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Maggie Rogers on her new album, songwriting, and religious studies

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The story of Maggie Rogers is well known by now. Almost a decade ago, she was an NYU student in a music production class when Pharrell Williams dropped in and heard one of her songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALASKA")

MAGGIE ROGERS: (Singing) I was walking through icy streams that took my breath away.

RASCOE: Williams said he had no notes. A video of the masterclass went viral, and "Alaska" became a hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALASKA")

ROGERS: (Singing) And I walked off you.

RASCOE: Since then, Maggie Rogers has made music that chronicles her 20s and figuring all this life stuff out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER GOING HOME")

ROGERS: (Singing) Smooth out the lines on my face in the mirror and think about where I'm going to go.

RASCOE: She's now about to turn 30 with a new perspective and a new album, "Don't Forget Me."

ROGERS: It's like the first time I've written fiction in any way or written a story or created a character. But in that way, I was able to sort of weave this tapestry of all of these memories from my time in my '20s, from moving to New York for the first time and falling in love and having these, like, really special long relationships and firsts, and all this different kinds of heartache makes its way onto this record. And my friends make their way onto this record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER GOING HOME")

ROGERS: (Singing) There's old music playing. I can hear my friends saying, you know it's time to go, go, go, go, go. Can you jump off the cliff? I know that you can handle it. And time's got a way of letting you know.

I turned 30 at the end of this month, and I think that my friends, being the greatest loves of my 20s, that's the thing that I'm thinking about the most.

RASCOE: That's an interesting thing, and something that I've thought about because of various reasons, how friendship is often that relationship that is not talked about as much, but it can be such a foundation of love and community for people.

ROGERS: Oh, my gosh, so much. Friendship has always sort of been, like, a theme throughout my music. I sometimes joke that I make music for main character women. There is this sort of quintessential rom-com heroine who is at the front of my mind always when I'm writing, whether it's like Julia Stiles from "10 Things I Hate About You," which I just love, or like a classic Meg Ryan kind of vibe. And friends, you got to have them. They've got your back, and they're all over this record.

RASCOE: You mentioned the main character music. What is the song that you think exemplifies that on this album?

ROGERS: You know, I might just pick "It Was Coming All Along."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT WAS COMING ALL ALONG")

ROGERS: (Singing) Everybody's going crazy. See them walking down the street, and I feel like a deer in headlights when I turn on the TV.

You know, when I was making this record, I sort of imagined this girl, sort of a younger version of myself in her early to mid-20s, making her way on a "Thelma And Louise"-esque road trip through the American Southwest. And you'll hear on this song also, there's this amazing - it's not quite a voicemail, but it is like a - it's a sample.

RASCOE: It sounded like a phone call.

ROGERS: It's my best friend Nora (ph). There's a lyric that says, but I've still got Nora on the phone. And I just decided to call her. I was like, let's just see what happens. And I held the phone up to the mic, and she picks up the phone and, perfectly in time, goes...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT WAS COMING ALL ALONG")

NORA: Um, hello? How are you?

ROGERS: (Singing) And she's saying, hold your temper...

RASCOE: When you did these songs, I understand you wrote them in a few days, and you wrote them really quickly. And you wrote them in sequence, which...

ROGERS: Yeah.

RASCOE: ...Doesn't often happen. Was it intentional? Did inspiration just strike, and then you started pulling these pieces?

ROGERS: Yeah. I went into the studio just to play, like real almost like childlike playtime. I had this instinct that I wanted to work with this wonderful person named Ian Fitchuk, who's my co-writer and co-producer for most of this record. And it just worked out that our schedules, we had two days before Christmas, and it was like total no pressure, like musical handshake, see what could happen. And it just worked.

I've always written quickly. Like, I think that momentum is a tool in my creative process. And I think that in taking that pressure off, some of the, like, most potent truths about my life and some of the most vulnerable songwriting was able to come through.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FORGET ME")

ROGERS: (Singing) Can't imagine what would happen 'cause I'm still acting out of habit, hoping dirty words just don't escape my teeth.

Most of what you'll hear on this record is actually, like, a first take. There's, like, a looseness that feels almost like a live band. But it's just two people. And I think the other thing that you can really hear on this record is how much fun we were having.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FORGET ME")

ROGERS: (Singing) So close the door and change the channel. Give me something I can handle, a good lover or someone that's nice to me.

RASCOE: You have this song, "If Now Was Then." You would say the things you never said, and obviously, that could be looking at as, like, a relationship. But I wonder if, do you have thoughts like that now, like, even with your first and second album - if I was who I am now, I would have done this back then?

ROGERS: You know, I don't know that I would have done anything differently. I have plenty of things that I would like to say to that girl.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yeah.

ROGERS: Mostly, I'd tell her to chill out.

RASCOE: Yeah. Yeah.

ROGERS: I'd mostly be like, you're good. I know that that girl did the best she could, and sometimes her best wasn't that awesome. And that's OK, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF NOW WAS THEN")

ROGERS: (Singing) But if now was then, I would get out of my head. I would touch your chest. I would break the bed. I would say the things that I never said. Oh, the things I'd do...

RASCOE: You did something that not a lot of pop musicians do, which is you entered Harvard's Divinity School for a master's degree.

ROGERS: I actually received that degree in 2022. I'm currently doing a postgraduate fellowship. The pandemic offered me some time where I was 27, and I had this moment where I could really go spend some time and think about what I believe. At the beginning of my career, the pace that I was running at wasn't sustainable for me, and it felt like the music was getting compromised. And so I wanted to spend some time really thinking about what it meant to me to be an artist and what it means to me to be a person with a microphone at a time in the world like this and really think about how to keep the music at the center and how to create a sustainable structure so that I can get to do this for a long time.

RASCOE: Do you view your music as sacred?

ROGERS: That's an interesting question. I don't know that I view my music as sacred. I really view art as something that is very spiritual to me because you're creating something out of nothing. And creativity as a practice feels so special and something that belongs to every human, you know, from the time that you're 2 years old and can pick up a crayon. And I think that that instinct to create and connect is incredibly sacred.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE SAME")

ROGERS: (Singing) All the same, day by day...

RASCOE: That's singer/songwriter Maggie Rogers. Her new album is "Don't Forget Me." Thank you so much for joining us.

ROGERS: Thanks, Ayesha.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE SAME")

ROGERS: (Singing) Like it's yesterday. The lights are on, and nothing's wrong. But still you can't remember when you played the game. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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