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Maggie Rogers takes a nostalgic Southwest road trip with 'Don't Forget Me'

  Play Now [44:15]

by Sam Briger

May 22, 2024

Maggie Rogers says her new album, Don't Forget Me, is modeled on a Sunday afternoon driving record.
Maggie Rogers says her new album, Don't Forget Me, is modeled on a Sunday afternoon driving record.
Maddy Rotman/Courtesy of the artist

Singer-songwriterMaggie Rogers describes music as the "most sacred and most spiritual thing" she's ever been a part of. "Whether it's being in the crowd at a show at an early age, or being on stage with my band when we're all jamming or playing music together," she says, "that, to me, is the closest thing I've ever felt to something divine."

In 2021, burnt out from the intensity of her early career, Rogers considered quitting music entirely. Instead, she took a detour — to Harvard Divinity School. Her studies focused on public gatherings and the ethics of power in pop culture.

"My master's degree is in religion and public life," Rogers says. "This program that I went to was specifically for people who don't work in religion, who want a greater understanding of religion and the way it works in the world to be able to inform their non-religious life."

Rogers' latest album, Don't Forget Me, features songs written from the perspective of a 25-year-old woman who's leaving home and embarking on a road trip through the American Southwest.

"The album is sequenced in the order that I wrote the songs in," she says. "I was sort of writing [the songs] like scenes in a movie that takes place over, like, 36 hours, and has a very Thelma & Louise-esque ride to it."

Rogers says she always makes the album that she wants to hear. "Maybe that's selfish, or maybe that's just intuitive." She adds, laughing, "Or maybe that's the understanding that I'm going to play these songs a million times over the course of my lifetime."

For a special extended version of this interview, listen to the podcast version of this episode.

Interview highlights

On performance as therapy

I'm always working through something energetically on stage, and I find performing to be a kind of resonant therapy. You think about your body as this big combination of living, breathing organs and singing. It's resonant. I mean, you send vibration through your body for two hours straight every day and you're going to knock some things loose.

On art as a vessel for nostalgia

I think about songwriting a lot as a form of archiving. I mean, obviously I'm a nostalgic person if my record is called Don't Forget Me. There's so much beauty in life, and so much detail, and so much memory, and I do worry about forgetting it all — or being able to, like, get my arms so full of detail that I don't drop anything. Putting it into my art feels like one way of being able to just keep holding it. It's really a part of who I am.

My dad always tells the story of the night I turned 5 — he found me sobbing. I was just completely overwhelmed at the fact that I would never be 4 again ... this idea of time, the way that it slips through your fingers and not being able to go back. The thing about being on stage is the second it's awesome and you're like, something is really happening here, it's gone, and you can't hold it. You can just be present in it and hope that you remember it.

On her songwriting process

Songwriting, to me, is like a word puzzle. I always have the melody and the layout of a song first; sometimes, certain vowel sounds or certain words will come with the melody. There is a sort of shape to that current: You inherently understand how many syllables and the shape of what should go there. So it's like doing building blocks and a crossword puzzle in the same breath.

On the viral video ofPharrell Williams hearing her demo "Alaska," and becoming a star overnight

It was really, really scary when it happened. I was incredibly overwhelmed. It was complicated because I got the job that I had trained for and that I'd always wanted – exactly in the moment when I needed a job. And yet, it was so deeply and wildly out of my control. It felt like something that was happening to me, even though it was something I had prepared for, like, a decade at that point.

Part of me wishes that I got to upload that song and present my artistic statement. But I think what's really special about that video is how unguarded I am, and Pharrell is. If it happened any other way, it wouldn't be what it is. And I feel actually really lucky that the version of me that got introduced to the world is and was the most authentic version of myself.

Do I wish that I brushed my hair and put on a real outfit? That's the thing that's sort of funny about it: When I suddenly became a pop star, I needed a lot of clothes — suddenly I needed colorful, glittery outfits. I was like, "What do you mean I can't wear my jeans and boots?"

On learning music production to get around gatekeepers

I was writing songs in high school, and I couldn't get the guys to play my arrangements. So I learned how to program. I learned how to play the songs by myself and create the arrangements for drums and bass and synth and all these things on the computer. And when I got to school and I could learn about engineering and software and production and microphones and drum technique, it became something that allowed me to protect my vision. They were tools that allowed me to get the thing that I heard in my head down onto paper. The democratization of music software and the way that the internet has changed the power that gatekeepers within the industry have is something that is really inspiring to me.

On writing the song "Light On" about grappling with success

The sort of wild thing about fame or success is that it lifts you up, but also it is incredibly lonely. And I was having this experience that was everything I'd ever wished for, yet felt kind of uncreative. I really missed my friends and missed my life, and I just didn't know how to handle all of it. I had this Cinderella story [and it] felt really vulnerable to sort of say, I'm struggling with this. It doesn't feel as amazing as it looks. And that doesn't change how much I'm grateful for it. There is a complicated nuance in the middle.

It was really scary when I had to say all these things for the first time. But now it's been replaced by all of the joy that I've felt as a result of that decision, to stay in it and to find a way to make this thing feel like me.

Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Daoud Tyler-Ameen adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2024, Fresh Air, NPR