Maggie Rogers: Can You Feel It At All?
The last three years left Maggie Rogers hungry for feeling, connection and humanity. Her new album ‘Surrender’ is a kicking, screaming call to arms that embraces being alive.
It’s a quiet and brilliantly sunny day in London and, over coffee at The Standard Hotel, Maggie Rogers is discussing the idea of cultural consciousness. “It’s this idea that there’s an energy, a shared frequency, within a group of people,” she suggests. “That culture moves in tides created by art, religion and politics when they intersect.
“It’s more human than trends. It’s about emotion, hunger. Like, what are you needing as a people right now?” she questions, talking with her hands as she ponders examples. “Fashion, architecture, music - the way guitars have come back, or how suddenly everyone wants to make really quiet music.” She points to the iced coffee on the table. “You see it in like, oat milk.”
This is Maggie Rogers’ way of seeing - one of connection; the world in a coffee cup. Everything for the singer is alive, emotional and integrated, with one thing in the centre. “Music is the bridge. The common language that we can all speak for a second, you know?” she nods. “When you’re at a show and all screaming the words to a song, suddenly you’re unified in something.
“I wrote ‘Light On’ [from Grammy-nominated debut album, ‘Heard It in a Past Life’] about wanting to quit music,” she continues. “Then I met a mother and son who told me it was their song to stay connected when he went to college. At the show everyone is singing ‘Light On’ together, but it means something different to every person there.”
“The most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had in my life were as a fan in the crowd.”
Maggie has always chased connection through music and, in the later days of the pandemic, she decided to go back to university to study the idea. Quietly earning a masters degree in religion and public life from Harvard, her focus was on music, pop culture and public gatherings. “The most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had in my life were as a fan in the crowd, and onstage feeling this real oneness with an audience,” she smiles.
This month’s second album ‘Surrender’ shares its title with her graduate thesis. “I felt so numb all the time. There was so much trauma in the world, more than any person could hold,” she recalls back from that period. “I kept questioning, ‘Why the fuck don’t I feel anything?’. The album is about trying to let go and just give into that feeling.”
‘Surrender’ sounds like this revelation too: like release, dams breaking, letting the air in after holding your breath. Straight out the gate it invites us in with panoramic opener ‘Overdrive’, a song that feels like flying over the city in a helicopter. “I’m sick of saying ‘You made me weak at the knees’,” Maggie sings over a simple but stratospheric piano riff. “‘Cause I was a runner and I could go for miles.” “The song is really wide shot,” Maggie agrees. “It says, ‘I want to be here while I’m here’. It’s the thesis statement.”
A sense of urgency permeates these songs that hum with a hunger to feel it all. “I see horses running wild / I wish I could feel like that just for a minute,” she belts on ‘Horses’; craving elation on ‘Be Cool’, she kicks the door down with the opening line, “Sick of the sound of self-importance, I fucked off for a month or two / Needed a summer just to be a teenager drunk on the month of June”.
The feeling of forward motion that characterises ‘Surrender’ comes in part from the drums, which are almost a main character in themselves. ‘That’s Where I Am’ and ‘Want Want’ feature harsh metallic drumming, while ‘Shatter’ and ‘Anywhere With You’ stomp forward with crashing, frenetic heartbeats. “I needed something physical,” explains Maggie. “I kept daydreaming about British festivals and thinking about drums. Drums are so undeniable; they just hit you.” Her production dips heavily into distortion for similar reasons. “It felt really soothing, like this noise and chaos that I could control. Everything was just so quiet before.”
Maggie thinks of her debut album like a time capsule (“I had just graduated, and suddenly got famous while I was basically in my first job”), and ‘Surrender’ as a more internal exploration of who she is now. “It’s much more about my personal life. In the pandemic, my inner world was all I had left,” she notes. The album tracks Maggie’s journeys in love, sex, friendship, devastation and hope. As she summarises: “It ended up being a lot about being human and being alive.”
She recalls the summer she wrote ‘Shatter’ - the heat, the sweat, the parties in the street. It was June 2021 and New York had just come out of lockdown. “That summer was crazy,” she muses. “I’d never seen the city like that before.” With the streets crackling with a fevered potential energy, and the air thick and flammable, Maggie decamped to Electric Lady Studios to document this new world that she didn’t understand.
“Everyone was out and alive, dancing and drinking, basically naked. I felt like I was witnessing this performance of fun - people wanted it so badly.” She captures this feeling on the track’s chorus: “I could break a glass just to watch it shatter”. “I’m basically yelling,” she explains, “about everything - the state of the world, my favourite artists dying. I was at all these parties waiting to feel good again, being like, ‘Is it happening yet? Am I doing it right?’”
“Music is the bridge. The common language that we can all speak for a second, you know?”
Waiting to feel OK is undeniably part of it. Maggie wrote ‘Begging for Rain’ - her favourite on the album - first, alone on her guitar in Maine in the summer of 2020. “I feel that song so much now, seeing so many mass shootings in the US every day and fundamental rights being stripped away. Just being like, ‘Fucking please. Anything, anyone. Can we please just be fucking humans for two seconds?’” She fumbles for the Hilary Duff quote from A Cinderella Story. “How does it go? ‘Waiting for you is like waiting for rain in this drought!’”
Through it all, she grounded herself in learning to define her own spirituality. “Studying different belief systems and religious theory, what I came back to was actually where I started: nature, art, and friendship. I spent time figuring out how to structure my relationship with these things so I could keep them sacred.” She takes a beat. “Like, friendship is so fucking sacred. The people you choose to spend time with? That’s religion!”
And indeed, ‘Surrender’ does feel imbued with a kind of religiosity. “There was something stuck inside of me and it just had to come out. I think you can hear it in the vocal delivery. I’m a different person now that it’s out,” she explains. Many of the songs end with Maggie singing the same line, over and over. “Are you ready to start? Are you ready to start?” she repeats on ‘Anywhere With You’, louder and more frenzied each time until it builds into a cry. On ‘Horses’, meanwhile, she corrals a lover to run wild with her - “Could you just give in, give in, give in?”. Is it a spell? An incantation? For Maggie, she decides it’s a “mantra”.
The album ends on ‘Different Kind of World’, where quietly, almost by campfire light, she sings: “One last song, I’ll sing a song and make it a song for peace / Though we all may carry on, may we do so decently.” It’s a prayer for hope, a plea for virtue, and underneath it all, an affirmation of that same belief Maggie’s always had: that art is the way to get there. “At the end of the day, I’ve learnt that all we’re trying to do is find ways to make sense of the chaos,” she decides. “The way to do that is still music for me.”
‘Surrender’ is out now via Polydor.
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