“Music was a big part of my culture at home from a young age. My parents have an amazing record collection that I was listening to. And growing up in London, I had so much freedom. I travelled independently; I went to record stores on the weekends, went to shows by myself when I like was fourteen. I don’t know, music was always just the thing I loved the most and connected to the most seriously.” -Lizzy Plapinger
This connection of which Lizzy Plapinger speaks is more like an unbreakable bond. She started her own label, Neon Gold Records, her junior year of college at Vassar, “right out of my dorm room,” with her childhood friend and schoolmate, Derek Davies. Their junior year they discovered Passion Pit and the rest is history. “That was pretty much the start of it, we just jumped right in. We started out doing vinyl the first few years, and the day after I graduated, the label signed to Columbia, where we elevated to releasing full albums.” And since that day, Neon Gold has gone on to discover many of the industry’s top names including Ellie Goulding, Charli XCX and Marina & The Diamonds to name a few. “I think our greatest talent has always been and will forever be finding new artists.” In the music industry, Lizzy is considered to be taste-making royalty, and it’s only just beginning for her. “I feel like in the past couple of years, the radio landscape and the pop/top 40 landscape have really come to embrace sort of artists that we were defining as really forward-thinking, innovative pop… We helped create this creative pop shift that happened over the past couple of years in music. Aside from revolutionizing the music industry, she also is one-half of the pop duo, MS MR, which just released its second full-length album, How Does It Feel, to an impressive slew of reviews.
Though her story is one of a rapid rise to success, Lizzy recognizes male dominance in the music industry as one of many obstacles that she’s had to encounter and surpass. “I remember, you know, first doing meetings for Neon Gold and whichever executive I was talking to wouldn’t even look me in the eye the whole time. They would only look at Derek.” Now the tables have turned. Neon Gold and all that it encompasses has become a national phenomenon, and Lizzy is paving the way forward by example, refusing to work with those who ignore her involvement with the record label. “You know, if someone didn’t acknowledge that we were both running the label, we would just choose not to work or engage with them. It’s nice to meet other women who are in or are working their way up the system, working at venues, working in radio, and to see that that sort of thing is changing.” She adds, “And it was shocking. It was shocking how often that would happen. I mean, we would leave a meeting, and Derek and I would turn to each other and be like, ‘Ok, well we’re never working with that person again!’”
As a thriving female artist and innovator, Lizzy has utilized her social and professional status to help righteous causes such as “BAND against Bullying” – a local performing arts competition that promotes dignity and respect through the arts. MS MR are advocates for LGBT rights and women’s rights as well. “I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I don’t know why that term was anything other than being a statement of power and equality. I think people think ‘feminist’ is one kind of person or a certain kind of woman, and the truth is if you believe that men and women should be treated equally then you are a feminist. It literally is, you know? It’s hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t want that. For me, it’s more about, like, on a daily basis connecting to other women in the industry and feeling like there’s an internal support network. So you don’t feel like you’re getting lost in the shuffle. You have a comrade that you can talk to about things.”
It’s no easy feat to manage a record company, lead a band and remain an entrepreneur, but Lizzy gives credit where it’s due. Her striking humility reminds us all that to pave the way for success, it is important to connect with those who understand and engage. “It’s great to have these many creative outlets on my shelf. I’m so lucky that I have partners in both realms. I have a partner named Max [Hershenow, the producer] at MS MR and Derek [Davies] at the label. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t have their full support and engagement on every front.”
Now that Neon Gold has risen in the ranks as one of the most powerful entities in new music, and MS MR have established themselves in their own right, she marvels at a few of the early moments in her career when things were still taking shape. She kept mum on the fact that she was a member of MS MR to everyone in the early days of the band, including Columbia Records, who Neon Gold was signed to as an imprint. They wanted to wait until the music was released to reveal their identities. She laughs, “It was a huge surprise. The funniest story about it is that I had told Columbia that I was in ‘this group’ and I was like, ‘Don’t tell anyone, I’m not telling anyone until the music’s out there.’ And then apparently, a week later at a meeting Ashley Newton, who’s the head of music, came in and was like, ‘Can we talk about this band MS MR!? Nobody knows who it is but the music is fantastic. We have to find out who it is. I really want to find it!’”
Their band name developed organically from a tongue-in-cheek observation about society and gender. We were talking about these sort of grand, grandiose names. There’s something sort of regal about it, you know, so there was sort of like a ‘king and queen’ avenue that we could go down, and it got us sort of talking about those, sort of silly, formal and mundane prefixes that people use, you know, the Misses and the Mister and the Miz and all that, and literally through that conversation we realized, ‘Oh my god! “MS MR!” It’s brilliant.’ It’s perfect. It alludes to us as a duo, and it’s anonymous, and also that we’re a male/female duo.”
With a record out, a tour underway and a label to run, Lizzy has a singular focal point: “Focus on the music first before anything else. Stay 100 percent true to what your vision is as a creative and don’t wiggle from that too far, and then execute it. It’s easier than ever to share your art online, whether it be through music or putting together a video or putting together a photo shoot. I just think that people have the tools to see their work through. Know that you are as powerful as you are.”
Interview by Indira Cesarine for the #GirlPower Issue
Lizzy Plapinger photographed by Indira Cesarine
Fashion Editor: Indira Cesarine
Make-up by Min Min Ma
Hair by Anthony Joseph Hernandez
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015), pick up a print edition of the issue today!