With MS MR, the New York electro-pop duo behind indie hits like “Hurricane” and “Bones,” label-head Lizzy Plapinger got her first taste of the music industry from the perspective of an artist.
Plapinger made a quick study of it, but that should not come as a surprise from a woman who co-started successful indie label Neon Gold out of her college dorm room, also runs a publishing company and recently dove head-first into broadcasting as the host of a VEVO series where she interviews her favorite new artists.
It’s because of Plapinger and her partner Derek Davies that American audiences are familiar with artists like Passion Pit, Marina and the Diamonds, Gotye, The Naked and Famous, Charli XCX and Ellie Goulding. Neon Gold was also instrumental to early releases by HAIM, Vampire Weekend, Chvrches, Walk the Moon and Lana Del Rey.
Plapinger may be on her way to becoming indie pop’s equivalent of JAY-Z. Now she’s breaking out as solo artist LPX. Unlike MS MR, LPX is rooted in the guitar-driven rock and roll on which Plapinger grew up.
“My favorite artists growing up were Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Block Party, the Strokes, TV On The Radio, PJ Harvey,” she said in a phone call from New York on Friday. While MS MR was pure pop, the product of her partnership with Max Hershenow, LPX is raucous, band-oriented, gritty and aggressive.
“LPX is [about] finding my own voice with a little bit more confidence and really ripping it up and finding a way to balance myself as this aggressive and powerful female but also being really, really vulnerable on the surface,” she said.
She has released two songs to date. On the empowering “Tightrope,” a repeating alarm-like guitar rings out as Plapinger scream-sings, “Don’t look down/ Keeping my eyes wide/ And I won’t fall/ Pavement-bound/ But not this time.”
On “Tremble,” the key lyric comes early: “I know that we gotta quit, you just never see it.” Plapinger wrote the song about a relationship—now in the past—that was over, even though the other person in the relationship did not see it that way. She wrote both songs while on a retreat with other songwriters in Nicaragua. Joe Janiak and James Flannigan helped her work through “Tremble.” Flannigan would produce both songs, which were mixed by Rich Costey.
“Derek and I also run a publishing company,” Plapinger said. “Since we’re friends with so many musicians, writers, producers and artists, we decided to see what it would be like if we got a group of some of our favorite people … and all worked together. We all went to the jungle and did that. … It was a very transformative experience for me. It set me off on my path to LPX.”
Each day on the retreat consisted of partnering up in different groups and writing for hours on end. The nights were capped with alcohol and parties, she said. The songs both spilled out of her; “Tremble” came during a sleep-deprived week. Both songs are indicative of her new rock-focused direction.
“They are really good indicators of how different it is from MS MR,” she said. The other songs are “very high-energy, very emotional, aggressive and vulnerable, raucous and guitar-heavy—but still with pop melodies.”
After writing for a full year, Plapinger recently recorded an EP, which she plans to mix by the end of this month and release in September. In a bold move, neither of the already-released songs will be on it.
She and her newly formed band played LPX’s first show earlier this month, opening for Glass Animals. She also made a guest appearance with Australian EDM musician What So Not at HARD Summer Music Festival in San Bernardino and kicked off her first headlining tour just last week. Although she has a full band now, don’t expect her to shred any guitar solos just yet. The biggest difference on stage? There will be no keyboards and only minimalistic synths.
“I’m learning to play guitar; I don’t have the chops yet to rip it live,” she said. “It’s fun to have a little more flexibility in how we play a song and the order each night. It’s a totally new thing for me, having not grown up playing in a lot of bands.”
In some respects, Plapinger feels like she’s starting from scratch with LPX. But, she is bringing her experience managing other artists and living on the road with MS MR for six years.
“Sometimes that’s scary and sometimes that feels liberating,” she said. “It’s building a whole new audience. It’s starting, again, on the road and getting people familiar, which is always a challenge. But … I get to bring all those past experiences into the project. I hope fans of MS MR will enjoy LPX and fans who never cared for MS MR will really find something to love about this project. It strikes the same emotional vein, but it is a different beast. So it’s going to be interesting to see how that rears its head.”
Following the short headlining dates, which includes a Friday Popscene show at Rickshaw Stop, LPX will join HAIM on a tour that will bring her back to the Bay Area on Sept. 7, followed by a tour with electronic artists RAC.
In the meantime, she still loves her hosting gig with VEVO. The online streaming service was searching for a host for music interview series New Shapes. Someone else nominated Plapinger, and she was surprised to get the call because she had no experience in journalism.
“This is very much outside of my wheelhouse,” she said. “It’s been really interesting to see the industry from that side. It’s one of the only ones I never experienced.”
Don’t count out the eventual return of MS MR, either.
“I’m loving exploring my world as LPX. Having never made music before MS MR, this is such an important time period for me to grow and evolve as an artist,” Plapinger said. “I know Max is really enjoying writing and producing other people. We’re both comfortable in taking whatever time we need to grow and evolve. It’s in both of our hearts to do more MS MR in the future. I don’t think it’s over.”