Michigan singer-songwriter Alex Winston and MS MR’s Max Hershenow are so over big labels. Together as new duo Post Precious, Winston and Hershenow are going back to basics when it comes to writing, recording and releasing their own songs.
For Hershenow, whose band MS MR is on hiatus as both he and singer Lizzy Plapinger pursue separate projects, the grind of the road convinced him to slow down. The constant shifting at Columbia Records, to which the duo was signed, led to a less than ideal handling of MS MR’s second album, 2015’s How Does It Feel.
“Our first record, we had an incredible experience with Columbia. I think it was everything that you could possibly want,” he said. “By the time our second record rolled around, we had a pretty different team, and it was a different relationship with the label. … Now I’m a free agent.”
Winston, whose songs like “Sister Wife” and “Velvet Elvis” drew acclaim in 2011, had a much worse experience with 300 Entertainment.
“I wrote my second record almost three years ago. They wanted an extra single from me after the record was done and I kept sending them songs,” Winston said. “They wanted a smash radio hit and I was like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ I was having a hard time trying to write this magical song for them to release this record that was already done. That was really creatively, incredibly frustrating.”
Eventually Winston became ill and was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which knocked her out of commission. The record has not seen the light of day, and Winston describes the experience as purgatory. Responding to a comment about how we were to speak two years prior, but had the interview cancelled by her label, Winston was not shy with a quick response: “They pulled that album away from me too, so that’s probably why.”
Hershenow and Winston have been friends since the beginning of MS MR. Winston came to Hershenow and Plapinger’s first practice set, giving them feedback about what worked and what needed to be improved.
“She was our first audience member,” he said.
Three years ago, both found themselves living in Los Angeles. Hershenow, exhausted from five years of continuous touring and recovering from an ugly breakup, began producing other artists.
“Lizzy and I; we’re both really ambitious and very focused,” he said. “We started taking the next steps for all kinds of things—pushing forward and pushing through, and we hadn’t really had a break. I feel like I lost a little bit of sense of self and hadn’t had a break to just think about what I want from my career and my life and my lifestyle.”
Winston, whose immune system had become so compromised by Lyme disease, moved back home to Detroit. After a year of intense treatment, she moved to L.A. for a change of scenery.
“I’m feeling much better now. It’s just always something I’ve got to be a little cautious of, not to run myself down too much,” she said.
Eventually the two friends found each other and began to write together. The goal was to write for other artists and collaborate as session musicians. As they rediscovered how much fun they had making music, they decided to keep some songs for themselves and release them independently. For Winston, it was an opportunity to control her music for the first time in years.
“The collaboration just felt really unique to us,” Winston said. “And honestly, we were having a fun time with it. … Why not put it out there? Why not just, like, start this project for ourselves? There’s no waiting, no sitting on the shelf. There’s something so satisfying about that after going through this process with the label.”
For Hershenow, it was a low-pressure scenario where he could start from scratch and not worry about being involved in a large operation—which MS MR had become.
“It was really appealing to try and do something a little bit scrappier and a little bit more driven just by our friendship and our community here in L.A.,” he said.
For the year and a half that the two have been working together, their community of friends has played a large role in their success. The two have been writing and recording in the home of pop diva-in-training Charli XCX.
“I live in Charli’s house,” Hershenow clarified. “We live in this amazing old Tudor mansion place up in the hills. It is filled with musicians and tacky décor and it’s really, really fun and super-inspiring, and there’s all these different artists and people that hang out.”
On most days, Hershenow, Winston and their friends can be found at the house, working on music and hanging out with the interesting visitors. Post Precious was an overt attempt for the duo to call its own shots, including self-releasing the music, and a network of friends has made that possible, Winston said.
Winston and Hershenow released their first single, “Timebomb,” a couple of weeks ago. The pulsing synth pop dance track pulls from the shared experiences of both songwriters, but it’s also extremely personal to Hershenow, who experienced a series of heartbreaking events as MS MR was winding down, including a breakup.
“For me, that song was really about this terrible ex-boyfriend,” he said. “He wasn’t terrible; he was wonderful in many ways. … I wanted to put it into music. It was the first time I felt manically driven to write something.
It was also important to Hershenow to make the song sound fun, and the song is a sign of the Post Precious trait, which he described as “dark, weird and twisted lyrics over soaring melodies with euphoric beats.”
Even though both Max Hershenow and Alex Winston have access to indie labels–Lizzy Plapinger owns Neon Gold, after all–the two decided to self-release “Timebomb” and their forthcoming EP. Any success they reach they’re passionate to earn for themselves, without having to sign away any rights.
Hershenow would trade major financial success for the ability to control Post Precious’ image, videos and distribution. Winston acknowledged the band’s climb is likely to be a slow one, but that the independence is still worth it.
“Even though we just released one song, it’s such a sense of achievement,” she said. “It’s these small victories.”
Added Hershenow: “Every Spotify playlist we were added to, we were, like, ‘We did that,’ rather than some team somewhere; people we’ve never met.”
The Post Precious EP is on track for a release sometime in the first half of 2018. The duo will do a few shows, but don’t expect a lengthy tour. Hershenow doesn’t want to do that anymore, and Winston’s body cannot take the toll. But you can bet they’ll both have complete control of where and when they play.
“We can really figure out our own schedule and what works for us,” Winston said. “I’m just happy to be making music and working again because it was really tough to kind of sit idly by for so long.”
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.