Maggie Rogers is in Perfect Musical Alignment


Once, while Maggie Rogers was on a hiking trip in Oregon, she found two elk vertebrae. Always challenging herself to see things in a different light, the singer-songwriter strung them on cooking string, creating a necklace that she’d wear almost constantly for the next few years. Although the self-designed jewelry has been referenced often as proof of the musical artist’s outsider spirit, Rogers admits it’s been a while since the piece has been in regular rotation.

“There was a time in my life when I was really excited about big, statement accessories,” she tells CR. “As an artist or musician I like when there’s a little bit of friction to what I’m wearing. It’s not perfect, it’s lived-in. There’s something punk about it that I love. I often describe my personal style as a mix between a San Francisco art teacher and a space cow girl… One thing I’ve done in the last couple of years is to give myself permission to take up space.”

It’s a genre-gobbling aesthetic reflected in the artist’s music. After two self-released albums of sinuous folk, 2012’s The Echo and 2014’s Blood Ballet, Rogers’ path to becoming a hero of the indie folk world seemed clear. However, the New York University student felt creatively stagnant. A long stint of writer’s block followed, broken only by introducing more electronic elements into her work (a move, inspired—in part—by a short stint in Berlin.) One of her first electronic/folk hybrid “Alaska,” featured beats made from finger snaps and nature-based found-sounds, an unexpected compliment to her earthy soprano. In a moment that now seems cemented in the halls of music legend, it went viral after a visibly stunned Pharrell Williams praised it during her school’s master class seminar.

“I’m a spiritual person,” Rogers muses, thinking about her unlikely path. “I don’t know about fate and I don’t believe in luck, because luck is really fickle. But I do think there’s an element of alignment and a certain number of elements need to align. The visual I have in my head is a slot machine. There are different elements in your life that are constantly revolving—whether it’s your personal life or your career, where you are internally. Sometimes you get two out of three and it feels really great. Sometimes at the right time and the right place, it all adds up.”

But to boil her success down to being anointed by an iconic producer is to miss the point completely. Even with the internet support resulting in a deal with Capital Records, Rogers still had an album to write. To do so, she retreated to her parent’s home in rural Maryland, working from her childhood bedroom and recording in her barn-turned-studio, the comforts of home allowing her to be honest about the stresses of her journey so far.

Heard It in a Past Life reflects that comfort, digging through scenes of change and personal conflict with a light hand and kinetic sense of movement driven by both electronic beats and lyrical themes. On “Alaska,” Rogers says goodbye to an old lover by literally leaving. (“And I walked off you / And I walked off an old me.”) “Back in My Body” sees her running around a Paris block before settling into her emotions. And then on the Stevie Nicks-referencing “Retrograde,” she encourages herself to slow down and “come out of the darkness.”

“I often like to say like to say my job is being vulnerable for sport!” Roger jokes of her string of reveling lyrics, most which she says are autobiographical. “I think part of that [capacity for] vulnerability comes from my education in the music industry and being able to set myself up in business and engineering and production. I really worked hard to get the tools to be able to communicate my vision as clearly as possible. When you don’t have the language, you rely on other people to interpret for you.”

She also credits the ability to see milestones as an important part of the process. In 2018, Rogers ended the year with a performance on Saturday Night Live, an out-of-body moment she still hasn’t brought herself to watch. (“I never grew up saying ‘Mom, I’m going to play SNL!’” she says of the experience. “It’s the world of dreams you don’t say out loud.”) But on a recent performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, those nerves were replaced with a sense of pure pleasure.

“It felt like such an exhibition of all the joy I’m feeling right now,” she says. “I just had so much fun. I was so happy. You can even hear it in the way I’m singing. I felt casual and grounded and excited and all these things. Before I went on, I was thinking about my first TV performance when I played [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy] Fallon, and how much I’ve grown since then and how much I’ve learned about myself and performance, and how much I love my band and the relationship I have with them. It’s exciting, but it’s so important to take those moments to acknowledge growth and acknowledge the work. Otherwise, why are you doing the work? It’s all about self-growth.”

Spoken like she was meant to be there. Almost like it was fate. Or, in her case, perfect alignment.


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