Even if you don’t know the synth-pop stylings of MS MR, make sure to shake the hands of Lizzy Plapinger or Max Hershenow if you see them around town — it's likely that you indirectly owe them something if you’ve turned on a pop radio station in the past three years and sang along. The New York-based duo, whose post-grad exercise in pop music has blossomed into one of the best festival acts this side of the pond, can call Neon Gold Records its home and Plapinger the label’s co-founder.
Plapinger is more than just the voice you hear in MS MR — the label she started in her dorm room at Vassar College has launched some of the biggest names on the radio today, including Haim, Ellie Goulding, Charli XCX, and Tove Lo. A rundown of the Neon Gold roster is like a who’s who of indie artists who crossed over into the mainstream in big, platinum-hued ways. One has to wonder what kind of A&R powerhouse Plapinger and her crew must be to stay this far ahead of the curve with such a collection of artists.
“When we first started the label in 2008, our mission statement was pretty easy because it was just the niche that Derek [Davies], my partner at Neon Gold, and I naturally found ourselves being drawn to: artists that were too pop for the wholly left-field alternative corners of the Internet but too quirky and interesting for mainstream pop,” Plapinger says. “That was our sweet spot.”
Though she’s quick to downplay Neon Gold’s dark horse impact — “We like to think we played a small hand in changing that,” she says — being a key player behind a successful label helps facilitate the actions between her own band and their major label, Columbia. Where MS MR was initially an artistic release from the business of Neon Gold’s operations, and the creative energy between Hershenow and Plapinger a sort of musical cleansing, it’s opened doors as the band has grown in popularity.
“When Max and I first started getting together that was one of the greatest joys, that [the band] was a space to be just purely creative,” she says. “But once the music is finished, my experience running a label definitely plays a big hand in how we think about the other side of the project; it namely means that we're able to take over so many other aspects of the band that artists aren’t usually involved in, and the label trusts us because of it. I’ve learnt something new from every band/artist we’ve ever worked with at Neon Gold, and it’s great to be able to apply those lessons to MS MR.”
Beyond those lessons, Plapinger and Hershenow have also molded MS MR into a glittering, thumping icon of you-ness, a spiritual homage to Bowie and the embracing of self. It’s a powerful message that’s grown beyond just the music, though it’s a beautiful thing regardless to listen to a song that both makes you move and reminds you to dance like no one's watching.
“For us, it’s always been about providing a safe space for people to truly be who they are,” Plapinger explains. “It's something that took us, like it takes everyone, years to grow into but we love the idea of people listing to MS MR or coming to a show and feeling both understood and comfortable in their own skin.”