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Lennon & McCartney, Richards & Jagger, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – throughout history select musical duos have embodied a special chemistry. New York based act MS MR vocalist Lizzy Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow are another fine example of this rare occurrence. After meeting at the renowned Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, the pair became fast friends and have become virtually inseparable ever since.

“It must have been fate that caused Max and me to stumble into each other’s lives,” says Plapinger. “We’re lucky to have the relationship that we do – we definitely keep each other in check,” she smiles.

Their debut single ‘Hurricane’ propelled the pals onto the world stage in 2012, thanks to its unforgettably haunting melody, and made way for the release of their first LP, Secondhand Rapture, in 2013. Featuring tracks like ‘Bones’ and ‘Dark Doo Wop’, this ambitious record cemented Ms Mr’s growing reputation as one of the breakout acts of the year.

“I think one of the reasons that we had the success and received the attention we did, is because we both hadn’t made any music before Secondhand Rapture – so what people were hearing was the rawest, most visceral and emotional version of music than we could possibly make,” Plapinger explains. “It was really us lyrically bleeding in your ears.”

Ms Mr spent the next couple of years touring the world with frequent visits to Australia, a place they call their “home away from home”. Australian audiences have returned the love, and the duo has consistently sold out major venues across the country and played at our biggest and best festivals, including Laneway and Splendour In the Grass.

“The first time we played Splendour was honestly one of the best nights of my entire life,” Plapinger says. “So when we were asked to do it a second time I was pretty emotional and excited – and it was such a spectacular evening.
“What made it even better was that Tame Impala were headlining, so they played at the end of the night. To see them playing the festival that they grew up going to, in front of all their hometown fans, was so inspiring. I know their records intimately, so it was amazing – watching them is my favourite memory from last time we were in Australia.”
This time around Plapinger and Hershenow will weave their magic at Groovin the Moo, followed by a headline show at the Prince Bandroom in St. Kilda. It will be the first time that Australian audiences have the chance to hear their latest LP How Does It Feel, including singles ‘Painted’ and ‘Criminals’, up close and personal.
“What we learnt after the release of Secondhand Rapture was that people who listened to our music expected us to be quite different in person, because our first album was rather dark and gloomy. Then they’d meet Max and me, and we’re very bubbly, upbeat people – and there was a disconnect. So on this next one [How Does It Feel] we really wanted to marry the two worlds and create a rounder image and perspective of where we were in our lives, and who we were as people – and I think we did find a little bit more of a balance this time.”
As co-founder of Neon Gold Records, Plapinger knows a thing or two about what it takes to become a well-rounded artist. Together with her business partner Derek Davies, Neon Gold is often credited with the initial discovery and/or support of numerous success stories, including Lana Del Ray, HAIM, Grouplove and CHVRCHES, not to mention being instrumental in the success of Aussie artist Gotye in the US. “I’ve been so lucky to work with the artists that I have with Neon Gold. Even the biggest artists we’ve worked with – whether it’s Marina and the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding or Gotye – everyone is still incredibly down to earth, humble and thankful for being able to do what they do.
“Running my own label has been a real learning lesson, in terms of realising that you’re never too big for your britches, treat everyone like a human being, and just be appreciative that you’re in the game at all. Because as soon as it comes, it can also all go. It’s something Max and I always remember.”
As part of Neon Gold Records, Plapinger is also involved in the running of popular club nights in NYC, London and LA, and producing approximately 100 events a year, in addition to their flagship annual showcases at SXSW, CMJ and The Great Escape Festival. Plapinger says that this gives them a unique insight into what festival-goers really want. “We go to so many festivals and we hear our favourite bands all the time, so we know what it’s like. You want to hear the new songs, but I know you also want to hear the songs that you’ve grown accustomed to and that are close to your heart. So we would never deprive people of the songs that we know that they want to hear. We’re always thinking about it from the fans’ perspective.”
MS MR aren’t shy at giving their fans what they want. Their social pages are filled with photos of the pair in fabulous fashion (“We adore clothes,” Plapinger says. “It’s the best way to inhabit the wildest version of yourself”), while YouTube is full of clips of the two perfecting new steps together. “Max was a choreographer and dancer, and I was a dancer growing up. That’s actually what I thought I was going to do professionally – I used to compete around the world. It’s so awesome that it’s something we both love and get to share on stage – and the more we perform, the more (unintentionally) our moves sync up, which is really cool. It’s just wonderful to explore another side of our interests together.”

By Natalie Rogers
When & Where: Prince Bandroom, Melbourne – April 29 & Groovin’ the Moo, Bendigo – April 30