Maggie Rogers is a student, an artist, a writer, and a very hard working young woman. She has stars in her eyes for the adventurous college years of her life. She’s learning all she can about the music industry at NYU but she’s also making some pretty incredible music of her own. When I stumbled across her first single “James” I knew I had to meet this bright young artist. After reviewing the full album, I quickly came to realize that it was not, in fact, a stand alone album. Rather, Rogers viewed the album as a collection of songs that were “ready.” This album, vividly titled Blood Ballet is about a movement away from some bits of her past – a metaphorical dance that was killing her in a past relationship.
As I asked Maggie about her story, I was struck both by its brevity (despite her mature sound) as well as its complexities. Rogers spent some time in a recent band, but maintains her own personal set of releases under her name. She plans to continue releasing these kind of “diary entry” songs as a way to chronicle her personal adventures.
So let me rewind a bit for you – Maggie began her playing career as a harpist. That’s right. She grew up (with the great help of her parents, who she credits mightily) hauling a harp to practice. She was raised on classical music. She’s changed, evolved, and come to embrace a number of different styles, including punk rock and even “pop.” This variety of styles come through in her music and, frankly, in her personality.
Maggie is an artsy type, for sure, so we had a blast chatting about the creative process and how it unfolds for her. First of all I have to say that her influences are crazy impressive – she lists Feist, Bjork, and Patti Smith – which she clarified saying they weren’t really music influences but “inspirations of creative spirit as women.” She also had a very deep “first love” story that directly influenced her early writing. She began writing music after her first breakup with that serious boyfriend. As I pointed out in my review, much about Blood Ballet seems to be Rogers coping with her life’s developments, positive and negative, and that initial wave of emotion from the breakup clearly shaped her early songwriting.
But one of my favorite notes about Maggie’s creative writing process was that she sometimes writes songs “in under five minutes.” I know some of you are thinking “yeah right” but she has a flurry of inspiration that helps her push through the complexities of songwriting. I’ve heard this album several times over and I’m baffled by this revelation, but the creative process is different for everyone. One of the great points she made about Blood Ballet in particular was that she didn’t write it for anyone but herself. As she explained she “doesn’t care about the album” in the best way – that is to say of course she loves it, but it was more something that she had to do and the commercial viability of it is not the point. It’s art; it’s her life. It matters, but she’s not going to stress over it. In a pithy, perfect quote, Rogers said that Blood Ballet is a collection of, “…the songs I write in my bedroom as a sort of closure.”
I just had to ask Maggie about her song “Anybody,” which is my personal favorite of hers. I was surprised to learn that it was composed three years ago. It was a period after her breakup when she was meeting a lot of people that were just not attractive to her. She was just hoping for “anybody!” to come along. Her performance of that song with a full band behind her was a “moment” that helped to spark and encourage her career. It was when she realized “this is what I need to do with my life.” I can speak on behalf of music fans everywhere – yes, this is what she needs to do with her life.
Beyond just this album, it seems that Rogers has an exceptional grasp on something beyond commercial success. She lamented (with me) that contemporary record labels are “turning art into industry.” What I really appreciated was hearing her sense that she makes music for deep human tradition. She doesn’t merely make music for something temporal or limited; her music is intended to speak to people, to inspire them, and to help them relate to her in this crazy human life. Hearing those sentiments connected inextricably to her conception of the “industry” was, frankly, inspiring and exciting for me.
For probably the first time ever in my career of interviewing artists, Rogers admitted that she doesn’t think the album is her best work. What she means is that she has not yet arrived. It’s meant as a snapshot of a moment in her life, in her career, in her humanity. This is not the end all, be all of Maggie Rogers. What a fantastic concept. She said (in one of my favorite quotes from our talk), “when my music is truly at its best I will fight for it, but I’m not there yet.” I hope I’m around when it’s at its best, because it’s pretty amazing right now.
As if there weren’t enough inspiring moments in the earlier part of the interview, we had a blast with my pretty simple concluding question, “what do we need to know about you?” She wants you all to know that Blood Ballet is “me standing on my feet as a solo artist.” She begs that you all “take care of these songs – hold them in your and take them as your own.” What a charge and a blessing and an adventure and a challenge. This is an artist loving her art and trusting you with it. She hopes that you will take her music, as well as that of other artists, as something special. “The human experience is varied, so cherish what artists offer.” I’m sure I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Maggie Rogers is an artist in the fullest sense. The way she sees the world, especially as expressed on “Resonant Body,” is unique to many of us in our experience on this earth. We can learn from her. We should learn from her. Allow yourself to be inspired and moved and challenged by her work. Check out Blood Ballet and keep your eye on this absolute rising musical star.