She Founded A Label In Her Dorm Room—Now, She’s Helping Redefine Pop Music: A Conversation With Lizzy Plapinger

In 2008, out of her sophomore dorm room at Vassar College, Lizzy Plapinger co-founded Neon Gold Records with her childhood best friend, Derek Davies. Within just a few years, the duo’s operation served as the launching pad for iconic artists like Passion Pit, Charli XCX, Ellie Goulding, Marina, Matt Maeson, Tove Lo and more.

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Then, in 2011, Plapinger jumped into the music-making ring herself, founding the indie-pop duo MS MR alongside producer Max Hershenow. With this outlet, she not only cut her teeth on what being an artist is like, but also made several meaningful contributions to the worlds of “pop,” “indie” and everything in between. 

She then used this experience to start her solo endeavor, LPX, in 2017 (right as MS MR began an ongoing hiatus). This past May, she put out the project’s newest release: a genre-bending and refreshingly honest EP entitled Go The Other Way, Called The Echo.

In addition, Neon Gold is still going strong. Last week, the label helped put out Marina’s newest record, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, and in the coming months, they’re set to release even more from their wildly creative roster. So, with countless projects in the works, Plapinger hopped on a Zoom call with American Songwriter last week to talk about it all. Touching on everything from the early days of founding and operating a record label, the artists she’s gotten to help, the changes she’s seen in the industry, the future of pop music and so much more. The discussion was wide-ranging, offering a fascinating peek into the point-of-view of one of pop’s most accomplished trend-setters. Read the conversation below: 

American Songwriter: I want to start at the very beginning—you first came to music as a fan on the blogosphere, developing a deep passion for exploring the internet and finding new music. In a lot of ways, those early days were like the “Wild West” of the internet and the music industry today. What was it like to navigate that space? How did blogs influence your path in life? 

Lizzy Plapinger: It felt so amazing. It was like “sonic archaeological digging” or something. Everyone knew the music that was presented through conventional channels like MTV and the radio, obviously (and those are still the institutions we get our music tastes from, really), but it was cool to sorta crack into this place that felt under the surface. There were pockets of music being made all over the world. I always thought I had good taste (maybe arrogantly at times)—when I fell in love with a band, I really just wanted to be the greatest cheerleader for whatever song or release or what. I loved those artists.

That was something Derek [Davies] and I had in common from the start. I wasn’t alive in the ‘80s and stuff when people were making legit mixtapes, but being able to make, like, music compilations based on the songs we fell in love with on the blogosphere felt like frontier of new music. It was really exciting. But, I would say that it doesn’t feel so different from something like diving deep on Spotify or Apple to find fresh, emerging artists. But back then, it felt like you had so much power and agency—you could discover things that might otherwise never have been discovered. 

AS: All of that exploration eventually led to you and Davies founding a record label in your sophomore year of college—named Neon Gold Records, the operation originally ran out of your dorm room. What were those early days like? 

LP: We were absolutely learning and flying by the seat of our pants. Luckily Derek and I had had a number of internships within the industry—I interned at Vice Records and AAM, which was like this college music promotion company. I also had worked at venues and even had a radio show on campus. Plus, I was booking shows on campus with, like, Girl Talk and TV On The Radio. So, I felt like I already had a pulse on the industry, but up to that point, I was working from an “intern” mentality.

But Derek and I always felt like we had something special and we both fell in love with the project. So, when we decided to start the label, we luckily had a lot of friendships and relationships from the internships that we had. That built us somewhat of a networking community within the music scene already. But, I think because Derek and I came to it mostly as fans, bands were just excited to help us go out and be there. That’s what happened with Passion Pit, who was the first artist we signed. They absolutely didn’t have to take a chance on us, but we fell in love with their music and we got it over to Syd at Frenchkiss Records. We were friends with a lawyer there because Derek had previously worked with them, so it was sorta a favor for them to allow us to release the first single. It was an amazing way to start the journey of Neon Gold.

AS: Part of what inspired y’all to found a label was dissatisfaction for the way the music industry was marketing and supporting music at the time. Back then, “pop” was a dirty word of sorts—what can you tell us about this? 

LP: It wasn’t cool to like pop at all. There wasn’t a good version of it, there wasn’t pop that people felt was cool. That was sorta at the height of, like, “Pitchfork power,” you know? The coolest thing to do was to like bands that no one had ever heard of—the more obscure and polarizing and less-melodic, the better. 

That was frustrating to Derek and I because the bands that we were naturally gravitating to were indie bands with big ambitions. There was a sweet spot of music that wasn’t being explored enough—it was too quirky and weird for Top 40 mainstream pop at the time, but way too pop and melodic for the alternative corners of the internet. Bands like Passion Pit or Marina or Ellie Goulding were outliers at the time. So, that’s always been a guiding force within Neon Gold. It’s for artists who have a strong point-of-view, but fall between too many genres and cracks. They can blaze a new road that pop could be defined by. That was always in our heart. 

It’s so cool now to see those bands be the pop artists that people point to—they sorta did blaze a new landscape for what pop could be like. Only in the past 10 years, artists like Rihanna and Beyonce have started to make what I think are indie, alternative, experimental records. I feel like those barriers and boundaries have been breaking down more and more in the past 10 years, and are almost non-existent at this point. It’s cool—I hope that maybe we’re a tiny, tiny footnote in the journey of how those genre shifts have unfolded over the past couple years. It’s an honor to help provide an opportunity or a platform for artists who are as special as someone like Charli XCX or Marina. It’s a great, great honor. 

AS: Yeah, you mention Charli XCX and Passion Pit and some of the other artists y’all have helped launch—what’s so cool about Neon Gold too is that y’all stay involved with artists even after the “label” relationship ends. Y’all still encourage, support and inspire each other on a creative level. What can you tell us about that dynamic? How does fostering a community augment the music-making process? 

LP: That’s definitely the element that Derek and I are proudest of. I think it stems from the fact that Derek and I have been best friends since we were 15 and we really became friends over our mutual genuine and authentic love for music. So, when you’re coming from a very earnest place already, I think it’s really easy to connect with other people who feel the same way. 

What’s beautiful about the Neon Gold community is that as artists go on to be more and more successful, they’ll often take our “baby bands” out on the road. So, it sorta becomes this family that continues to support itself. When I had just started doing MS MR, I was really lucky that Marina took us out on our first tour. There’s just this feeling of support, camaraderie and community. It’s exciting to see things like how Tove Lo and Charli have become really good friends. It’s exciting to see that Matt Mason has become friends with the Mumford & Sons boys. It’s just such an intimate world. I think if you treat everyone with respect and generosity, it comes back. 

AS: To that end, there is a level of interconnectedness that has radically altered the music industry, even since the founding of Neon Gold in 2008. Now, with social media, the phenomenon you described with the blogosphere is happening on a whole new level. What’s it like navigating social media? What’s it like having such direct contact with all of the people who engage with Neon Gold and your LPX project? 

LP: I love it. I love it so much. And I’m so thankful to make music in this day and age. I know that social media can be, like, a garbage dump for so many reasons, but I really feel like I’m experiencing the best version of it. That is a huge part of the community and audience that I have. I’m a fully independent artist, you know? I’m doing it all myself. I can’t afford to have big marketing or big press or anything like that. So, anyone who listens or shares or reaches out to me, I mean… it really means everything to me. It affords me the opportunity to continue to make art, to continue to feel connected to the world around me through music. So, it’s a huge honor and a huge privilege.

I don’t think fans know how much their support means. I mean, I literally wouldn’t function. I often don’t get editorial support through Apple or Spotify. But, I still have over 100,000 monthly listeners, you know? To bigger artists, that might seem like nothing. But to me, that’s huge! And I want to know them better.

Over the course of this last year, I did this “LPX merch” competition where people would submit designs—I paid the winner and I printed three of the shirts. I was overwhelmed! I had three days worth of submissions that I went through—the level of talent was so extreme and inspiring. It deeply inspired me. I really get off on that part, which I think is one of the joys of being an independent artist. I think the bigger you are—and if you’re on a label—sometimes you get disconnected from that. But to be an independent artist and really have that intimate relationship… it’s fucking awesome.

AS: That’s such a refreshing level of genuine authenticity—especially in times like now, where so much “authenticity” of artists is manufactured as a marketing ploy.

LP: So much of it is forced! You can’t fake it—you either feel something or you don’t. We live in a world with Spotify and TikTok where you’re being inundated with stuff all the time, right? Visually, new movies, new music… there’s just so much out there. I think you have to be intentional about what you’re releasing and putting into the world because, otherwise, what’s the point of creating more clutter? More noise for noise’s sake? I don’t want to be wasteful with what I make—I want each song to have a purpose. Either to empathize with someone’s situation or to pull them out of a situation, inspiring them to go in a new direction. I think a lot about intentionality. I just don’t want anything I do to feel like clutter or garbage or superfluousness. Sometimes, when you’re in pockets of the social media world—or even with Spotify—people know when someone’s just going through the motions, they can tell. But, you can also tell when they really fucking care.

AS: What’s next for Neon Gold? What’s next for you?

LP: There’s a new Marina record coming out that’s fucking fantastic. I’m really, really excited for that—she’s one of my best friends and one of my favorite artists and it’s an honor and joy to put that out on Neon Gold.

A new Matt Mason song just came out too. He’s one of our flagship artists and it’s absolutely beautiful—”Nelsonwood Lane,” that’s out now. 

Separate from that, I’m really excited to keep writing. I actually have a lot of material already in the works. I’m also painting and sculpting more. I’m leaning into the visual side of things way more than I ever have. I’m also about to do this, like, furniture collaboration with a local vintage store. I’m in another pocket of time where I just want to do things that I’m earnestly excited about. So, that means a lot of seemingly random things. A lot more in the visual arts. That’s informing my music with LPX even—I think it’s going to be a much broader project moving forward, maybe more than just music. I’m really hype on that. I really want it to be multi-dimensional and creative, sorta in all formats. I hope that’s both led by me and through collaborations with other artists. I also hope that there’s some form of discovery and connection through my audience and community, bringing them into it. So, it’s a pretty ripe time. I sorta feel like I’m on the cusp of a big shift as an artist. I feel like I’m diving into the unknown with a big smile.

Lizzy Plapinger is the co-founder of Neon Gold Records and the brain behind LPX. Her new EP, Go The Other Way, Called The Echo, is out now and available everywhere. Learn more about Neon Gold HERE and watch the official lyric video for LPX’s song “Deceptacon” below:

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