Maggie Rogers' major label debut album has been a long time coming.
When a chance meeting with Pharrell Williams changed her life, the American songwriter was plunged into a world of studio sessions, continual touring, and press engagements.
Yet she's handled it all with admirable grace. When Clash meets Maggie at an East London hotel she is completely relaxed, the picture of serenity at the heart of the major label whirlwind.
New LP 'Heard It In A Past Life' lands this month, with some songs stretching back to her early teens, while still others focus on her newfound fame, and the vast changes in her life.
Laura Copley speaks to Maggie Rogers about songwriting, maintaining creative independence, and why each song is a fresh start.
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There’s a clear musical energy switch this time around, so with that in mind, was there any significance to making ‘Give A Little’ the first track on the album?
Yeah. 'Give A Little' feels like a reintroduction... it's a clean slate. It says, "I don't know you, you don't know me, we're starting over and everything is new." It's also just a really welcoming and inviting record, I wanted people to feel a sense of positivity when listening to it.
Y’know, there's so much that has happened to me, with me and my career so far that I wanted the record to express a new beginning. And I really love tracklists! I think you can make them say so much. I spend a lot of time on them.
I’ve noticed your name marked under ‘director’ on the video for ‘Give A Little’, was this your first time directing one of your music videos?
It was my first time officially directing, I mean I've written all the treatments and cast all the people before and i've always been really involved in my music videos and that whole process but yeah it was awesome! This time I finally got to wear the hat and sit in the director's chair.
And for Riverdale fans, how did Camila Mendes sneak her way into the video?
Cam and I actually met our first year of freshman college! We've been best friends since, and it's crazy 'cuz our lives have changed very drastically together. And so our friendship is really tight. It's cool that we've experienced this ride together.
‘Overnight’ has such a strong narrative to it, where did you draw your inspiration from?
'Overnight' is literally about myself - ha, well I mean they're all about me - but this one's a letter to myself. Often when I'm writing songs I frame them in the mentality of writing a letter, and for ‘Overnight' I wanted my present self to write a letter to myself like, a year ago, essentially breaking up with that past version of myself.
So the "you" in the verses are my past self, if that makes sense. "I remember seeing you at a party, I took a sip of my whiskey and I left", the image I have in my head is like, new me walks into a party and sees old me and leaves.
It's so interesting because people see it as a one-night stand narrative and I'm like, “no, I got famous overnight! c'mon!"
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’The Knife’ features some pretty funky bass slaps which is something we haven’t really heard from you before. Are there other instruments that are new to you on this album?
Well I really wanted there to be more live instruments, so piano, guitar, more live drums... so much of this record I made to play live and I learnt that the thing about electronic music is it's all quantised and so there’s no groove, and I really missed songs that had a real fucking groove. I wanna feel it. I wanted to be able to really feel immersed in the music. In my favourite pop songs and R&B songs, there's so much instinctual feeling and rhythm, and I wanted these songs to come alive in that same way... and bass lines are a big part of that.
You performed ‘Light On’ on SNL… that’s massive. How was that experience?!
SNL was wild. It was so much pressure too but you just have to get up there and be like. Alright. Now is the time and I'm gunna enjoy it. As soon as I walked into that building [The Rockefeller Center] I immediately started crying, it was all so overwhelming.
I mean, my photo on the wall goes between Paul Simon and Lil Wayne. I feel like that perfectly describes me. But yeah, SNL is in that realm of the dreams you never say out loud, you can't even say that's a goal because it's so far off. I didn’t think something like that would ever be possible. It was really, really amazing.
Your voice is so delicate and pure in ‘Past Life’, it reminds me of Stevie Nicks in ‘Dreams’. Are there any artists that helped inspire the creation of this record?
Wow! Thank you so much that's like, really overwhelming! I actually really stopped listening to music during this album, which is crazy but I'm around music so much... it's been the first time I've ever been in the middle of making something and completely stopped listening.
When you're in the studio every day for eight/nine hours you come home and you just don’t crave music anymore. Your brain is kind of in a different place. But I read a lot. I was reading a lot of Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit. Non-fiction essays, basically.
You’re back in the higher keys for ‘Say It’, did you find you had to retrain your voice at all for this album?
No, but I think my voice has actually just changed a lot. It's totally opened up, like I didn't know my voice could do that. I’ve made quiet folk music my whole life and I've always sung very quietly so I just didn't know the extent of where my voice could go. It’s felt very liberating.
’Falling Water’ is among the three tracks you’ve released as singles so far, is there method to which ones you put out into the world first?
'Falling Water' feels like a mission statement, it's kind of a weird song. It's rich and vibrant and it felt like a really exciting song to come back with. Same as 'Give A Little', it was showing people that I can do things that aren't expected, like a "watch this!"
Also 'Give A Little' is just a really fun track. ‘Falling Water’ is sooo serious, and then 'Light On' was written as a letter to my audience. It was important to kind of put out the scope of the entire record systematically, so like a beginning, middle and end. I really love the way the singles have been set up, you hear enough to get the jest of the record and yet it hasn't given too much away as there are still a lot of surprises to be heard.
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‘Retrograde’ sounds like the next electro-pop anthem. Why do you think so many artists are revisiting the genre as of recent, and why do you love it so much?
I love songwriting, and I love dancing. It's not even on purpose that that happens to be the genre I fall into, it's just those are the things I love and that puts me in this specific lane, whether I want to be there or not. But I kinda feel like genre just exists to sell music, I don't really see it to be a part of my creative process. Genre is your job, that's not my job!
‘Burning’ is my personal favourite. Do you have a favourite track or one that you’re most proud of from the album?
Urmmm... I never really listen to my own music, it's just not the practice that I have. I've played everything live except for 'Past Life'. 'The Knife' is super fun to play, and I really enjoy 'Say It' live too, I wrote that song a long time ago so I've played that a lot. But they all have different qualities that make them different kinds of exciting. I think that's the thing about this record, I wrote it to play live. My life has been touring for the last couple of years so it made sense to follow that path.
‘Back In My Body’ feels like it’s bursting with emotion in a way that feels really complete. So in the same way as ‘Give A Little’, is there a reason behind closing the record with this track?
Yeah. As we talked about earlier, there was so much that the public saw me go through without really hearing how I felt about it and so this whole record feels like, cool. This all happened, this is what it was like for me - and when we reach 'Back In My Body' it's like - but I'm good. I feel really ready and I feel really happy now.
Things were really difficult and I was very overwhelmed for a while and I wasn't sure how to make all of this feel like 'me', but with this track it feels like I'm looking my audience in the eye and saying "you know what happened, I know what happened, and now we start from here..."
So I'm back in my body, and when I look to the future I feel like I'm now on equal footing. A new chapter. It's an end and a beginning at the same time.
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'Heard It In A Past Life' will be released on January 18th.
Words: Laura Copley
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