Maggie Rogers "wasn't even done with" 'Alaska' when that Pharrell critique video went viral, but Bryget Chrisfield discovers the young artist is "finally getting the start that [she] wanted all along" through her new album.
"I had two shows at Madison Square Garden - Monday and Tuesday, with Mumford & Sons - which were amazing!" Maggie Rogers enthuses on why she currently finds herself in New York. Having never actually been to a show at Madison Square Garden, this was her first time visiting the multi-purpose indoor arena and Rogers chuckles, "Backstage is actually really smelly, it's kinda gross 'cause it's a sports arena. It's interesting: arenas in the UK are really clean, but in the US they just all smell really bad."
After interning for Lizzy Goodman - essentially transcribing endless hours of the music journalist's interviews that would become Meet Me In The Bathroom, Goodman's oral history documenting the rebirth of New York's rock scene - Rogers observes, "I know what it's like to transcribe. I wanna be a kind interviewee to make sure it's easy to transcribe." It turns out the Maryland singer-songwriter "just responded to an email" in order to secure this position, Rogers adding that "listening to [her] heroes talk about how they made music, why they made music, where they made music sounded like a dream job". "So I worked with Lizzy for three years and she's, like, one of my dearest friends."
Rogers last graced our shores for Splendour In The Grass and revealed during a backstage interview at this festival that she was compiling some field recordings of Byron Bay bird vocalisations. Did any of these find their way into songs on her upcoming Heard It In A Past Life album? "There are still a couple of sound samples on the record - none of the birds from Australia, unfortunately," she enlightens. "I started recording field samples because I was going through a period of really tough writer's block and I sometimes think that it's easier to just start a project if you give yourself really specific restrictions - it can help you be more creative. And so one of the ways I sort of found my way back to music was through sound samples, because I gave myself the task of using as many of them as possible in songs."
"It feels like I'm really saying yes to everything and doing it on my own terms, and doing it in my way, and it feels like I'm finally getting the start that I wanted all along."
She also has synesthesia, a neurological condition that allows her to see music as colours, which is something Rogers didn't discover "until [she] went to school to study music production". "I didn't ever realise that it was weird," she acknowledges. "I was, like, talking about sounds in a really focused and really concentrated way with other people who had this really intense vocabulary around music, and I remember being in a class and I was called on and asked to describe a sound and someone said, 'What is this sound or what is this texture?' And I was like, 'Oh, well it's green,' and they were just like, 'Green? What do you mean?'... It was interesting for me to find out that my classmates didn't have this really strong association with sound and colour.
"But [synesthesia has] always been a really critical part of my creative process, because often what I'll do when I'm embarking on new work, I'll make a mood board and I'll just detail really carefully and really visually the tones and hues and colours that I'm being drawn to, and then I'll use that as a roadmap when I'm going into the studio and producing and, you know, fine-tuning synthesiser sounds or drum sounds et cetera."
Speaking about the inspiration behind her latest single, Light On, Rogers recalls times when she felt overwhelmed and unsure about whether this life was actually for her. "I never ever doubted the music, I love making music," she stresses, "but the reality of being a professional musician is that my life is only about 30%, 20% music; there's so many other things you have to do to make this your job... And everybody has to do stuff that they don't necessarily wanna do, but, I dunno, things are just very overwhelming. Basically, my very private life became very public very quickly, without my consent, you know? Or not without my consent, but without my control: the song that was put on the internet of me, like, I wasn't even done with yet."
Rogers refers to the footage of an NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music masterclass, which Pharrell Williams attended as a surprise guest to critique the students' work. After hearing Rogers' song Alaska, a visibly moved Williams praises, "I have zero, zero, zero notes for that."
"You know, normally when a new artist comes out they say, 'Ok, here's my single and here's my photo,' and all these things," Rogers continues. "It just sort of happened to me and I kind of had to figure it out. I think that's why I'm so excited about this record: it feels like I'm really saying yes to everything and doing it on my own terms, and doing it in my way, and it feels like I'm finally getting the start that I wanted all along. Or it's getting to introduce myself in the way I always wanted to."