Less than a week after the release of Heard It In A Past Life, and the afternoon of her first album signing at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, Maggie Rogers graces the Refinery29 offices with her presence. And if you’ve ever seen Rogers perform, in person or on TV, or listened to any of her songs ("On+Off," "Say It," "Light On"), then you know that “grace” is the perfect word to describe the 24-year-old’s presence.
Initially compared to older artists like Joni Mitchell or Stevie Nicks because of her ethereal sound and appreciation for folk music, Rogers’ sound does recall the soulfulness of those powerful performers. But in real life, the emerging talent isn't stuck in the 70s at all — she is refreshingly modern, wearing a casual all-white ensemble with a few pops of color. A rust colored long-sleeved shirt pokes out from her Eckhaus Latta tee, layered with a tomato red floor-length Nike puffer coat — and then there's the soft smear of glitter on her eye lids. Her hair's down in loose, natural waves, and she's constantly smiling and laughing throughout our conversation. She's not an old soul per se, just a supremely talented one.
Rogers first became a name in 2016 after she visibly stunned Pharrell Williams during a New York University master class (forever immortalized here), and she's spent the better part of two years figuring out the real Rogers, beyond the viral moment. Spoiler: it worked. Her passion and indisputable talent is why Heard is already #1 on the Top Album Sales chart, and why there is no such thing as not "liking" a Maggie Rogers song — there is only "not knowing a Maggie Rogers song yet." She's one of the best new artists out there, and she's so humble it hurts.
But the best thing about Rogers is that she is constantly growing and learning — even during our chat, where she makes some sound realizations about herself, and about the industry she is quickly helping to remold.
"The biggest thing that’s happened to music in the last 10 years was the democratization of music technology which means that you don’t need to go through a gatekeeper anymore," she says when I ask her about the new wave of young creatives in movies and music, ushering in a new era of softer, kinder art. "You can be a person of any gender and any age in your bedroom with tools to make beats or record a song you’re making. That’s something that is so exciting to me about the music industry in general — it’s really incredible space for anyone with a passionate or powerful idea to just have complete agency. The only thing you need then is vision and drive."
Ahead, Rogers tells Refinery29 about the evolution of her performances (have you seen her perform "Burning"!?), her passions (she just bought a motorcycle!), and why she has the best fans (it's what she deserves!).
Refinery29: You have an album signing tonight!
Maggie Rogers: “I am so excited because I love this record so much and I have been sitting on it forever. I think it is the coolest thing that my music gets to be a part of anybody’s lives, so I love getting to meet those people and really celebrating with them. The people who come to the signings are really the people who have supported me the most over the past couple of years. Especially with my story, it feels like it’s their record as much as it’s mine in the way that my career was really made by them buying concert tickets, and albums, so they made it with me. I’m just excited to talk to people and see what’s going on in their lives and say hello.”
Yeah, that has got to be the best part for you — there are the performances which are for the fans, but [meeting fans] is different.
"The show is different every night because in the best situations it’s a conversation between the audience and the performer which means the chemistry is different every night in every city. It is personal, but I don’t get to always talk to people one-on-one, so if people stay late I always go out and say hi or will check in, but it’s nice to have an intentional space to really get to see people and talk to them.
I know that not everybody gets to choose their fans, but every time I talk to somebody who listens to my music I always feel like we would be hanging out at the same house party. It feels like my music did this thing of like bringing together all like-minded people who I would want to hang out with anyway. It’s nice to talk about music, but I also just really like the people I’m talking to."
That’s very accurate too because everyone I know that listens to your music are all my favorite people.
"Oh my God! That’s amazing!"
You’ve talked a lot about your album in interviews, so I'd love to talk more about your live performances. I mean, “Burning”....
"AHHHH! Thank you! I had sooo much fun."
Can you tell me about that night?
"It was such a blast. Jean Baptiste, I met him at Newport Folk Festival this past year and he has more joy than anyone I’ve ever met. Anytime you get to be on a show like that, it is such a privilege. It was such a good example for how I feel now that the record is out. I feel this giant release. I feel really relaxed, but also so bursting with happiness and excitement and lightness."
It looked so fun. And not something you typically see on a late night shows.
"Everyone needs a little head-banging in their life!"
Especially people who are watching you perform for the first time.
"People are always like, “You dance?” And I’m like, “Dude, it’s not a choice.” It is just really naturally what my body does, and I have made an active choice not to censor it. It feels so much better to move."
The person I’ve been made space for the person I’m becoming.
It’s interesting to compare it to your SNL performance.
"I think that the two performances are just really great examples of how I am growing and am continuing to grow. The SNL performances were just...I mean the fact that that even happened is crazy. Like that sentence coming out of my mouth is totally crazy. I just cried the whole time — walked in, started crying, went to rehearsal, started tearing up. It’s just so, so wild. It’s sort of like in the realm of dreams that you don’t say out loud. You don’t grow up saying, "Mom I’m going to play SNL!" It’s so out there that it doesn’t even practical to reach for. It’s just such an honor to be included in that show and they make such a special thing every week.
The “Fallingwater” performance felt like this big breath in a way. It felt like one of the first times I was taking control of this [fame] in a really exciting and purposeful and empowering way. The person I’ve been made space for the person I’m becoming. I think that opening is what made the “Burning” performance on Colbert that much brighter and bigger. Before SNL I watched my old performances again, like the first time I was on Fallon performing “Alaska,” and it’s so cool to see how much I’ve learned as a performer, and how much I still have to learn. It makes me really excited for whatever’s next."
Is that something you’re consciously thinking of? I feel like a lot of what people like about your album is how effortless it all feels.
"It’s not effortless — it’s more about being really present, and vulnerable, and uncensored. I have no idea what I’m doing! [Laughs.] I am figuring it out. I feel really open and really excited, and so much of this has already surpassed all of my wildest dreams. I feel so grateful just to get to do this work in the first place. I trust it. I trust that if I keep doing this work I love, and thinking about the work I love, then it will just naturally unfold."
Speaking of work you love — what’s stuck in your head right now?
You shared what you were reading while you were working on the album, and I was wondering how those influenced the sound and tracks we heard.
"I really love to read, and I really love to write as well, so I’m always thinking about character and story arc. I don’t know directly how they influenced what I was writing; it’s more about ideas that I am being drawn to or landscapes, and types of narratives. I was reading Joan Didion’s personal essays [in The White Album], which feel a lot like song-writing in long form. A lot of the record was made in California, and it was the first I’d been there really, so I was reading [John] Steinbeck and Didion. I also got a motorcycle license in the last year and a half, and bought a bike, so I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [by Robert Persig]. The other book was Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss. Maybe that’s also a good mix of me: personal essays, weird motorcycle stuff, something kind of spiritual."
I definitely see the through line in that…
"Also my Co-Star app. These are my essentials. [Laughs.]"