How Two Buds Started Neon Gold Records

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levis_lp_neongoldPhotographed by Winnie Au

Remember all those plans you hatched with your friends during summer camp or in the back of homeroom? You know, the ones where you'd start a band, a fashion line, a television show, or some other ridiculously ambitious, ridiculously awesome enterprise where you and your BFF would be able show off your unsung talents and, hand in hand, take on the world? Whatever happened to those?

Look, don't feel bad. Reality gets in the way of many a good scheme (what's that quote about mice, men, and canceled plans?). But some of us are lucky and driven enough to make those dreams happen. Derek Davies and Lizzy Plapinger of Neon Gold Records are prime examples.

With a partnership born in summer camp, they've not only created a label that's home to some of today's most exciting indie artists — Foxes, HAIM, Gotye, Icona Pop, Marina & The Diamonds, and Ellie Goulding to name a few — but a friendship that's endured over long distances and divided professional duties. They're also the ears behind POPSHOP, a local music night that's become a national phenomenon, and other projects created out of their will to, yes, take on the world armed with only their own instincts.

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Our interview with this duo is the perfect end to our Double Vision series — a round of profiles that's already included the boys of Immaculate Infatuation, the ladies behind Bib + Tuck, and the BFFs also known as The Dolls. All in all, they represent the spirit of Levi's® ongoing celebration of the those new pioneers who charge out on their own toward unexplored creative frontiers. To learn more about their series of collaborations, art projects, and online initiatives, follow #MakeOurMark on Twitter and Instagram.

Meanwhile, sit down and catch up with the music-obsessed Derek Davies and Lizzy Plapinger — who's become a bit of a rockstar herself with her band MS MR — and find out how they work, dress, and keep the fires burning at what is, to be perfectly honest, our favorite record label out there.

On Plapinger: Levi's The Legging in Landscape Photo Real, $78, available at levi.com; On Davies: Levi's The Commuter Trucker Jacket, $128, available at levi.com; Levi's 511 Slim Fit Jeans, $48, available at levi.com.

Hair and Makeup by Andrew Colvin; Styled by Jennifer Steele
02_DerekDavies_LizzyPlapinger02_019_dropPhotographed by Winnie Au
Cultural Exchange
Davies: "You know, music's always been a bond that tied us together. See, we grew up as kids spending our summers together, attending, and later working at, the same summer camp in New England. As Lizzy hailed from London and I was from the U.S., we were always introducing each other to new music."

Plapinger: "And when Derek and I were in high school, I was living in London and he was living in D.C. We'd send each other new music all the time. He'd send me new bands from the U.S. to check out, and I'd share U.K. acts that I was falling in love with. For instance, Bloc Party was one of our mutual favorites, and we were so excited about the release of Silent Alarm, that the day it came out in the U.K., I ran out to Tower Records to get it and immediately uploaded and sent it to him, as it wasn’t out for another couple months in the States. That night, he called me while in the car driving, and we listened to it together at the same time. It’s still one of our all-time favorites."

Davies: "When we finally started Neon Gold, we were doing it from our dorm rooms as college juniors. Lizzy was Upstate at Vassar, and I was studying in the city at NYU. So, I was kind of holding things down on the ground in New York, while Lizzy was handling order fulfillment and
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running our live operation remotely and coming in for any important meetings or shows a few times a month. Things got a lot easier when we graduated, and she moved to NYC, and we finally got a proper office! Now, whether we're scouting new acts, supporting our existing artists, putting on shows ourselves, or just checking out bands we love, there’s never any shortage of shows on our calendar for us to attend together."

Plapinger: "In our industry, your social and professional lives are completely intertwined. It means that in every situation, we’re sort of always talking about music and by extension, work. We’re consumed by it, but in the best way possible!"
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Playing To Their Strengths
Plapinger: "We’ve been best friends since we were 14, so, by now, our personalities sort of naturally complement each other. Derek is the eternal optimist, a perfectionist, an insanely hard-worker, and incredibly hyperbolic. I often have to play the role of the realist, which is important."

Davies: "It's true. I’m wildly ambitious and easily excitable (and, yes, the king of hyperbole). I can often get a bit carried away with some of my more grandiose ideas. And, like she said, she's usually supportive and often times every bit as excited as me, but she's always there to give a rational take on things when I’m getting carried away."

Plapinger: "But I also really believe he is going to change the music industry forever; everyone will probably be working for him one day. I mean, without his technological savvy, I would be lost. He also has a real mind and appreciation for mainstream Top 40 pop that helps us understand the greater scheme of the industry, while I find that I’m more enamored with the alternative world."

Davies: "Yeah, Lizzy’s definitely the voice of reason at Neon Gold, the personality of the label, and, like, a walking embodiment of the brand. Just look at her hair. But she’s always had this fascinating inherent ability to connect with artists on any number of levels, which I suppose comes from the fact that she’s an artist herself (it’s just that no one really knew that side of her until recently). I’ve never met someone so easily able to win literally anyone over within seconds of meeting them."
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Company Dress Code
Plapinger: "My musical heroes and style icons are one and the same: Debbie Harry, Karen O, Gwen Stefani, Shirley Manson, David Bowie, to name a few. Personally, I try to keep it a bit rock 'n' roll, a bit tomboy but still glamorous, over the top, sexy, and ultimately feminine. Most typically, you’ll find me in chunky high-heeled platform boots, high-waisted black jeans, a tight crop top, my black leather jacket, a chunky silver chain necklace, and wire-rimmed glasses. I can’t wait for fall and winter to bust out all my coats (especially colored faux fur) and boots…my favorite thing to shop for and buy."

Davies: "Yeah, Lizzy’s style game is on-point to say the least. It’s definitely loud and usually pretty in-your-face, but she pretty much stays killing it on the fashion tip at all times. As much as I’d love to take credit for my style, she's always been a pretty strong fashion adviser for me. As a kid born on the Fourth of July, there’s definitely a strong stars-and-stripes
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motif in a lot of my wardrobe, and it’s no secret that tank season is my favorite time of year. 'Smart-casual' would be an appropriate term to describe my daily attire."

Plapinger: "Well, I would say Derek’s style is very classic. He's your quintessential all-American boy, and, yes; he loves his red, white, and blue. His closet consists of a lot of vintage tees, dress shirts, and sweaters and a wide selection of plaid long-sleeve, collared shirts. He’s a good sport, though, and is always open to experimenting when I find some more edgy vintage finds for him. I’m most proud of being responsible for finding his favorite piece: a neon-blue, acid-washed denim jacket with a howling wolf printed on the back…or, as he likes to refer to it, his official SXSW uniform."

Davies: "What can I say? I’m a man of routine. If I find something I love, I buy multiples of it, whether it’s shoes or black Levi's denim. I tend to wear things that suit very different needs in my day, which, yes, puts me in those black Levi's a lot. To me, it’s about confidence and feeling comfortable in clothes that represent me and my character."
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Plapinger: "So true! I think Derek will look back in 20 years and probably be wearing the same thing. Meanwhile, I'll look back in 20 years and not even recognize myself! You know, I figure if we had a Neon Gold company uniform, I imagine it would have to be some sort of kitschy play on both the American flag and Union Jack. We were both born in London to American parents and have dual-citizenship. Our bizarre (but strong) affiliation to both countries is not only important to us, personally, but a defining characteristic that’s helped inform our style and musical taste."

Davies: "Oh, and we'd have matching, Neon Gold satin track jackets, for sure!"
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Second Act
Davies: "Two years ago, Lizzy surprised everyone by writing an amazing album of her own with her friend Max Hershenow under the name MS MR. Since then, things have properly blown up for them, and Lizzy has to spend a lot of her time on tour. Consequently, our roles have kind of evolved to the point where she’s more of a traveling ambassador for Neon Gold on the road, while I run the show in New York."

Plapinger: "Yes, since the band's started to take off, my role in the company has definitely evolved and changed, but it’s actually easier to stay involved and on top
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of things than I first worried it might be. On tour, I’m usually sitting in the car for a few hours a day, so it’s easy to listen to music and give feedback, answer emails, connect on conference calls, etc. It’s just about using my time wisely."

Davies: "We still make all big-picture decisions together and maintain an equal balance in creative input and A&R."

Plapinger: "But, ultimately, Derek is at the helm of the company right now. I’m incredibly lucky and appreciative to have him while I’m juggling both aspects of my life, and he’s been ridiculously supportive throughout this whole process. But we still sign off on everything together!"

On Plapinger: Levi's Mens' Sherpa Trucker Jacket, $88, available at levi.com
10_DerekDavies_LizzyPlapinger07_262_dropPhotographed by Winnie Au

Golden Moments
Davies: “You know, there’ve been so many good memories that have come out of this. Like, take the release of our first-ever single release on Neon Gold — a double A-side, 7-inch single from Passion Pit with their tracks 'Sleepyhead' and 'Better Things.' It just spread like wildfire at the end of the summer of 2008. Before we knew it, they were everywhere. Earlier this year, they became the first Neon Gold act to headline Madison Square Garden!

"I've also got to mention this past SXSW. It was the second-to-last day, and we were down in Austin with all of our bands, and St. Lucia was on their eighth show of a whopping nine they had to play that week. It was early afternoon at the Filter/Columbia Records party, and after playing seven shows in the previous three days, [St. Lucia’s frontman] Jean’s vocal chords were shredded. He was committed to giving it his all anyway though, but on the opening notes of the first song, his throat just closed up. The crowd was incredible though. They sang along to every word of the next few songs to help him through the set!"

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"Then, there was still the matter of our official Neon Gold showcase that night. St. Lucia was the main attraction and the headline act! Despite his vocal struggles earlier, Jean was determined to play. Still, Lizzy and I spent the rest of the day rounding up all the vocalists we knew who could step in to support Jean in the event his voice gave out again. By showtime, we’d gotten together an amazing crew of people who were happy to hop on stage and fill in for him at a moment’s notice — Charli XCX, and people from HAERTS, MS MR (obviously), Savoir Adore, and Ghost Beach. But then Jean got up there and just killed it, delivering one of the best vocal performances of his life. He closed things out by bringing all those signers waiting in the wings out for a Neon Gold family stage invasion during the final song. It’s a special moment we’ll never forget. Lizzy and I were beaming like proud parents.”

Plapinger: "Actually, one of our lifelong goals is to throw a Neon Gold festival. We’ve already started making baby steps toward that with our annual Stars + Stripes show every summer. Records, events, POPSHOP — Neon Gold is sort of limitless in that it could evolve into any number of things. I mean, just look at past five years!"

Get the same kind of behind-the-scenes skinny on the food-blog boys of Immaculate Infatuation, the BFF bosses from the clothes-swapping site Bib + Tuck, and the DJ-and-violin combo also known as The Dolls and, while you're at it, hear more from other creatives who are breaking molds and taking names, follow #MakeOurMark on Twitter and Instagram.