth between the two.
KAPLAN: As a woman who runs a record label and works as a musician, have you faced any personal challenges doing either of your professions?
PLAPINGER: I think the music industry has always been somewhat of a “boys club.” I definitely think that when I was coming up in the music industry six or seven years ago, even as an intern, that it felt sexist and difficult in the workplace. I definitely think it’s improved, significantly so, in my time. There was a time where I’d take the heat and I couldn’t look other executives in the eye. Now I think that I’ve established myself as a force to be reckoned with. There are so many artists and executives that are strong and empowered women like Julie Greenwald at Atlantic Records, Charli XCX, Lorde, and HAIM making their voices be known. I think it’s a pretty exciting time to be in the music industry, whether you’re an artist or on the business side of things. Taylor Swift is on this upper-echelon level of merging the two even more than ever.
KAPLAN: You both are very stylish artists. How has your style evolved since Secondhand Rapture?
HERSHENOW: Fashion for us is just another outlet for the creative element of the band. I think we’ve been in a constant evolution since the start of the band. For this record, we’re focused on a ’70s glam rock look. It’s been fun to get ridiculous, glam-y, and over the top. I can’t promise that we’ll stay like this forever, in fact, I can promise that we won’t.
HOW DOES IT FEEL WILL BE RELEASED JULY 17. FOR MORE ON MS MR, VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.