“I’m so stinking excited right now!” gushes Maggie Rogers down the phone from New York. Who wouldn’t be in her shoes? The 22-year-old NYU graduate has the world at her feet. When we speak, she’s days away from heading out on her first ever tour while her debut EP for new label home Polydor is in the process of being revealed to the public, one song at a time.
We should all be as excited as Maggie is. By now, you’ll likely have heard all about her wowing Pharrell Williams during her college’s masterclass session, the rippling, electronically-tinged folk-pop of ‘Alaska’ near enough rendering him speechless. She’s way more than just a viral video clip, though – Now That The Light Is Fading, that aforementioned EP, introduces an artist that’s as playful as they are thoughtful, as infectious as they are experimental.
“Once it’s out, everything else that I make is part of this second chapter. It’s so new and anything can happen.”
The record might be the start of her journey in most people’s eyes, but for Maggie herself it’s a sign of her moving on to the next chapter. “I wasn’t really expecting to feel anything at midnight [on New Year’s Eve] because time is linear – hypothetically – but I actually felt such a sense of relief when the year changed,” she explains. “2016 has been this year marked on my calendar since I was born. It’s the year I graduated college and started by career. The EP release feels like the last part of that – I made all these songs on this record when I was still in college. Once it’s out, everything else that I make is part of this second chapter. It’s so new and anything can happen. That’s incredibly freeing and exciting.”
Maggie grew up in a “sort of farmland” in Maryland and that peaceful, countryside existence continues to inform her music even now she’s a resident of New York City. A seasoned hiker, ‘Alaska’ was written after a trek through that state and its lyric “And I walked off you/And I walked off an old me” refers to one of the musician’s way of processing things – by walking them off. There are the sounds of nature scattered throughout her songs – a cricket chirp here, a morning dove cooing there – and EP closer ‘Better’ finds her dealing with the dichotomy between her rural upbringing and city-dwelling.
“‘Better’ so perfectly encompasses my relationship to city and to home, and realising that I don’t really fit in either space,” she says. “There’s parts of each that I love and I think being a part of both worlds really informs the music I make.” A couple of years ago, though, her songs were strictly folk. Those limitations led to a long period of writer’s block, solved by introducing elements of dance music into her writing. “I’ve always put myself in one box as a creator. Since taking those walls away it’s been really fun to find out how I interact as a creative human.”
A fan of writers like Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion and TS Eliot, words are extremely important to Maggie. “I write these little essays and notes and for me that feels as creatively fulfilling as writing a song,” she explains. “It kind of blew my mind when I realised that people don’t listen to words in a song. It’s totally fine because obviously everyone gets something different out of music, but that’s the first thing I listen to. If the words are bad I just have a really hard time getting behind something.”
Lyrically, there’s something poetic and beautiful about Maggie’s music. On ‘On + Off’, driven by slowed down piano house stabs, she sings: “See me through this wild time/Stay with me through all of time/If I’m drenched in madness, tangled blues”. It’s hard not to listen open-mouthed. “I don’t think songwriting and poetry are too far off,” she says. “It’s different ways of saying something, but I think you’re inevitably dealing with a literary form anyway.”
Her point is backed up by last year’s awarding of the Nobel Prize For Literature, given to Bob Dylan. Though Maggie reckons there should have been a couple other musicians in the running to be the first to receive the prize, like Tupac or Kanye West, she reckons it’s a cool nod to songwriting as an art form. “Books probably used to have as much of an impact on common culture does now,” she reasons. “In the early 20th century, people could recite poems and it was people reciting poems to each other that really brought through society. Now everybody in my generation knows three lines to ‘Gold Digger’.”
Dylan has had some influence on the young musician herself, who cites ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ as one of her favourite songs. “It will always make me feel something because it’s real. If you can do that, you can win one for humanity.”
Witnessing Bruce Springsteen live last summer in Berlin also gave her some inspiration. “I was just so completely moved by his performance, looking around the stadium and seeing people cry at certain songs or hold each other’s hands,” she recalls. “I think if you can be honest in your music then you’ll tap into something that everybody feels and when you do that you’re given the privilege of being able to soundtrack these incredibly intimate moments in people’s lives.”
“I’m interested to see how touring changes the way I make things.”
Maggie’s aims are ambitious, but simple – to “make people feel better” and “make music that I’m really proud of my entire life”. For now, she’s trying to keep those dreams alive by working on an album, although not even she knows how it will turn out yet. “I’m interested to see how touring changes the way I make things,” she says. “I really did make these songs to play them live. I played a lot of quiet shows and was ready to be loud and jump around, which is funny because, even though that was the goal, I still made really mid-tempo songs. There’s no banger!”
She laughs loudly down the line. “Maggie Rogers claims bangers to come! Or maybe I will just shut myself in the woods and write a really sad folk record.” Whatever she ends up doing, you should probably get on board now. It’s bound to be exciting.