We had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Neon Gold Records and LPX’s Lizzy Plapinger at All Things Go 2018 to dig into the intersection of music and politics. Plapinger co-curated the festival’s first day with the equally talented Maggie Rogers, both of whom were endlessly inspired by their opportunity to present an all-female line up of incredible talent.
So we're in DC at a very strange time.
Lizzy: On a very strange day.
It is a very stressful and emotional time to be a woman in America. When is it not? But it feels especially difficult right now.
Lizzy: It feels very triggering.
Yes, exactly. Triggering is a great word. So, it’s awesome that you were able to curate this all female lineup for today. So I just wanted to know in all of your music industry experience, just because you're like a business woman, an artist, like you've been in many sides of it. What are the biggest challenges you faced as a woman, being the bad ass that you are?
I think, no different in music than it would be in any other industry, which is being respected, being heard so that starts with you respecting yourself. That starts with you trusting yourself and asserting yourself in the room. It also comes from the need to empower other women around you. So as your growing and bringing people with you, the hurdles I faced are often just that the people who are in power most of the time in the industry, whether it’s at a festival and they're booking or a radio station and you're trying to get a song on the radio or you're at a label and the head of a company, its just mostly older white men. So what's hard is that it’s a top down problem – there aren't enough women in those positions, so I think it’s about people banding together and as they rise bringing even more of them up. As a female artist being like “I'm going to make an extra effort to make sure I'm working with female writers, to make sure I'm working with female producers,” and I'm running a company so I want to make sure I'm hiring and empowering other female voices. And encouraging people to, once they get to those higher roles, to bring people around them. But, it’s a challenge and it does feel like so, honestly depressing right now, because of culture and how women feel heard or represented. So any moment, when a woman can be loud and aggressive and support their peers it’s so powerful and so, you know this is just one festival on a small scale, but like I'm supremely proud to have done this hand-in-hand with Maggie, as my sister and my friend and a peer. And also, hand-in-hand with the All Things Go boys.
And to not be about like it’s necessarily women coming out first or on top but it’s about just creating a genuine space for that kind of equality on all levels and to work hand-in-hand. And there's really no place I'd rather be today than here. Otherwise, I would be sucked down the Twitter hole of reading everything and it’s really depressing and it’s really hard and my greatest form of protest is to be as loud as I possibly can in my work as a business woman and as a performer. And instead of giving them what they want, which is what? To be depressed and sad, like I'm going to be fucking as joyous as I can. Like I'm going to work today with a smile, and be just happy and proud that this event is a success and that we're here together and that I've never performed in my seven years of being on the road, with an all-female lineup –not even an all-female lineup –with this many women on a bill, it’s really, really exciting and just taking those strides where you can to be like whatever wins, small, personal or professionally, you just gotta take them where you can.
And celebrate them.
And celebrate them. I hope it is a first step in that equality and festivals recognizing that not only do the artists want it themselves, but from just a purely business standpoint, that it’s a successful business model and there is an audience who will pay and show up to support these artists.
What do you hope to see in the music industry for women and the LGBTQ community, the underrepresented?
Even in the question, it’s equality, but also representation. I feel like I grew up in a time where there were –you know women have always been successful –within music especially. You know, we've been real chart toppers, and especially in pop, but growing up there were only certain types of archetypes of the kind of woman you could be in music and what's so liberating I think now is just the diversity of representation. And that needs to be more and more pushed. That artists don't feel like they only have space for one female voice within a genre or a lane and that radio shouldn't be competing three women in alternative against each other. Because there isn't one kind of woman.
There are a million ways to be a woman. I'm figuring it out for myself, I've seen my friends figuring it out. So, to see as many different kinds of people figuring out who they are leaves more space for the conversation to be fleshed out at all times. And that was something that Maggie and I really cared about for this festival – to make sure that it was different age groups, different genres, different narratives, different lyricists. You just want representation.
Because it just expands the conversation and means that women no longer have to be just all of this one thing. So then, also when a woman speaks out, she's not inherently speaking for all women, which is an impossible standard for anyone to sort of hold ground on. You want spaces for all the voices.
I love this conversation already.
Girl I need this conversation. Maggie and I are like holding each other and we're like 'I can't be depressed.'
No! We can celebrate this awesome day.
So Neon Gold I have followed, like I was saying, the past eight years and you guys just turned ten.
Just turned ten! Which is fucking bonkers. No one is more surprised than I am that we've lasted ten years.
Crazy. And you guys are such tastemakers. Like whenever you cosign anyone, I am like “yes, listening.”
I love that. Thank you. That's a huge compliment then. I appreciate it.
How has your guys' role in the music industry changed over the years?
Our role. You know it’s interesting, when we started we were a singles label. And we were still in college, and so, I think what we really wanted to do with the label was first of all, with the music we were interested in at the time and its changed a little bit now, but the music that we were first really into and supporting was music that was just honestly too quirky and left field for top 40 or pop charts. And way too accessible for the very Indie, alternative corners of the internet that was very much about sort of being inaccessible. And so our sweet spot was that –music that we thought should be top 40 but maybe didn't have the opportunity to. And so that was like our call to arms. But because we were in school and we were learning how to run the company as we were doing it, they were handshake deals, we were doing small releases and so it was a bit of a safe space to be like sort of a launch pad for artists. I feel like our work has changed now in that we're now afforded the opportunity to sign an artist early and not just be a champion like early on, but develop them and stand with them through the campaign and figure out what makes sense for them. That was always sort of the goal it just wasn't what we had the resources or experience of doing at the beginning.
So cool, yeah.
So now to be able to work with someone from conception to the end is really special. So that's happening right now with Matt Maeson and Your Smith.
We saw her on Wednesday.
She is ... how much time do you have?
She is a star!
Oh, she is a STAR.
And I'm from Minnesota so I knew her as Caroline Smith and then Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps since like her first thing and now she has this whole new persona and it’s so cool.
I'm so deeply inspired by her hustle and reinvention and commitment to what she's doing and it’s really exciting for me to be on the ground with someone like her where I just feel so invested in her and our friendship and I want her to win and so to be able to really see that come through is meaningful. But then similarly we just signed Broods, who's a band that I've loved forever and just been a fan from afar or we've done festivals together with MS MR and so what an amazing opportunity to be able to step in and be like “well I was a fan first and I just want to help you get to the next step.” So that's been the transition and also that I'm really grateful that in the past ten years the artists that we were signing that fit in that odd box before are now the things that are on radio.
I feel like you guys kind of changed the landscape for pop music and made it cool again.
I hope so. I hope we were just a piece of that shift and it is really fucking cool to hear someone like Ellie or Tove Lo or HAIM or Gotye on the radio. It just feels like it opens up this door behind them for this next flood of artists and I don't know how pop music and music will shift over time, but I feel like the thing that doesn't change is that we are just all about the artists and artistry that stand alone outside of cultural trends or technology shifts, which are obviously constantly changing and shifting how music is consumed and how we're operating in general. So that feels good to hand over heart still be like, whoever I'm working with, I am the number one fan. That's why I'm working with it. Because I want to be the person in the building who's like, can you fucking believe this? I'm like down in front fist pumping.
Did you guys have any role in “Peach,” The song that just came out by Broods? Because I feel like it is way different from their old music.
It is way different. I love it so much too. It is a very different sound for them. I have been such a fan for such a long time. Georgia's one of my favorite writers and her voice. You know what was really cool about their story I think, and I don't want to put words in their mouths, like you could find other interviews, but I think while they're so proud of what they've done I think they felt for a long time they were wrestling how to translate who they were as people into the music they were making. Which is a challenge I think for all artists –definitely something I think I have experienced with MS MR through to LPX. And so they were not with their previous label, I think they were looking for new collaborators. They started working with this guy Tommy English who's a really dear friend, who actually, “Might Not Make It Home.”
And I think Georgia and Caleb just trusted their instincts a little bit more and were a little less precious about what they were creating and 'Peach' does feel like such a release and call to arms and it is like an uplifting song but there's a lot of darkness sort of woven through it and I think it is a very Roots element there. They're multi-faceted, emotional songs. They're not just like this is a happy song, this is a sad song. Every song is so multi-dimensional and makes for such an exceptional writer. And the record is full of surprises. Just as you think you're getting to know them, they take the turn and only in a way where I feel like they're just showing how multi-faceted they are as a band and what their influences are and there's a song that Caleb sings on that's his first time singing on something and he sounds incredible. I feel very grateful that we are the label behind them that is supporting them experimenting and being themselves and I've just got all the time in the world for them.
So now let’s move on to LPX.
You were in MS MR which I feel like was more like poppy and electronic and very -
Not safe, but LPX feels kind of like a leap into a genre that's not exactly as supported, if that makes sense?
It’s very different.
Was it scary to jump into LPX after being in a band like MS MR?
It was definitely a significant shift. MS MR was the first music that I ever made in my life. Max is the only person I had ever worked with and I think there's something deeply magical and meaningful to me about the fact that Max and I were the first people who made music with one another and that we sort of learned how to make music with one another. But you know, “Secondhand Rapture,” those were some of the first songs I'd ever written in my life and “How Does It Feel” we came to after having an experience on the road and having toured the world and having a little bit more confidence and skill. But MS MR was very much about working within the limitations of our naivete and newness to making music period. So, while we crafted the sound and everything like that it was us sort of learning.
And I love pop, I love electro-pop. MS MR is absolutely an earnest and real side of me, but I really wanted to make something that was a lot closer to the music and artists that I grew up listening to, which was the call to arms really for LPX. Just in part that, because I grew up listening to Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Le Tigre and TV On The Radio and Interpol and Bloc Party, alternative music has really been the most important musical force in my life. So I think I just wanted to earnestly do something that lived a little closer to my own taste. Secondly, to get out of my comfort zone and grow by working with people for the first time. Anyone I admire in art, in any field, puts themselves in uncomfortable situations and leans into the experience and collaborations with other people and I loved that.
Thirdly, my life to this point has been a series of partnerships and I love working in a team and I'm a really good partner. I've been running Neon Gold with Derek for ten years, I've been with Max for six years, I was coming out of a five-year relationship, someone that I loved very much and am still close to. I just wanted to be like, okay, I'm 30 now but I started LPX in my late 20s, but I was like “I just want to do something that's mine.” I don't want to compromise, I want to make every decision for myself, I want to know what it’s like to stand on my own two feet and I want to hold my own hand over the fire taking everything I've learned personally, professionally, musically, and see what it’s like when I am everything, for better or for worse. And I'm so proud that I'm in motion of doing it and I've learned so much and I still have so much more to learn. I'm so proud of the music. I think I'm only becoming a stronger writer, singer, performer, business woman –it is nice to feel the pressure of doing it on my own for the first time. And not as a slight to anyone, just as something I needed to do for me.
Yeah. Well I love “Might Not Make It Home,” it’s such a jam.
And I feel like it’s going to sound really great today, I can’t wait.
I'm very excited.
I can't wait. I saw you perform as MS MR and you were such a wild performer. LPX feels like it’s just so you, you know what I mean?
You were always the wild frontwoman.
I am. For sure. And I always want to go harder and I always want to go bigger and I want to get sweatier and I sort of want to –it’s a little bit like OTT but I ... but that feels good and the people that I live for, like love on stage, like Karen O, is one of my all-time favorites, Florence and the Machine, I worship at the altar of Florence.
She was here last night.
I know! And honestly, you know like you feel them.
And honestly, Matt Shultz from Cage the Elephant, he is living Iggy pop to me.
Like climbing shit.
Or Chloe from Kitten. I honestly just want to be one of those performers. Honestly, I don't think I'm the best singer in the world. Like I'm an okay singer, but I do think I'm a performer. And I do promise an audience that I will do everything I can to share exactly what I'm feeling in that moment with them and I think that is special and that is the kind of artist that I want to be.
People love that. My dad, I remember I showed him a MS MR video of you at like Lollapalooza or something, which is where I saw you, and my dad was like obsessed with you guys. He just loved your stage presence and he's like Mr. Classic Rock like I love the Rolling Stones, I love Keith Richards.
I'm trying to turn all the old classic rock men into LPX fans.
Oh my dad I think would be into it. I'll take a video and send it to him.
Lizzy: I'm like a gateway drug ...
Bring dads to LPX shows.
Yeah, bring dads to LPX shows. And moms too.
Interview by Jenny Ryan. Photos by Meredith Wohl.