- 04 Feb 19
She’s one of the year’s hottest pop debutantes, with a fanbase that includes Pharrell Williams and Mumford & Sons. Maggie Rogers talks falling in love with Irish culture, growing up in Donald Trump’s America, and pining for the days of the badly-behaved rock star.
Maggie Rogers became internet famous in 2016 when a video of Pharrell Williams grooving along to her diffident R&B banger ‘Alaska’ went viral. Rogers was at the time studying for a masters degree in music at New York University and Williams had dropped in for a songwriting masterclass. As Rogers pressed play on a demo she’d put together in her bedroom four days previously, Pharrell’s eyes grew progressively wider and he broke into a sly smile. “Wow,” he finally stuttered. “I have zero, zero, zero notes for that… You’re doing your own thing… it’s singular.”
Three years later, Rogers is now poised to become real world famous too. ‘Alaska’ is just one of the stand-outs on her fantastic major label debut, Heard It In A Past Life. Bringing together the 24-year-old Marylander’s love of folk and electronica, it’s a knock-out – catchy yet steeped in a wisdom that belies her youth.
In person, Rogers is every bit as forceful. She breezes into her first major Irish interview carrying a bag from the Hodges Figgis book store. It’s opening night of her tour supporting Mumford & Sons and their weird, in-the-round-stage that’s actually a rectangle. She’s come bearing goodies – a Proust paperback for Marcus Mumford and sundry other volumes for his bandmates.
Rogers is a fan of Irish music which is why she is thrilled to be opening her first arena tour here. It is to be merely the first of several visits to our shores. She’s back in February for two sell-out dates at Dublin Academy, and over the summer will perform in Cork as support to top-knotted tyro Hozier.
“I don’t know if I feel comfortable speaking generally about Irish culture but from my readings it seems that folk music is communal here in a way it isn’t in other English-speaking countries,” she says. “Where I grew up, I knew that even if you can sing, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.”
Where Rogers grew up was a farmhouse in Easton, Maryland, two hours from Washington DC. Maryland is one of America’s most diverse states but Easton, she reports, is very much the South. Most of her friends from middle school voted for Donald Trump and when she volunteered to give her public backing to a Democratic candidate in the recent mid-terms, Rogers received a polite “no thank you”. Her New York music industry background rendered her deeply suspicious in the eyes of many of her fellow southern Marylanders.
“They didn’t want my support,” she says. “To win as a Democrat you have to be moderate. I would have been too liberal a figure. I speak about women’s rights, I am concerned about the environment. It’s very Tea Party Republican – very conservative.”
She started out writing orthodox folk songs. An entirely new world was revealed to her when she went to study in France for a year. She had got to know some Germans in New York and they invited her to Berlin to experience the city’s nightlife. Back in New York she would receive another education in the industry working as an intern with music writer Lizzie Goodman, then toiling on Meet Me In The Bathroom, her definitive oral history of the early 2000s NYC music scene.
Roger’s duties included transcribing Goodman’s interviews – tell-all tête-à-têtes with members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Strokes, Interpol and LCD Soundsystem.
“The Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the tail end of their first record had this incredible summer tour planned and they canned it because they needed to go work on their second album. They were not ready to not be in the studio. The lesson was that sometimes you have to take that risk.” What also struck her was that life was so much grittier back then. She has 260,000 Instagram followers and is aware that she will pop up on fans’ feeds alongside the latest musings from Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift. Like it or not, she is a part of the celebrity complex and it freaks her out.
“We’re missing a little bit of that rock mentality. Everything is so groomed. On Instagram you have to wear these perfect clothes and have the perfect meal. I miss the grit, I miss anything that’s real about musicians. Because of Instagram you are an inherent part of celebrity culture. I don’t know where that leaves music. The way some musicians in the past handled themselves would be incredibly frowned upon today – they fucked up, they showed up late, they got drunk. I’m not a very controversial person – I don’t have a lot of crazy shit to say. But it does worry me that nothing feels real anymore.”
Heard It In A Past Life is out now. Maggie Rogers plays Academy, Dublin (February 14 & 15) and Independent Park, Cork (June 25)