Like many artists at the start of the pandemic, Maggie Rogers lived a sequestered and lonely life. She had retired to coastal Maine, trying to ease the burnout of touring for her 2019 major label debut “Heard It In a Past Life,” with few plans to write. “I was hiding,” she said. “Out of words.”
But Rogers, who earned a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist with this album, which fused his folk singer-songwriter roots with a tent-dance momentum, didn’t stay cloistered for long. Remembering that “making beats is fun,” she joined a virtual song-a-day accountability group with Feist, Damien Rice and Mac DeMarco. “I would go for walks and listen to all my favorite artists doing [expletive] in our kitchens,” she said. “It was so sick.” The demos she produced in her own home studio sounded happy, which surprised her.
She thought the tumult and rage of the moment would lead her elsewhere. And then it did.
“I talk so much about the artist’s job of being to feel,” she said recently. “Over the past two years, there has been so much pain, so much suffering and so much injustice in the world. It raised a lot of questions for me about what I believe in and how I want to structure my artistic practice or my business. Or my life.
So Rogers, while she was busy whipping up sick beats in her kitchen, enrolled in Harvard Divinity School. “I wanted to build myself a framework for how to keep art sacred,” she said.
She graduated in may holds a master’s degree in religion and public life, a new program mostly lay professionals “whose work is focused on positive social impact”, according to the university. In Rogers’ case, that included her confident, confident performance at Coachella last spring. “I feel super religious, if music is a religion,” she said. “When I’m in the crowd of fans or on stage, that’s when I feel most connected to something bigger than me.”
While studying, she was also finishing “Surrender,” her second album for Capitol, a hypnotically danceable ode to ecstatic abandon, jumping and navigating worry. Co-produced by Rogers and Kid Harpoon (Harry Styles, Florence + the Machine) and embracing distortion — a new sound for her — it’s due out on Friday.
“Right now, the joy on the record feels like the greatest form of rebellion,” said Rogers, 28. It’s a hard-won hope, which — politically, culturally, ecologically — could be the mood of the moment. “Surrender” was also part of his dissertation, which examined cultural awareness, the spirituality of public gathering, and the ethics of pop power. The album, she told me, is “joy with teeth.”
Terry Storm Williams, essayist, naturalist, and writer-in-residence at Harvard Divinity School, taught Rogers in a class called “Finding Beauty in a Broken World.” Her fans may know her as “a rock star,” Williams wrote in an email. “But I know her as a writer. His words are thin, jerky, unadorned, visceral. She writes through the full range of emotions she inhabits. ”
Williams added that Rogers “recognizes the particular responsibility that comes with being a musician with a big stage.”
“The bridge between a public life and a private life is silence, having time to remember who you are and who you are not,” Williams wrote. “She dances between movement and stillness.”
On a rainy weekday in June, Rogers and I met at a corner restaurant on the Upper East Side, to wait out the rain before making a pilgrimage to one of his holy places in town, the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. She wore a cropped white undershirt, a comfy black sweater (all hail Portland, Maine, Goodwill) and her once-long, Laurel Canyon songwriter-style hair cut into a pixie cut — a development that has summer covered by Teen Vogue, although she has worn this cut for most of her life. An angular Ferragamo mini bag and boxy metallic hooded boots were the only clues of big star of the label.
Freckled and warm, she was eloquent about her musical choices, with an undercurrent of blunder (like when she shoved a tampon up her nose to staunch a nosebleed while dancing at Coachella – then used the music video to announce his set).
Rogers had just moved out of her graduate apartment in Cambridge, Mass., a few weeks prior — “my hot version of Boston: great food, bad lighting” — and was still figuring out where she would set up her new artistic life. “I feel like I’m post-grad for next year or something,” she said. “I do field research.
She grew up in rural Easton, Maryland. the Los Angeles apartment where she now stores her things has never really felt like home. While an undergrad at New York University, where she studied music production and engineering, her track “Alaska” caught the eye. a bit of viral adulation by Pharrell Williams, and she felt drawn to the city as the place where she learned “what kind of artist I wanted to be”. “Surrender” sounded like a New York punk album; she missed what she called “raw human energy and community – that claustrophobic, someone sweating on you on the subway”.
The video for the propulsive, synth debut single “That’s Where I Am,” with a bed of glitch and claps under Rogers’ bugle voice on desire, pays homage to this, as it scrolls through the center- Manhattan city in a green boa, and pile into a cab with a New York ripple – kids’ club and office workers. (Guitarist Hamilton Leithauser, photographer Quil Lemons and David Byrne, whom she cold-called to collaborate, also show up.)
His musical process begins with the creation of a moodboard. “In production, I always think of records as world-building – if I understand that, what the world is, it’s a lot easier for me to understand what bass should sound like,” she said. declared.
Kid Harpoon, the British producer, with whom she co-wrote her 2018 single “Light onremembered that the “Surrender” images included black and white and ’70s New York — “Someone kneeling in a club with their top up, sweating all the way through.” Teeth up close. Rogers also insisted on recording in the city, a choice he didn’t necessarily understand until they moved to Electric Lady, the legendary West Village studio, last summer. “I’ve seen her completely intransigent on some of her ideas – quite bluntly at times,” he said. “It’s a real strength. She knows what she wants.”
They used the place to bring in other musicians, like Florence Welch, who was recording upstairs with Jack Antonoff and playing tambourine to the shredded anthem “Shatter,” and Jon Batiste, who was “just reacting” with so much fun, Kid Harpoon said they sometimes had to reset the grip on his keyboards because the Grammy-winning bandleader was laughing.
And Rogers, after years of performance – she had self-released two albums by the age of 20 – found further nuance in her own already protean voice. “I learned to use my lower register,” she said, “to sing with my whole body.”
“Heard It in a Past Life” was infused with samples of nature; “Surrender” uses distortion, which Rogers had barely worked with before. But she found an audio plug-in and flew with it. “The world was falling apart and my life in Maine was incredibly calm,” she said. “The noise was so therapeutic.”
In a video presentation of the albumshe called it “the chaos I could control”.
When the sky cleared, Rogers and I headed to the Bethesda Fountain. With St. Mark’s Church in the East Village – where Patti Smith had it first concert of poetry and electric guitar – it’s a place where she often makes detours, for inspiration. She was drawn to his historyalso: “Angel of the Waters”, the 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture in the center of the fountain, was designed by Emma Stebbins, the first woman to be commissioned for a major public artwork in New York, and unveiled in 1873.
“It gives me hope,” Rogers said, as tourists took photos near the fountain and dozens of turtles dozed and lapped up in the lake beyond. “The angel represents peace and temperance. She is holding a lily. People still come here.
Once, she even saw hero Joan Didion get rolled up by an attendant for a constitutional afternoon. Rogers was too impressed to approach her, but noticed that she was without socks. “I remember seeing his ankles,” she said, “and being like, whoa, this is so intimate.” Rogers has a good radar for vulnerable spots; Didion, the master modernist writer, died soon after. “I could cry talking about it,” she said.
She is still working on how to apply what she learned over the past year to her creative life. But one way is to simply be very careful. “I always think of performance as a practice of presence,” she said. “It’s just that moment that slips through your fingers as it happens, and it can never be created again. And that’s what feels so sacred about it.
The rain started again, but she left without an umbrella – she loved the pattering of the summer drops. The album’s closing song is full of worry about “the state of the world”, and Rogers sought education to address that feeling. His music brings him there too; the song ends on a pious note – with banger percussion – on unity. “I think part of creating is having hope that there’s something else that’s possible,” she said. “I feel like I have no other choice.”