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Chatting With MS MR Before Their Return to Webster Hall

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 4.24.17 PM.pngThere's no denying that MS MR is a band with a healthy sense of the dramatic. The driving percussion layered under Max Hershenow's full-bodied keys and Lizzy Plapinger's hauntingly beautiful vocals on tracks like "Bones" and "Hurricane" are what the duo (who tours as a four piece band) are best known for. But their most recent album, Secondhand Rapture, is also incredibly listenable. "Fantasy" channels Florence and the Machine, while "Think of You" has an almost Lady Gaga-esque quality. They return to Webster Hall tonight to headline with Wildcat! Wildcat!, and we caught up with the New York-based band about their sound, playing for a hometown crowd and how wild the last year has been for them.

I saw you at Webster Hall when you opened for Marina and the Diamonds.

Max Hershenow:
Really early.
Lizzy Plapinger: Yeah, that was really early.

A year ago.

LP: That's crazy to think about. Yeah, that was a year ago. It was amazing. That was our first ever tour.

MH: That was the end of the US tour with Marina, and we'd played a few larger rooms, but it was still very new and fresh and exciting. It's always nice for us to come back to New York and have a hometown show. We're very connected to New York and proud of our New York fans, so it always feels right when they come out. What's so awesome about this is that we've opened at Webster twice -- once for Marina and once for Jessie Ware in the spring -- and now we're doing our own headline show there, it does feel like part of the tradition, passing on the baton, of playing these rooms.

Tell me about playing a big room like Webster Hall as a duo.

LP: I mean we have two other musicians with us on stage. Max is on keys and I'm singing, and we have a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist. So for us I feel like we're living out our more developed life as a band. We were very adamant from the beginning that it would never be just the two of us on stage. And especially not with a laptop. That's not what we wanted to perform and we really thought that that undermines the scope of the music, just given how dramatic and over the top it is. The addition of the two other players it feels like more of a band performance. It gives it more of a free, rock, live edge to it. It gives us the freedom to really move around and perform it, and not just be stuck to a drum track or something. I think there's something sort of false if it would just be me and Max playing on top of that.

MH: It's something that helps us evolve as musicians as well. For so long it was just the two of us in this very introspective world, which I think was a great way to write the album, but by bringing in two other musicians who are really phenomenal players -- much better than we are, technically -- I think it's challenged us and pushed us to keep evolving in ways we might not have. We've definitely learned over the past year that it's about performance and not just about the music and writing itself.

So you feel like you've gotten better as a band?

MH: We started at such a green place that it's impossible not to. It's exciting to think about it. It's exciting to think about you having seen it at Webster Hall a year ago and then how far it's evolved in the past year. I think we're still sort of in that phase where every week we were better than the last week.

I would say that the Game of Thrones trailer was the point that you guys really started to blow up. Would you agree?

LP: That Game of Thrones moment was huge for us. I mean, as insane fans of the show -- it's something we've all watched in the tour bus together, something we all talk about obsessively -- it was just extremely exciting to see.

There's a tendency for hardcore fans of bands to hate on new fans who've found out about the music via something like the Game of Thrones Trailer or hearing your music on a show like Pretty Little Liars. What do you have to say to those people?

MH: I think we've always been a band rooted in the indie DIY aesthetic. The album was recording in my apartment with just a computer and a keyboard and a microphone. Super DIY. And the fact that those first fans really responded to that means the world to us. We've never been shy about our aspirations either. I think we want to be a mainstream band as well. I think we want to make pop with an indie twist. We're highly ambitious like that. I just want everyone to listen to it. I want as many people to listen to it as possible and I think finding it through TV shows is a good way to find it because it feels like a different interpretation of the song, but a very legitimate one, even if it's not in the exact context in which I wrote it.

LP: And also it sort of builds off of the aesthetic of the band, which is very mixed media and collage oriented. So for us it's an artistic choice that we're so open to television and film. Like Max said, putting the music in a different context is part of the greater project that we're sort of trying to demonstrate. I think pop music is at an incredibly exciting point right now. Pop music is being made at a very alternative level.

Secondhand Rapture is an album that I feel like I can listen to from start to finish without ever getting to a song that I want to skip. Did you set out to make an album like that?

MH: We joked the entire time that we would write an album only of singles.

LP: Even when we were mixing with Tom, we would be like, 'No, no. Tom, it's not big enough. You have to approach every single song like it's the most important song on the record.' He would make so much fun of us, but that was important to us.

MH: Something about making an experience throughout, an emotional ebb and flow. I like the idea of that. It wasn't a concept album. We weren't writing songs as a whole thinking about them as a cohesive body of work. But now that we have [gone through the mixing process] I feel like there is an overarching story that builds. And I like the idea that you can follow that and the idea that you can listen to the whole album means a lot.

Ultimately, for us, we just make music that we really love and I think if we keep doing that we can say, 'Yeah we stand by this music whether it's successful or not because we love it.' And hopefully other people feel the same way. I also think that even if someone didn't like the whole record, because there's such a range of music on there, there's a song in there for everyone.

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