What were you doing when you were 23? Were you touring the world, playing sold out gigs and festivals from Glastonbury to Gruenspan, Oslo to Japan? Had you just, a year previously, finished music school, where you’d write pop songs for homework that would bring a tear to Pharrell William’s eye? Did you write that song in fifteen minutes? Did you release just an EP – no more than a clutch of songs that would rack up in total over 50 million spotify plays – that would ignite listeners across the globe?
I’m guessing the answer is – unless you too are a pop star, in which case, hiya! – no. But thankfully for the future of culture, Maggie Rogers did. She literally wrote a song about hiking in 15 minutes for her homework and it turned into a viral sensation. Like, wut!? Who even does that? But Maggie Rodgers is no ordinary peg. Born and raised in rural Maryland, Maggie grew up listening to Lauryn Hill, as well as classical music. She started to play the harp aged seven, as you would too, if you were a musical prodigy, and then moved onto banjo, guitar and piano before attending a summer program at the Berklee College of Music where she realised that songwriting was her vibe, because she obv won the school’s songwriting contest. As the age old story goes, she moved to NYC, studied music, wrote a smash, toured the world, and now she’s here, with me.
You’ve had kinda a busy year. And it’s like, midsummer.
I know. It hasn’t even been a year since I graduated from college. I’ve said this a couple of times but I feel this really strange sensation all the time, like I’ve kind of been trying to do this for like, 200 lifetimes.
The way that everything’s lined up so perfectly is just too weird. And like, I just – it’s just very very strange. And I’ve had a couple of moments on stage that are just super out of body, and the strangest — sometimes I feel so incredibly comfortable. And that feels really strange. And very familiar. It’s a very strange experience. I think I actually really believe that like, in a past life… I think I’m just searching for a way to explain how bizarrely this is aligned. Even just like, the timing. Moved out of my college apartment on May 31st and had a video go viral that started my career on June 1. Like, it’s just a little too bizarre.
Right, yep sometimes that happens. I mean, it’s never happened to me, but…
I hadn’t made a song in two and a half years and a couple of days after I make the first song I get to show it to somebody that starts my career. It’s pretty strange.
You couldn’t make up your story, could you?
Yeah, totally. You really couldn’t write a more wild narrative, but there definitely is this Cinderella story component that gets really exaggerated, that is cool and true, but also sort of ignores the fact that I like studied the music industry and have been writing songs for almost ten years.
Does that yank your chain?
Um, no. I understand why it happens, especially when usually the format for the piece is like,
300 words. Like there’s not that much space to really explain. You know what I mean? I understand how like the storytelling is a format of both imagination and a space given to tell the story.
It is a good story. It is sadly better than like, ‘she’s been working really hard. She’s worked really hard for a really long time.’ We’ve all worked hard. What was growing up like for you?
Nice. I have two parents who are still married, I’m a middle child, I grew up in a really rural area. I grew up really slow, I went to high school where there was no Wi-Fi or TV or internet or cellphones so… I was like, really happily playing Four-square on a Saturday night when I was 18. You know, it’s like, pretty bizarre. It did mean I kind of got slapped in the face when I moved to New York City but in a way I probably need it also.
Was it a baptism of fire?
Funnily enough, I wrote down that line the other day! It would be a good song. Yeah, it was a baptism of fire.
So when you were a kid, without the internet, when did you know you wanted to do music? When did it click?
I think it was always either music or writing, but it was always words no matter what, whether it was poetry or prose it was always storytelling. It really clicked when I was 17. I did a summer programme at Berkeley School of Music and ended up winning the songwriting contest there and it was my first time on a really big stage in front – you know in front of like 800 people. And the prize for winning the songwriting contest is, I got to play my song with the house band at the big performance centre.
There definitely is this Cinderella story component that gets really exaggerated, that is cool and true, but also sort of ignores the fact that I like studied the music industry and have been writing songs for almost ten years.
What music do you listen to right now?
I don’t listen to music on tour. Just crazy, it’s been really the first time in my life that I haven’t been listening. So the last records I really really spent time with were Blonde, Frank Ocean; A Seat at the Table by Solange, and Sampha’s record.
May I say, three outstanding albums.
But Sampha’s was really the last one I dug into – it came out right when I was heading onto the first leg of this tour and I haven’t listened to music since then. I process music really slowly. I think the first thing I always listen to are words, I get hooked on those, but then I have to really go back and think about the production and the melodic structure. So it really takes me time to absorb everything – sound, space, texture.
What’s like the best part of being Maggie Rogers right now?
That’s a really interesting question. Um, right now I get alone time, to do what I love. And I get two whole weeks of it.
I have a schedule, I get to go for runs in the morning, there’s structure, I have weekends off,
it’s fucking awesome. Yeah I’m really excited to make music. I haven’t really gotten to make music all year. And I’ve just been like, yelling at people like ‘pleeease let me play my instruments!’ So I’m really excited to get to do that.
Are you tired of your handful of songs already or not yet?
This is interesting. I didn’t realise that this is different than other people until very recently – I never listen to my own music. Ever. And I realise that actually a lot of people do pretty frequently listen to their own music. What I’m learning about these songs is that I’m starting to have different relationships with them. I’m inevitably not feeling the same things that I felt when I wrote them, but I do find I’ll learn something new about my set and about the songs every time I play them. Which I think is something that can only come from the level of repetition that I’ve now been a part of, that I’ve always heard happens. I now understand how much better a set really does get when you play it a million times. I’m challenging myself every night on stage or setting new goals for myself or like trying to hit certain things in different ways so that I don’t check out.
What are those challenges?
It can be anything from doing a vocal riff in a different way or doing a stage dive or like, connecting with the audience in a different way. I try to start my set with ‘Colour Song’ which is awesome because it’s acappella first of all it makes everybody really shut up. But it’s this incredible opportunity for me to make direct eye contact with as many people in the audience as possible and like-
[Laughs] No, no no, not at all, it feels like this really spiritual greeting of – and like recognition, we’re all here, it makes everyone settle on the same frequency. So I’ve been trying to get better about making eye contact.
Who’s in the audience? Who are your people?
It’s all over the place. It’s really crazy, it’s like, 20, 30, 40-year-olds who read the New Yorker and the New York Times. Then it’s like younger kids who are into like, Spotify and who are into pop music. It’s a weird sector of the fashion world. It’s older, 50/60 who are like, follow viral videos. When you think about like the typical Facebook user, there’s always some like 60 year old in the front row. And I get an equal amount of notes after shows from like 60 year olds as I do from like, 14 year olds. Which is crazy and why I’m so excited to play these bigger shows because I think I’ll start to understand my demographic better. But right now age, race, demographic –
You transcend them all.
[Laughs] Well I think for me the thing about music is – it’s about creating community and connecting people.
Which is exactly what it should be.