“I think that personally I am always looking at ways to challenge myself,” says MAGGIE ROGERS as we sit in a conference room ahead of her show at Nottingham‘s Motorpoint Arena alongside Mumford and Sons. Fast forward a month and we are just days away from the highly anticipated release of Rogers’ debut major label record, Heard It In a Past Life – a record she describes as “important to represent all of the emotions that I felt.”
Using it as a continuation from 2017 EP Now That the Light is Fading, which “very much tells the story of the last three months when I was at university,” HIIAPL “tells the story of pretty much everything afterwards.” Rogers is a staunch believer in telling stories and uses her releases as a method of revisiting past memories and giving life to those that have faded into the back of her mind. “When you’re telling a story you don’t need to know all the details,” she offers, before continuing “you just need to understand the main infrastructure.” Giving an example from her own work, she reveals “Fallingwater deals with pain and being really scared and Light On has a bit about feeling overwhelmed, but also about the joy of making music. Give a Little is about going out with your friends and it is also a bit political about the lack of bipartisanship in my country.”
Rogers talks of the creation process and in particular why On + Off and Alaska have made the leap from NTTLIF to HIIAPL, explaining “the reason some songs are on the EP and not on the record is because from a storytelling perspective it felt like they belonged to that era of my life, whereas Alaska and On and Off, not only do they narratively feel like they still applied to the themes of the record, which are transition and change, but I also couldn’t tell the story of that year and a half without those songs. They are an essential part of what the last year and half to two years.”
Continuing with an expansion of the themes of the record, she adds “the thing about change and transition is that it is incredibly exciting, but incredibly uncomfortable. I think it is a lot about memory. One song or one emotion can tell the story of a couple of months.” As we will be exposed to when HIIAPL is released, certain tracks do evoke emotion, and although confident and content with what will come out on 18 January, Rogers is still feeling the pre-release nerves, saying “There is so much competition right now because everything is so readily available,” but instead of letting this get her down, she gives the positive spin of “I think there is space for everyone’s voice, and if on the Friday my record comes out great, maybe somebody finds it and loves it. If not, there’s going to be 13,000 other songs that come out that day and I am sure they will love one of them.”
If that was the case, would Maggie Rogers be hurt by people not choosing to engage with an album that tells the tale from her post-university life to now? Perhaps deep down, but on the surface she explains “I definitely don’t feel hurt by it because music is an important part of how I process my life and it helps me.” Optimistic as ever, she adds “if it helps someone else feel good – great, if it doesn’t then I’m sure there will be another artist they can connect with.” Developing from her initial point of not being too disheartened, Rogers ponders briefly before suggesting “Everyone wants something different from making music – whether it is power, money, or fame. I just want to be good at the craft and I really just want to continue challenging myself.”
The ‘challenging myself’ part of that statement is quickly pounced on as she hints “that might not always be music. One day the challenge will be writing a book or acting. It is just about being creative and using the opportunities you have to live the most fulfilling life you can.” Using Nick Cave as an example, Rogers immediately gives an observation – “there’s something about those kind of artists, Nick Cave being one and I’ve been thinking about Kurt Cobain a lot lately. You want them to look weird and be wild and you don’t want everyone looking all dolled up and perfect; sometimes you want artists to have some grit.”
It is these “weird and wild” artists that Rogers sympathises with, and almost apologises for suggesting globally renowned icons Nirvana or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds need to fit an aesthetic in order to sell records. However, as she puts it, “maybe it is hard when musicians are next to Kim Kardashian on someone’s Instragram feed. There’s an incredible amount of pressure right now to be perfect or to be styled, and the hard thing with Spotify is that they have so much power over what music people get to listen to and not listen to.” Granted, yes, Nick Cave could live comfortably without relying too heavily on the income he receives from Spotify streams, but what Maggie Rogers is getting at is that “the Spotify curation system doesn’t put them [wild and weird] to the front, but you see Drake’s face on the cover of every playlist.”
Does she feel this, too? Again, it is hard to tell because of the quietly confident poker face she has donned, but she happily points out “I am vulnerable, and at the end of the day it is a weird part of the job, but that is because I make myself as open as possible. The more vulnerable you can be, the more human you are being and everyone knows how to be human. It is such a privilege and I don’t do this for money. I do it to connect with people and to create a space for people to connect. That is invaluable.”
The ability to connect with people – both those who are familiar with her music and those who simply caught her supporting someone like Mumford and Sons to get a good spot at each respective arena – is something that seems somewhat effortless, but it is when she opens up you see why. A video of Maggie and Pharrell Williams analysing Alaska went viral two years ago; an experience she describes as a time when “so much happened in my life so quickly because of that viral video with Pharrell and I didn’t really have any say in it. My very private life became very public very quickly.” By releasing Heard It In A Past Life, there is a sense of reclaiming her craft, especially in Light On.
“It [Light On] tells the story that I wasn’t really sure that I was going to really do this – I was going down the path, but I wasn’t really convinced that this was for me.” Factoring in several reasons why this journey was not perhaps going to be completed, she eventually decided to fulfil her musical role, but as she highlights “the reality of being a musician is that you make music 30% of the time, but the rest of the job is a bunch of other stuff.” The ‘making music’ part of Rogers‘ trade has taken a recent backseat role whilst touring specifics are fine tuned, and as she tells us, “it has always been a lot harder for me to write on the road. It was really hard are first because I was so overwhelmed by all the details of what touring was like, but I think it is getting easier. I am finally understanding the rhythm of touring and it is starting to feel a lot more comfortable.”
Maggie Rogers finally feels that she is once again in control of not only her music, but her whole life. When Heard It In a Past Life is released we will inevitably find out more about her through the medium of song.