What began as some scatterbrained ideas between two college graduates at the start of the decade quickly evolved into a pop sensation with a twist. MS MR (say it “Miss Mister”) managed to find some solid middle ground between dark, brooding electronica and anthemic pop on their debut LP, 2013’s Secondhand Rapture.
Spurred on by the success of breakthrough single Hurricane, the duo appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, scored a top 10 position on the Billboard charts and even made it into the top half of the Triple J Hottest 100. Business looks to pick up once again for MS MR as they prepare the release of their second album, How Does It Feel.
Ahead of the duo’s imminent return to Australia as a part of Splendour, we spoke with vocalist Lizzy Plapinger regarding the creation of How Does It Feel and moving forward as a band.
Watch: MS MR – Hurricane
Music Feeds: Second albums are often perceived to be a reaction to the debut, in a manner of speaking. With this in mind, how do you feel the public reaction to Secondhand Rapture impacted on the direction taken on How Does It Feel?
Lizzy Plapinger: We’re really proud of that album and what we achieved with it. Neither Max or I had been in a band before starting MS MR. These were truly the first songs that we had written in our whole life. The fact that we wrote those songs for ourselves and it was so well-received and we got to tour all over the world… it was unreal. It was such a positive journey for us. I’m still so proud of everything that we achieved at that stage.
I think so much of what we’ve done on How Does It Feel stems from going back to those roots on the first album; thinking about the music that we made then and how much we have changed since then. I definitely think I’m a far better singer now than when we first started this project – Max, too, I think is a far better producer.
With this record, it wasn’t about replicating that album – that was never going to happen. This was about showing where we’ve come from and who we are now as musicians and as people. I think there was a real sense of curiosity and naivete that was an important part of the first album. I think now, it’s more about setting a challenge for ourselves – it’s about putting our artistry in context. It makes our sound a little bit more clear.
MF: What’s the set-up when it comes to writing songs? Are you the kind of act that is set in their ways of writing roles or do you two like to play a part in both the music and lyrics?
LP: We’re still figuring it out, but what we enjoyed doing the most on this record is starting from scratch. We brought in our drummer, Zack [Nicita], who also co-produced and co-wrote a lot of the record with us; and we’d start with one idea.
We’d have a lyric idea or a melody idea or a bassline or something, and then we’d bounce off one another and digest more ideas. We’re all so involved with what the other is doing that the entire songwriting process has started to feel basically like an extension of one another’s individual talents.
Watch: MS MR – How Does It Feel (Lyric Video)
MF: Three songs from the album have been released already – Painted, Wrong Victory and the title track. Lyrically, there’s definitely a sense that the album will be themed around a fragmented relationship and the aftermath of its demise. Do you feel as though this is a more personal album than Secondhand?
LP: I can’t not write from experience – everything that I write is true to me. It’s all up front and visceral and to the bone for me. I don’t know if I can say if this album is anymore personal than the last one. What I can say, though, is that there’s a better balance of the abstract and the literal. Wrong Victory, to me, is the best song on the album. It’s a song that I think strikes that balance the best.
MF: Tell us a little bit more about it…
LP: It’s a song about feeling lost and wanting to escape from yourself, but also being true to who you are. I think often people put on faces so much, they turn into someone else. This song is a moment of desperation. It’s searching for and reaffirming who you are and who you want to be. It’s something I think everyone goes through at some point in their life.
MF: That’s true, but it’s still relating back to something unique that happened in your own life. You mentioned being a very emotional, cathartic writer previously – do you ever worry about things getting too personal when you’re writing? Perhaps giving too much away?
LP: [laughs] You know, it’s actually kind of funny. I was speaking to someone about this just the other day. I don’t feel like I’m giving away too much, but I also don’t know how to write another way. I know what I has to do has to be sincere and it has to be from the heart – that’s what I look for in music, that’s what I look for in art. That’s what I’m attracted to.
There’s something dark and moody and angsty about Secondhand; whereas there’s more of a sense of wallowing when it comes to the songs on How Does It Feel. It’s a bit of a comfort blanket, in a way. It’s a more mature relationship with darkness – using it as a catalyst to find a way forward. I feel like Painted was more of a nod to what we’ve done before, whereas the rest of the album is more reflective of who we are now.
Listen: MS MR – Painted
MF: Painted has a huge early-90s dance vibe with the stuttered electric piano and the looped vocal sample. The other two songs are definitely more in the pop-ballad territory. Can we expect more of a mixed bag stylistically on this record?
LP: I feel like, sonically, this record is a lot more focused and a lot more articulate. It’s a lot more focused on drums and bass, less on going through ten different organ sounds to get to the right one. Painted was so much fun to make – it was the first song that we wrote for this album. I was listening to a lot of Miike Snow, Mark Ronson and The Prodigy… all, I suppose, artists that like to use vocals as another sort of instrument; something to weave through the production as opposed to just sticking them out in the forefront.
I loved the idea of building a chorus out of sampling as the track unfolds. It was such a fun experiment, and it set the tone moving forward. I think we’ve always enjoyed cross-pollinating. Music’s no longer geographically bound – we’ve got all of this access to all of this music, all these sounds and ideas. It’s wasteful not to try and absorb as much of that as you can.
MF: MS MR will be back in the country this month as a part of Splendour in the Grass, which is where you also made your debut appearance in Australia back in 2013. It must be quite exciting to return there, especially given the reception you received last time…
LP: It was probably one of the best nights of my entire life. I think Australia has been incredibly supportive of us from day one. Splendour, for us, was a chance to put a face to all of these people that had been listening to us and buying our albums – some of them even knew every single word to every single song that we played. I felt like Beyonce! [laughs] We have very high expectations for this year, it should be really special.
In addition to playing Splendour in the Grass, MS MR have a couple of sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. Grab the deets below!
Listen: MS MR – Wrong Victory
MS MR Splendour 2015 Sideshows
Wednesday, 22nd July 2015
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Secret Sounds
Saturday, 25th July 2015
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Secret Sounds