To be fair, Lizzy Plapinger did not force herself onto Max Hershenow, who had sent the Neon Gold Records cofounder an email asking if she knew singers interested in partnering up for a new project that would become MS MR.
In 2010, both had recently graduated from Vassar College, north of New York City. Yet they were, at best, acquaintances. Plapinger cofounded Neon Gold while she was still in school, and the label helped launch the careers of Ellie Goulding and Marina and the Diamonds, among others.
Hershenow was on track to become a modern dance choreographer but had become interested in making music.
After listening to his early recordings, she had another idea for her now-close friend and MS MR bandmate. Although she had never before sung in front of anyone, Plapinger volunteered herself.
“Well, I did send him a list of other artists,” Plapinger said in a June interview, shortly prior to taking the stage at a show at the Independent. “But I had sort of been experimenting on my own … and I liked that it felt like he was on a similar entry point as I was.”
Three years later, the duo, both 25, released Secondhand Rapture, a polished ethereal pop album reminiscent of The XX, Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machine. They are signed to Columbia Records (which has a distribution partnership with Neon Gold). They are about to undertake their first headlining tour and are performing at Outside Lands this weekend.
To many, the relatively quick ascent came as a surprise – even to the duo’s friends and family. That’s because despite a constant urge to spill the beans, they kept their plans a secret from everyone.
“We didn’t tell anyone we were doing this project,” Hershenow said. “We really didn’t have any sort of long-term, premeditated idea of where we were going to go with it. It was literally just something we were doing because we loved doing it.”
Besides allowing the two to work without any outside input, it also kept the pressure of creating music up to the standards of Plapinger’s artists at Neon Gold.
“We were emphatic from the very beginning that we wanted to have a collection of material before we put anything out – that we had something in our back pocket,” Hershenow said. “It allowed us to present ourselves with a little more legitimacy (and) allowed us to define our sense of self. Even if you’re playing for your friends, any response from them; it’s still coloring it.”
Secondhand Rapture was written in Hershenow’s home studio – “basically a closet” – in Brooklyn, before the two brought in professional help and finished it off at the legendary Electric Lady Studios. The first song they recorded, “Bones,” was selected for the season three trailer of HBO’s Game of Thrones – a coup for the two big fans of the show and diehard Khaleesi backers – while the first single, “Hurricane,” has received considerable radio airplay.
“(Bones) is a song that, between the two of us, is very special, and it’s never gotten its moment to shine (before the Game of Thrones pick-up),” Plapinger said. “It was a huge stamp of approval and credibility for us.”
“Hurricane,” meanwhile, is a song not about Sandy but about Irene; the one that turned out to be a non-event as it rolled through the Northeast in 2011. Hershenow wrote the music as the storm was on its way out of New York and emailed it to his bandmate. Plapinger, who was writing storm lyrics the previous night, had them done an hour later.
The hurricane’s passing by New York had rattled both, but neither was affected.
“I went to the grocery store and I bought a lot of toilet paper (and) a lot of bottles of water,” Hershenow said. “I filled my bathtub.”
Laughed Plapinger: “I was stoned and drunk and eating Cheetos. Had the storm actually happened, I would have been in very, very big trouble.”
MS MR’s latest single is “Think of You,” a Taylor Swift moment for Plapinger that also happens to be the most straightforward pop song on the album. Plapinger wrote the song about a college boyfriend who had done her wrong, and she hopes he eventually listens to it.
“I’m sure he doesn’t know it’s about him yet, but we hope, fingers crossed, that it becomes such a smash that he won’t be able to escape it,” she said.