I met up with Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow in June, prior to MS MR‘s opening set for CSS at the Independent. It was the duo’s second time performing in San Francisco, and their Outside Lands set will be just their third. Still, they can imagine moving to The City, as you see below. I spoke to them shortly after they got out of their van after a 6-hour ride from Los Angeles. “We came in, brushed our teeth, changed, and now we’re ready to go – now we feel like the day has begun,” Plapinger said. “Otherwise, we’re in this weird van-limbo time.”
The two met after they both graduated from Vassar in New York. She was a media studies major and co-founded an indie music label. He studied dance and was on track to become a choreographer. Read about that in detail in my story.
Q: Lizzy, what did you do before going to Vassar? Your parents are American but you grew up in England, right?
Plapinger: I was born and raised in London. My dad worked for a New York law firm, but worked for the London office and moved there before I was born. I spent my entire childhood in England. I lived there until I was 18.
Q: Have you ever had an English accent?
Plapinger: I have, when I was really little. We have early video tapes of me with this really bizarre posh English accent, and I got rid of it. I started losing it around age 6 or 8, when I started going to this international school. But it’s a shame. I sort of wish I did have one. When we travel and go over to London, when we’re with other English people, my inflection will sort of start to change.
Hershenow: Especially if you’ve been drinking.
Plapinger: If I’ve been drinking, it really comes out, and Max is like, “‘OK, you’ve had enough.’”
Q: Max, where were you before attending Vassar?
Hershenow: I was in Ecuador, actually. Honduras and Ecuador. I grew up in Idaho before that. It was also an international upbringing, in a very different way. My mother works in international health development. She’s a nurse practitioner. We did a lot of volunteer work … at an organization in Ecuador for a little while. (When I went to college,) I would go to Ecuador to go home.
Q: How has your live show changed in the past year, since starting out?
Plapinger: Max and I … both had experience on stage and in dance and in theater, in various ways. I think we were immediately comfortable on stage, but it took us a while to translate the record to the live setting because we recorded just the two of us, in Max’s studio, which is really essentially a bedroom closet.
Hershenow: We weren’t really thinking about it as a…
Plapinger: … Live show. I don’t think we had any long-term goals about it. We were just excited to have an outlet to create music together, so when we finally did get to the live show, it was a challenge – especially since Max and I never wanted it to be just the two of us on stage with a laptop. We really wanted to have more of an energy and grandiose nature because I think the nature of the music is – I hope – epic, bigger than life. I thought just the two of us on stage would undermine that.
Q: How do you solve that?
Hershenow: We brought in two extra musicians. We have a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist who plays lapsteel and autoharp and bass and synth. They bring it to the next level, and I think we’re constantly and continuously experimenting with how to bring in those live elements and get a little bit more rock, and a little bit more loud, and more improvisational. I think when you first start performing music that you recorded, it’s very academic, and we were really nervous to deviate from it. Now it’s really exciting, I think, to have moments when we can let loose a little bit more.
Q: Max, do you try to incorporate your modern dance choreography training into MS MR’s visual elements?
Hershenow: We just actually did. We made a video last week, and there’s a tiny little segment of modern dance in it. I’m not dancing, at least not yet.
Q: Lizzy, you started Neon Gold Records while you were a sophomore in college. Your label has launched some significant names.
Plapinger: It’s something I’m really proud of and continue to do.
Q: That must have been a lot of work for you right off the bat.
Plapinger: It was a lot of work, but we went to a school where the environment was very encouraging for following your passions and following your interests, and it was easy to have a discussion with your professors and lay out what you were up to and what you were interested in doing. As long as I got my work done.
Q: Were you getting any credits for it?
Plapinger: No. (Laughing). I did cheekily think maybe I would rope Neon Gold into being my thesis, which would have been genius, but I didn’t.
Q: Starting a label when you were so young, did you have any issues with people taking you seriously?
Plapinger: I think the same with MS MR as with Neon Gold: If you take yourself seriously, and you’re fully passionate and wholeheartedly invested in what you’re doing, then people have to take you seriously. You need that sort dedication and vision for whatever you’re doing.
Q: You are both huge Game of Thrones fans. (The song “Bones” was chosen for the third season trailer). What was your reaction to the Red Wedding?
Hershenow: Oh, God.
Hershenow: That’s the episode where… the… the awful one.
Plapinger: Oh, the one where they get killed. Oh, well the North is just (expletive), now. It’s like, “Haven’t they been through enough? I do feel like they’re going to get their power back in some twisted, convoluted way. We sort of feel like Jon Snow may have something to do with that. Arya is still in the mix in a big way. But we’re all rooting for Khaleesi.
Q: Have either of you been to Outside Lands before?
Plapinger: I’ve been to the Treasure Island Music Festival, which I’ve heard is quite similar to Outside Lands.
Q: Well, the weather is similar. Anything you’re looking forward to doing at Outside Lands or in San Francisco?
Plapinger: We’ve said a few times if we didn’t live in New York, San Francisco would definitely be a place we’d like to inhabit for a period of time, maybe when we have families and we settle down. I could imagine us having houses next to each other, and taking Max’s kids to school, writing music during the day. We’d play at the Fillmore at night. It’s exciting for us every time we get to come back.
Q: Lizzy, when did you start dying your hair like this? (Her locks were colored a blue-red gradient).
Plapinger: I actually started dying it in high school. I used to have blue streaks in it. I stopped in college, and then, the week after I graduated, I went all pink and blonde.
Q: Gwen Stefani fan?
Plapinger: I love Gwen.