The Higher Calling of Maggie Rogers – The New York Times

Like many artists in the early days of the pandemic, Maggie Rogers lived an isolated, lonely life. She retreated to coastal Maine while trying to overcome the loss of touring for her 2019 major-label debut, “Heard It in a Past Life,” with little to no writing plans. “I was hiding out,” she said. “At a total loss of words.”

But Rogers, who earned a Grammy nomination for best new artist with the album, which blended his folk singer-songwriter roots with dance tent pace, didn’t stick around for long. Noting that “making beats is fun”, he joined the group Accountability a Day, a virtual song with the likes of Fest, Damian Rice and McDeMarco. “I’ll go for a walk and then listen to all my favorite artists. [expletive] In our kitchen,” she said. “It was so sick.” The demos she produced in her home studio sounded euphoric, much to her surprise.

He thought the turmoil and anger of the moment would take him elsewhere. And then it happened.

“I talk a lot about feeling the artist’s work,” she said recently. “Feeling for the last two years — there’s been so much pain and so much suffering and so much injustice in the world. It’s raised a lot of questions for me about what I believe, and how I structure my artistic practice or my business. Want. Or my soul.”

So Rogers, while she was busy making sick beats in her kitchen, enrolled at Harvard Divinity School. “I wanted to create a framework for myself, how to keep art sacred,” she said.

They Graduated in May with a Master’s degree in Religion and Public Life, A new program For most secular professionals “whose work focuses on positive social impact,” according to the university. In Rodgers’ case, that included her confident performance at Coachella last spring. She said that if music is a religion, then I feel very religious. “When I’m in a crowd of fans or on stage, that’s when I feel most connected to something bigger than myself.”

As she studied, she was also finishing her second album for Capitol, “Surrender,” a hypnotically danceable ode to passionate abandonment, leaps and bounds, and navigating adversity. Produced and distorted by a collaboration between Rogers and Kid Harpoon (Harry Styles, Florence + The Machine) – a new sound for him – it’s due out this Friday.

“Right now, the joy on the record feels like the biggest form of rebellion,” Rogers, 28, said. It is a hard-won hope, which – political, cultural, environmental – may be the pivot of the moment. “Laying Down” was also part of his thesis, which examined cultural consciousness, the spirituality of mass gatherings, and the ethics of pop power. The album, he told me, is “joy from the teeth”.

Terry Tempest WilliamsAn essayist, naturalist, and author in residence at Harvard Divinity School, Rogers taught a class called “Finding Beauty in a Broken World.” Williams wrote in an email that his fans know him as “a rock star.” But I know him as a writer. His words are thin, staccato, dull, visceral. She writes through the full range of emotions she inhabits. “

Williams added that Rogers is “mindful of the responsibility that comes with being a musician, especially with a big stage.”

“The bridge between public life and private life is silence, a time to remember who you are and who you are not,” Williams wrote. “She dances between movement and stillness.”

On a drizzly Saturday in June, Rogers and I met at an Upper East Side corner diner to wait out the rain before visiting one of its sanctuaries in the city, the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. She wore a cropped white undershirt, a cozy black thrifted sweater (all hail the Portland, Maine, Goodwill) and her once-long, Laurel Canyon songstress hair cut into a pixie cut. were Covered by Teen Vogue, although he has played this cut for most of his life. An angular Ferragamo mini-purse and square metal-covered shoes were her cues. Major label star.

Freckle-faced and hot, she’s eloquent about her musical choices, which have an undercurrent of goofball (like when she threw a tampon up her nose to cause a nosebleed while dancing at Coachella — and then the video clip used To advertise his set).

Rogers had just moved out of her graduate school apartment in Cambridge, Mass., a few weeks earlier — “my hot take on Boston: great food, bad lighting” — and was still deciding where to start her new artistic life. Where will it be established? “I think I’m in postgraduate for next year or something,” she said. “I’m doing field research.”

He grew up in rural Easton, Md. The Los Angeles apartment where she now keeps her belongings has never felt like home. While she was an undergraduate studying music production and engineering at New York University, her track “Alaska” A viral bit of happiness from Pharrell Williams, and felt drawn to the city as the place where he learned “what kind of artist I wanted to be.” “Lay Down” sounded like a New York punk album. He recalled what he called “raw human energy, and community — that claustrophobic, someone sweating on you in the subway” connectedness.

The video for the upbeat, synthetic debut single “That’s Where I’m At,” with a bed of jumbled and handclaps under Rogers’ clarinet vocals about desire, pays homage to her as she walks through Manhattan in a green boo. catwalks in the center of, and piles into a pile. Taxis along the New York Crosscurrent — club kids and office workers. (Guitarist Hamilton Leithauser, photographer Quill Lemons (And David Byrne, whom he called cold for cooperation, also appeared.)

His musical process begins with creating a mood board. “In production, I always think of records as world-building — if I understand what the world is, it’s easier for me to understand what the bass should sound like,” she said.

Kid Harpoon, British producer, with whom he co-wrote his 2018 single.light on“, recalled that the images on “Surrender” included black-and-white and ’70s New York – “someone on his knees in a club sweating it out. Upper Teeth.” Rogers insisted on recording in the city as well, a choice he didn’t understand until he set up shop at Electric Lady, the storied West Village studio last summer. He “I’ve seen him completely compromise some of his ideas — sometimes quite brutally,” he said. “That’s a real strength. She knows what she wants.”

They used the venue to bring in other musicians, such as Florence Welch, who had been recording with Jack Antonoff above and played tambourine on the fuzzed-out power anthem “Shatter”, and Jon Batiste, who was very happy. Along were “just reacting,” Kid Harpoon said, adding that they sometimes had to rearrange the take for his keyboards because the Grammy-winning bandleader was laughing.

And Rogers, after years of performing — he had released two self-titled albums by age 20 — found other colors in his already protean vocals. “I learned how to use my lower register,” she said, “just to sing with my whole body.”

“Heard It in a Past Life” was filled with samples of nature. “Lay Down” uses distortion, which Rogers had previously struggled with. But she found an audio plug-in and flew with it. “The world was falling apart and my life in Maine was incredibly quiet,” she said. “The noise felt very therapeutic.”

In a video Album introductionhe called it “chaos I can control.”

When the sky cleared, Rogers and I wandered over to the Bethesda Fountain. Next to St. Mark’s Church in the East Village — where Patti Smith had it. First poetry and electric guitar gig – This is where she often turns for inspiration. It was developed by Its historyalso: “Angel of the Waters,” an 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture at 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 in 1873 her Unveiled.

“It feels promising to me,” Rogers said, as tourists snapped pictures from the fountain and dozens of turtles dove into the lake across the lake. “The angel represents peace and patience. He holds a lily. People still come here.”

Once he saw a hero named John Didion being wheeled in by an attendant for his afternoon ritual. Rogers was too afraid to approach him, but he noticed that they were without socks. “I remember looking at her ankles,” she said, “and being like, wow, this is so intimate.” Rodgers has an excellent radar for weak points. Didon, the master modernist writer, died not long after. “I could cry talking about it,” she said.

She’s still working out how to apply what she’s learned over the past year to her creative life. But one way is just to pay attention. “I always think of performance as an exercise in presence,” she said. “It’s just this moment that’s slipping through your fingers as it’s happening, and it can never happen again. And that’s what feels so sacred about it.

The rain started again, but she went without an umbrella—she liked the breeze of summer drops too much. The album’s closing song “The State of the World” is full of hesitation, and Rogers tries to answer that feeling with education. His music gets him there too. The song ends on a wistful note – with banger percussion – about solidarity. “I think part of creating anything is to hope that something else is possible,” she said. “I guess I have no choice.”