Interview: Maggie Rogers Looks to Her Next Record

Photo by Olivia Bee.

Since her first major-label full-length Heard It in a Past Life was released back in January—and, really, stretching even further back through 2018—Maggie Rogers has been busy touring the country and the world with that collection of songs. To fans following her ascent into the strata of pop stardom, they've witnessed a whirlwind few years: ever-larger venues, Saturday Night Live, on-stage performances with Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves, and other new peers.

With the tour finally concluded, Rogers is once again able to focus on writing and recording. As you can hear in our interview below, she's excited to get back to the process.

Keep reading to learn about what she has in store. For more info on Rogers and her work, check out her website here.

You told CBC that you found it to be difficult to write music while on tour, but said you had been able to write in your journal and record melodies here and there. What does this collection of ideas look like now? And what's your plan for developing them?

It really looks relatively the same, but with more volume. I’ve got lots and lots of notes in both my phone and journal with lyrics. I’ve got voice memos of five to six full songs that are pretty stripped—just me and piano or me and guitar. I’ve got a bunch of sound samples from all over the world, just little moments from being on tour. Weird sounds I think I’ll be able to turn into a couple different keyboards when I get home.

The work right now is just to get organized and get them all in one place. I think medium is so important to the creative process; I have to be inspired by my tools, whether that's paper/pen or a folder on your phone. I find the organizing process really inspiring. It's like laying out all the colors before painting the picture.

When you are recording ideas on the tour bus, what's the mobile rig?

I’ve got a little Pelican case with a MIDI keyboard, OP-Z, OP-1, Beyerdynamic 770s, and an Apogee One interface/mic. It's not amazing, but it does the trick and is really portable.

I’ve got a little JBL Clip speaker that I use when I want to listen out loud instead of on headphones. Recently I’ve been doing more mixing and mastering on the road, so I’ve been thinking about investing in a bigger Pelican so I can have a pair of monitors with me. Tour’s over for now though, so we’ll see what this rig turns into when I hit the road next.

On Heard It in a Past Life, there are a few songs that sound like they started by sampling and looping something else you recorded—the vocal snippet on "Give A Little," the repeating piano of "On + Off," or the melodic line underpinning "Burning." What's your process for creating beats or loops?

I think it's really just being awake to my environment. I’m always listening, and once these samples became a real part of my creative process I started noticing them more. This shift really happened when I started doing audio ear training in college for my engineering degree. We were being tested on how many milliseconds a delay was or what the dB boost was of a certain frequency band of white noise...

I remember that summer going hiking a lot and hearing wind, waterfalls, all sorts of sounds in the natural world and thinking about frequency in this really new way. And that's how those sounds made their way into my work in the first place... I never want anything to sound too clean. I wanted the texture and atmosphere of my surroundings to be a part of the music. I wanted to create a world.

Maggie Rogers - "On + Off"

You've talked before about the development of your production brain, of learning about the difference between a song and the presentation of that song with an arrangement. What did creating Heard It in a Past Life teach you about arrangement that you didn't know before?

After spending a year and a half touring the EP [2017's Now That the Light Is Fading], I came into the record-making process really thinking about how songs would translate live.

I really wanted to create arrangements that had samples, but wouldn’t be married to them. I wanted to write and create sections that could be extended or changed live—something to give us a little bit more to play with.

It was really special getting to work with my co-producers on the record too. Greg [Kurstin] has a really beautiful and specific way of setting up his Logic sessions. On a really basic level it was cool to just see how other people went about signal flow.

This Teen Vogue cover story mentions a small studio you have at your parents' house in Easton, Maryland. What recording equipment and instruments do you have there?

It’s a lot of what was left over from my makeshift studio at school. My grandmother’s piano. A Minimoog and Vocoder. My banjo. A 12-string guitar. There’s a computer with software. Two AT4050s. A pair of monitors I like. The setup is really simple, but it works for me.

As I start working on this next record, I think what I’m more excited about than anything is the idea of having a consistent creative process again, having a work space.

I just moved to Los Angeles and am in the middle of building a permanent studio there, but I haven’t really had a consistent creative practice since high school, where I would show up to my studio every day for two-plus hours. In college I used the school studios—so, amazing equipment—but booking hours was always a long process. And since then, really, I’ve just been on the road.

I’m looking forward to gathering more creative tools and seeing what happens when I can create in the same space with some routine.

What's your preferred DAW? And why do you prefer it to others?

I think about music as visual art a lot. I think there’s a difference between sketching ideas and fully recording/executing them. I’ll use Ableton to sketch and explore ideas. Logic or Pro Tools to build them out.

You've been playing instruments since you were very young and writing songs since you were a teenager. What advice would you give a teen now that's just starting to make music? Is there a specific instrument, program, or process you'd advise them to learn?

I think just do it! All the tools are there to empower your creativity. You can learn anything by just spending time playing with tools and plugins. I mixed my first record in high school just by listening to other records I loved and trying to make it sound like that. It was a good experience.

The biggest roadblock I’ve faced was feeling like I had to fit in some sort of box. Like a pop star looks like this or a "serious" artist behaves this way. None of it is real. I’ve been asked in the past about the process of "finding your sound" and all I have to say is that if it comes out of you, then it is you. No rules.

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