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GRAMMY PREVIEW: MAGGIE ROGERS
9/25/19

LIFE IN THE FAST LANE

By: Jon Pikus

NYU’s Clive Davis Institute has spawned a growing list of success stories, and Maggie Rogers is a sterling example. Her gift was recognized by Pharrell Williams, who, while critiquing students’ songs in a masterclass, told her, “I’ve never heard anyone like you before.” The video of that encounter went viral, and an acclaimed EP followed. The latest blossoming of Rogers’ creativity is her inspiring yet introspective album, Heard It in a Past Life (Capitol). Her song “Light On” is a heartfelt letter to her fans, thanking them for their engagement and promising to keep making music for them.


Your recordings all have a distinctive sound, and you are credited as producer or co-producer on all of your songs. Where did you acquire your production chops?
I started producing music 10 years ago, in high school. It was my first homemade record that got me into the Clive Davis Institute. The writing and production process are very much the same thing for me; I’m hearing the textures and tones that make up the way that song is finally presented. And I’ve always played a large hand, if not the only hand, in creating, recording and producing my masters. I have a degree in music production and engineering. And in college I played bass in a punk band and banjo in a folk band—we were always recording and producing music.

Later on, I was able to work with Greg Kurstin, Ricky Reed [aka Wallpaper] and Rostam Batmanglij [formerly of Vampire Weekend], whose music I had grown up loving and studying, so I just continued learning. A lot of the album was recorded in L.A., but a lot of it was also recorded at my parents’ house in rural Maryland, where I first started writing songs.

“Light On” is a standout from your album, with its memorable chorus hook. What was your songwriting inspiration for that one, and how did co-producer Greg Kurstin get involved?
That was the last song I made for the album. I wanted to spend one last day, to make sure that I’d said everything I wanted to say. When I listened back to the record, I realized that there was one story I hadn’t yet told: I hadn’t written a letter to my fans to say thank you. So much of this record was me dealing with the very quick public attention that came with that video of me at NYU. There was a lot of time where I was really overwhelmed by the attention, and not sure how I was going to find my way through it.

But every night I got onstage and felt so powerfully held by my community, like there was a safe space for me to share my work and to be vulnerable. So that song is a very literal, direct letter to my fans to say, “I understand you. If you keep showing up, then I’ll keep showing up for you.” Because I have this special intimate relationship with them, they feel really sacred to me. Music has always been my way of understanding the world around me, and “Light On” is really about my life changing faster than I could recognize it.

The track was mostly produced by me and Tom Percy [aka Kid Harpoon], and then Greg came in to help refine the drum part and some of the guitars. But Greg and I really worked together to create the sonic sphere that defines the album. And I don’t think that song could’ve been what it was without him.


What did the Grammys mean to you when you were growing up, and what do they mean to you now?
I grew up watching the Grammys, so there’s definitely a reverence for them. I think what any artist is trying to do is contribute to the canon and move the medium forward. The Grammys are one way to be recognized. But while the Grammys are an incredible platform for celebrating music, I make music to create release and connection for people, and that feels like the most important thing to me. The peer recognition is cool and really special, but that’s not why you do it.

If you could collaborate with anyone on a future recording, who would it be?
I really love Kevin Abstract [of Brockhampton] and James Blake. And there are so many powerful women in music right now that I am so in awe of. I’m such a fan of Rosalía, and I love Lizzo and Billie Eilish. The best collaborations are the ones you don’t expect, so I’m open. I would love to work with Björk; I’m completely fascinated by her brain. And Patti Smith.

My number one collaborator would be David Byrne. He consistently just blows my mind. He’s very colorful; I really appreciate how vivid his world is. He strikes me as an artist who’s consistently challenging himself. I have such reverence for him and for his work.