MSMR recently released a pretty excellent sophomore album called How Does It Feel. They didn’t completely abandon those dark vibes and sounds from their first album Secondhand Rapture but took it to new heights, especially on tracks like “Painted” and “Criminals.” The duo are currently on the road and bringing their How Does It Feel Tour to Terminal 5 in NYC on October 8th and Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on October 10th.
We spoke to them about their favorite music videos, their fans, and the new record. Read our interview below.
Sidewalk Hustle: We’re really excited for your October 8th Terminal 5 show.
Liz: We’re stoked to play Terminal 5. We’ve played there before with Grouplove and it was awesome. It showed us a taste of what it could be to headline. We’ve seen so many of our favorite acts headline that stage so to know that we’re going to have our own show there and see our production on it is gonna be so much fun.
SH: Do you have a lot of hometown friends coming?
L: Yes, we do!
M: It’s a little stressful, to be honest!
SH: How much of the new material from How Does It Feel can we expect?
M: I think it’s about half new material, maybe a little bit more. We wrote How Does It Feel with the stage in mind. Those songs are really meant to be performed. This is sort of the telling moment for us. It’s the ultimate place for the album.
SH: Does performing inform your writing in general? Do you always think about how it’s going to sound and feel live?
L: That’s more of an experience on the second record. On Secondhand Rapture, those were the first songs we’ve ever written so we didn’t think at all about staging or how it was going to translate. When we started performing them, that was a huge challenge for us, figuring out how to get it on stage. After playing that record for three years, we became much more confident performers and realized how much we loved being on stage and what a crucial part that was of being an artist. When we came back to write the second record, we were sort of charged to think about the stage in a way that hadn’t affected us on the first record. It was fun to think about how we wanted to move and engage our audience. It’s fun to change the process. For a song like “Painted” or “How Does It Feel,” we’re literally envisioning the crowd.
SH: That’s great! That’s one of our favorite parts of a show. Seeing how a crowd interacts with each other based on the music. Especially fans who don’t even know each other.
M: It’s really fun when people come alone and make friends. We’ll have shows where fans on Twitter who have never met in real life become friends at the show. It’s amazing to feel like we’re connected to them for those things.
L: It’s so amazing to play a show in Australia and fans from London are talking about fans they want to meet and take photos with. It’s really cool.
SH: It’s cool to see fans become friends and form little clubs based on a band they love. People aren’t as afraid to meet new people and be friendly with them based on this one thing they like.
L: It’s such a nice extension of our ethos and personality of the band. We’re lucky to have been able to play with other bands that have similar connections to their fanbase. We toured with Marina and the Diamonds for our first tour ever and it laid a really incredible foundation of a fanbase. Her fans were really engaged with her and they loved us by proxy. I think we owe a lot to that. To feel like your fans are a nice reflection of who you are as an act.
SH: It’s nice to speak to bands who really like to talk to their fans or notice their interactions. A lot of bands don’t want anything to do with social media at all.
M: I think more and more you have to be engaged with social media. When we first started out, we were an internet band. We defined ourselves as that. It was refreshing to have that name or association. But not every band has to be an internet band. I think your social media presence is a reflection of your art. The way you tease out things or present your songs or videos.
SH: We like that you brought up the art form of videos. We loved “Painted” and the way you present yourselves. Are there other people or things that inform your aesthetic?
L: Definitely! For the visuals, we love things that are surreal and twisted and have bright colors. We get a lot of inspiration from other artists or films that we love or current fashion designers for outfits we have in mind. It’s so much fun to bring your whole vision to life through the visual. The music is the most important part of the project but it’s emphasized by the world we create around it. Our videos especially are something that forms a part of the band. It’s come to define us and I love that we hold ourselves to a higher standard. I think music videos are such a beautiful art form and in some ways it’s getting harder and harder to get through. There are so many videos out there and budgets become much smaller. It’s about using the different strengths that you have to press forward in that world. I think there’s something so beautiful and fun and escapist about visuals.
SH: What’s your favorite music video of all time?
L: That’s so good! What’s my favorite music video?!
M: I really like “Invisible Light” by Scissor Sisters. It’s in my top three.
L: That’s a video we reference all the time. It’s funny. I love artists like Florence and Lana who get to do a whole fucking short film and I love Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Those are the videos I’d like to inspire us to create one day but interestingly enough, my favorite videos are the opposite of that. Videos like Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Infinity” or Fatboy Slim “Praise You.” they’re so focused on one thing and smart and clever. Those are my favorite videos even though those aren’t the ones I would want to recreate.
SH: Those are awesome. If you were to choose a song off How Does It Feel that represents where MSMR is at right now, what would it be?
L: God, I really don’t know!
M: I guess “Criminals.” It’s our first single and I feel like it’s high energy and fun and grabs you. Sure!
L: It’s hard! There’s sort of two tones to the record. There’s the high octane, super colorful, high energy pop sheen of “Criminals,” “Painted,” “How Does It Feel,” and “Reckless.” There are also songs like “Leave Me Alone,” “Wrong Victory,” and “All Things Lost” which feel more in line with the first record and that sort of moody, emotional, intimate song. “Criminals” and “Wrong Victory” might be the double punch that a new fan would need to understand where we’re at right now.
SH: “Criminals” is our favorite song on the album. Like most people, we got into MSMR with “Hurricane.” We really liked that moody vibe so when we heard the new stuff, it was kind of a shock. It felt like a punch in the gut. But we really liked it!
L: Good! I think that’s been the best reaction. Our fans really embraced the new record. It’s always scare when you evolve and change as an artist. Are people going to grow with you? I think the best response from our fans has been “This isn’t totally what we expected but we really love it!” That’s another reflection of the fact that they’re so open minded and ready to go along the journey with us. Which is great because Secondhand Rapture were the first songs we ever wrote. It’s so amazing that we’ve gotten to our second record. I think with each record we release, we’re going to morph and change and they’re open to that experience.
SH: Speaking of your fans, we saw that you have a tour photographer contest going on. What made you decide to put that out and choose a fan to go along with you?
M: We’re so excited for that!
L: Our fans are super artistic! It’s a way to emphasize their talent and give them an opportunity to meet us and also share their vision. It’s part of what makes us a band as well.
SH: There’s been a lot in the news lately about photography contracts and maybe Taylor Swift was demonized very specifically in that. It opened up a big discussion. Do you guys have any opinion on that?
M: I think it’s all complicated. There’s intellectual property in the age of the internet. It’s confusing. In music, we’re grappling over the same kinds of issues. You’re always balancing wanting to be heard versus wanting to be paid versus wanting to be credited. It’s a similar thing in photography. There are parallels where people without a lot of training or maybe the fancy equipment are making something really high end and articulating a vision for themselves. It complicates the value that we place on a thing. I have no answers. It’s something that we grapple with as well.
SH: We have to wrap up so one last question. What’s your favorite place in New York City?
L: Any place? I love Grand Central station. I know that’s so cheesy and touristy. But I used to take the train from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan all the time while we were at school for Neon Gold. I loved getting there early and getting a hot and crusty bagel with cream cheese and a hot chocolate and just sitting there. In my mind, that’s a really New York experience. It’s magical.
M: I love Electric Lady studio. Feels like home.