Maggie Rogers Reintroduces Herself Pharrell's praise turned Maggie Rogers into a viral sensation. Now, she's negotiating all the pitfalls of a fast track to fame on her debut album, Heard It in a Past Life.
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Maggie Rogers Reintroduces Herself

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Maggie Rogers Reintroduces Herself

Maggie Rogers Reintroduces Herself

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Maggie Rogers was doing what most college seniors do when classes wrap up. She was packing and getting ready to head home.

MAGGIE ROGERS: But I graduated and then, I guess, very quickly had a job.

MARTIN: What was the job?

ROGERS: Pop star.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Pop star because just a few months before graduating from NYU, Maggie Rogers went to one of her classes and found none other than legendary producer Pharrell Williams sitting there. He was part of a master class there to critique student's work. She played him this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALASKA")

ROGERS: (Singing) Moving slowly through westward water over glacial plains, and I walked off you.

MARTIN: It's a song called "Alaska," and the classroom video of this moment shows Pharrell Williams practically in tears. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHARRELL WILLIAMS: I've never heard anyone like you before, and I've never heard anything that sounds like that. So that - that's a drug for me.

MARTIN: That video went viral. And it is a horrible cliche to say someone's life changed overnight, but in Maggie Rogers' case, it really did. Since then, she has been touring around the world, playing her songs to huge crowds. And it's all been building up to this - her first major label album. It's called "Heard It In A Past Life."

ROGERS: This record is about that moment and what's happened since then. And when that Pharrell video went viral, the reality is that I was incredibly overwhelmed and really scared. And suddenly, my very private life was very public without me really having any control or say over it.

MARTIN: And it sounds like that it's taken you kind of a while to wrap your head around...

ROGERS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...This new life.

ROGERS: Totally, because - it's interesting. I've never had any doubts about the music, but the reality of the music industry is something I had to learn.

MARTIN: Really fast all of a sudden.

ROGERS: Yeah, and there's all these expectations that you sort of just know how to do it. They go, yeah, just, like, do the photo shoot. I'm like, no one's taken my picture ever before; like, I don't know how to do this and navigate it in a way that felt like me.

MARTIN: Right.

ROGERS: And I think that's the weird thing about my music, too, is that I'm from folk music. I grew up playing the banjo, but I also loved pop music. And I love to dance. And I think it left people a little bit confused about, like, who I would be - what kind of artist I would become.

MARTIN: So were people cool with that? Like, did you get to a point where you felt like you could play in all those spaces and everyone was fine with it?

ROGERS: I think I am now. And I think a big part of that for me was learning what to give my energy to. You know, I realistically talked about Pharrell Williams every day for about a year and a half. And so I went through different stages of that - of, like, I worked for 10 years; why can't I just talk about my work? And now it's like, I understand it. And I've just decided, like, I'm not going to let that stress me out. And I'm way happier because of it.

MARTIN: Let's get into the album.

ROGERS: I'm so excited you've heard it.

MARTIN: Yeah, man. I'm going to play "Light On."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHT ON")

ROGERS: (Singing) Would you believe me now if I told you I got caught up in a wave? Almost gave it away. Would you hear me out if I told you I was terrified for days? Thought I was going to break. Oh, I couldn't stop it, tried to slow it all down. Crying in the bathroom, had to figure it out with everyone around me saying, you must be so happy now.

This song - this first song I was actually - the first time I was actually nervous to put a song out because it is so vulnerable. When all of this happened, I sort of became this, like, cocktail party version of myself, where I felt like I had to play the role of, like, happy girl because my story has this element of, like, "A Cinderella Story" to it - girl gets plucked from obscurity, becomes star, you know? But I was really struggling. But I think the chorus of "Light On" says what I really want to say, which is that, you know, "Light On" is a happy song. Like, it's a dance song. You can hear it in the chords and the textures. There's optimism and hope. And the song says, like, OK, I'm going to do this; I'm going to be here for you in the way that you've been here for me. And I'm going to keep coming back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHT ON")

ROGERS: (Singing) If you keep reaching out, then I'll keep coming back. But if you're gone for good, then I'm OK with that. If you leave the light on, then I'll leave the light on.

I wrote 30 to 40 songs for this record. And I thought this record was done a bunch of times. And this time, I really kept going back and challenging myself. I was like, do I think I can do better? And even, like, "Light On" was the last song I wrote for the record. But I was looking at the tracklist and thinking about the balance between the chemistry of all of these songs. And I realized I hadn't written a song to open the record yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE A LITTLE")

ROGERS: (Singing) If I was who I was before, then I'd be waiting at your door. But I cannot not confess I am the same. So look at me and hear me now with all my body screaming out. In my mind, I'm thinking of a place.

So I wrote "Give A Little." And it's the first song on the record because I wanted to write something that said, let's have a clean start. And the lyrics in that song are like, you don't know me; I don't know you; let's say everything's fresh; let's start from a place of empathy; like, let's just, like, reacquaint ourselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE A LITTLE")

ROGERS: (Singing) But if you give a little, give a little, maybe we could get to know each other - give a little, give a little, give a little.

Realistically, the album is the introduction to me that I never got to make.

MARTIN: By the same token, there are going to be 15-year-old girls out there listening to this conversation who are writing songs in their bedrooms at night. What do you say to those girls?

ROGERS: I think the most important thing is giving yourself permission to feel and to write and to not worry about the reception. All I can say is that I want to make music because I want to create community and bring people together. And also, I want to feel less alone.

MARTIN: Maggie Rogers, her debut album is called "Heard It In A Past Life." It comes out Friday. Maggie, thanks so much.

ROGERS: Thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY IT")

ROGERS: (Singing) Standing in the open light within the swelter of the night, I found myself staring at you.

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