By Alex Suskind
January 15, 2019 at 04:11 PM EST
Olivia Bee

Root Down is a recurring column that explores how artists’ hometowns influenced their music.

More than a decade before a video of Pharrell Williams listening to her music went viral — before she was opening for Mumford & Sons and performing on Saturday Night Live — Maggie Rogers and her family moved to Easton, a small, sleepy town on the eastern shore of Maryland.

“It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere,” admits the 24-year-old singer. But not having much to do lent well to her burgeoning interests: She picked up the harp at an early age, and soon moved on to banjo and guitar. “I think one of the most important things for creativity is boredom,” she tells EW. “And I was definitely bored. But in the best way. It forces you to create your own fun. And for me, that was playing guitar for hours in my room, and learning to write songs.”

The days she spent poring over music and recording lo-fi records would culminate years later with “Alaska,” her breakout single (and the one Pharrell freaked out about), as well as her soon-to-be-released major-label debut, the gorgeous, swelling Heard It in a Past Life (out Jan. 18), which melds elements of pop, folk, and electronic music.

Though Easton played a huge part in molding Rogers’ music sensibilities, her move to New York City for college following high school unleashed new avenues of creativity. There she could attend concerts seven days a week — in Maryland she would typically have to beg an adult to drive her two hours to attend a show at an all-ages venue — and find like-minded collaborators to play with. “I was really invested and excited to just be in New York and take it all in,” she says. “I spent my whole life in Maryland, but I wanted to experience more — fighting to get to urban areas where there was culture.”

Rogers would make it a point to leave the city every four-to-six weeks just for a little bit of fresh air — which has become something of a common through-line in her music: her connection with nature and how it influences her emotions and experiences. “I think so many of the themes from the natural world mimic emotional themes in our lives,” she says. “But it’s funny. I get asked about nature all the time, [but] I lived in New York for five years, you know? I can’t tell you the last time I went hiking, because I’ve been on tour. So I will happily be Nature Girl, but it’s certainly more complicated than that.”

Rogers would return to her rural hometown after graduating from NYU. She had started touring, and though she loved New York, paying rent for an apartment she was never at no longer made sense. Back in her childhood bedroom, she began to write and record the tracks that would make up Heard It in a Past Life, and would go on long walks on the path she used to take as a child, alongside towering trees and wildlife (deer, foxes, owls).

“It’s really quiet, except if the wind blows, it feels like there are six cars coming towards you because the sound is so intense,” she says. “ And there’s this long paved road with no lane markers, and it’s kind of sloped down to these big ditches. Along the sides, there’s farm fences and you walk down to [a] big field and it just totally opens up. It makes me feel small in a really perfect way.”

Rogers’ return to Easton was both a full-circle moment and a barrier from the rest of the world, especially in the immediate aftermath of the success of “Alaska.” She processes much of that change on the album, with the songs coming from a place of recollection and vulnerability. “It’s me trying to understand my experience with the world around me,” she says. Thankfully, if the new record launches Rogers to a new level of stardom, she’ll always have a quiet place to put things in perspective. “What I love about going home is that, if I turn my phone off or don’t open my computer, nothing’s changed. Obviously, the world has changed for me, but home looks and feels exactly the same.”

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