As a young student in Berlin, Maggie Rogers discovered techno for herself – like countless people before and after her. However, the visit to the club made such a lasting impression on her that she then started a world career – which not so many can say about themselves. Back in New York, Rogers reconsiders her own productions and begins to mix banjo and guitars with electronic elements. She writes the song “Alaska,” a haunting folktronica pop number that becomes a hit in 2017. Two years later her album “Heard It In A Past Life” was released, she was nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist and toured the world.
Since then, the 28-year-old has stood for large-scale pop that’s serious and smart, while also being a lot of fun – drawing her in the direction of Lorde, Harry Styles or Florence The Machine. Maggie Rogers had momentum with “Alaska”, it was her zero hour as an international star, also because superproducer and singer Pharrell Williams praised the song enthusiastically.
However, that has not changed anything about her self-image: “Look, I’ve always made music – regardless of what the last few years looked like, I would continue to make music today,” she explains in the Zoom call. “It’s just the way I move through my life.” And you agree with her that it wouldn’t matter if she introduced her new single to late-night great Jimmy Fallon or some small bar in New York . Maggie Rogers gives her counterpart the feeling that she is one of her own circle of friends. One who is somehow a high-flyer, but with whom you can also chat about the state of the world over a pub chat.
The world – and not just that of music – seems to interest Rogers in general. In June she did her master’s degree at Harvard University in the subject “Religion and Public Life”. It is a new course that looks at religious structures in the secular. Rogers is already eagerly applying her knowledge. “There’s something deeply religious about music and concerts,” she says. The coming together, the celebration, it’s a ritual in which people are close simply because they experience the same thing and form a unit for a while. Exactly what didn’t work for two years thanks to the pandemic. But you can also deal with the things that are missing during your studies – or in songwriting.
Maggie Rogers describes her recently released second record as “untamed joy”. And indeed, the musician seems unleashed on “Surrender” (Universal). In “Want Want” she enjoys her own desire – even if the relationship with the desired person bumps every now and then. In the track “Be Cool” she wishes for the light-heartedness of a teenager: drunk summer evenings, going to see Britney Spears and just not taking life too seriously. It’s a little hymn for more self-acceptance: “And know that race car running round your heart, will always be a part of you” she sings. In “Horses” Rogers explores the ambivalence of wanting and needing – and tells how she thinks about oral sex when she smokes.
Things get personal in the song “I’ve Got A Friend,” which is about a friend who takes unfortunate turns in life at some point. “It’s a terrifying experience to see a loved one suffer,” says Rogers. This song in particular is musically surprising: a playful piano replaces simple guitar chords, and a simple song becomes a little jewel. This year’s Grammy winner Jon Batiste plays the piano. It was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, the legendary New York studio founded by Jimi Hendrix. Rogers admits that being able to record here was a milestone for her. Batiste was in the room next door. “We are friends and he came over and recorded it.” The musicians Clairo and Claud were also there. They hung out together on the roof and had a drink. “I spontaneously asked them if they wanted to sing along – they did.”
Rogers does not name drop to distinguish herself, but to express her deep admiration for the talented people in her orbit. Many of her friends are also her heroes. For example the musician and producer Kid Harpoon, among others active for Harry Styles or Shawn Mendes, with whom she already worked together on the first album and is again doing common things here. The two deviate from the electro-pop that Rogers is known for on “Surrender” and throw themselves into the current nineties trend: Rogers brings in grunge guitars, lavishes rhythms and leans into the power anthems. It’s wonderfully reminiscent of Fiona Apple, Meredith Brooks and, above all, a modern twist on the sound of Alanis Morrisette. “Why do you only name women?!” asks Maggie Rogers. “I don’t understand that, everyone just compares this record with other musicians. what about the boys I thought a lot about U2 and Oasis when I was in the studio,” says Rogers – and she’s right: “Surrender” can do widescreen pop just as well as U2.
Maggie Rogers avoids expectations by seeking confrontation. A good strategy when your own debut was so successful and everyone has already treated you as a child prodigy. But maybe it’s also because Rogers had a lot of time between album one and album two to come to himself. When the pandemic begins, the musician is just finishing a year-long touring phase. She urgently needs a break and hides with her parents in the country.
At first she didn’t make any music there and out of boredom she started building beats. “I reminded myself how much fun it is for me. I fiddled around without a specific goal, and songs came out of that.” This aimlessness gives Rogers’ music an immediacy and a naivety that can only function without intention. That’s exactly why she called the album “Surrender”: She wants to actively capitulate to her own feelings, she says. Surrender – isn’t that something passive and therefore also negative? She is thinking. “No. I have decided to surrender. I see that as something good through and through!”