Maggie Rogers: A Star Is Born, but not like in the movies
The creator of one of the most immediately arresting albums of the year so far on the reality of being a pop star in 2019.
It's never like it is in the movies, is it?
Maggie Rogers doesn't think so, at least not when it comes to depicting the well-worn life of the musician on the road.
Us plebs usually keep our relationship on a surface level; greeting in front of carefully constructed platforms, bearing hopeful witness to professional choreography and the occasional personal outburst.
You get the feeling - for it is such expressions of the soul that she seeks to unlock - that Rogers is more concerned with intimacy than stagecraft razzmatazz, even before she considers the prism conjured up by a Hollywood lens.
Having just released debut album Heard It In A Past Life, the 24-year-old is finding time in between gigs, talk show performances and a barrage of press commitments to reflect upon a quite intriguing first act.
If you don't know the backstory, here's enough for a trailer - a few years ago, Rogers shot to viral fame when her song 'Alaska' was played during a master class at New York University.
The video finds the Maryland native perched next to Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D. and sometimes absurd headgear fame as the former enjoys a quiet bop to her own song while the latter appears genuinely awestruck.
It's a terrific role reversal - the young rookie disappearing into a world of her own, a portait of enviable calm and cool as the gilded superstar doesn't quite know what to do with himself.
Williams admits afterwards that he has no notes for Rogers, nothing to teach her. Student becomes master. That clip is great but it's her turn on the Song Exploder podcast in the summer of 2017 where Rogers breaks 'Alaska' down to its roots that deeply resonates.
Both encounters are jigsaw pieces in a rise worthy of the silver screen.
Indeed, the marketing campaign for Heard It In A Past Life drew playful comparisons to that of Lady Gaga's emergence as a technicolour pop avatar in A Star Is Born.
This is my Ally billboard pic.twitter.com/JB8W83KkxB
— eric eidelstein (@ericeidelstein) January 18, 2019
Like many, many people, Rogers has seen the tearjerking remake. She liked it, for the most part.
"The film is amazing and I think Lady Gaga is incredible," she begins before settling on a valid point.
"I found the film to be kind of rockist, like it doesn’t value… I find her pop music to be kind of belittled in the film. Pop music is really exciting and it has a lot of depth and value. Because of that mentality, I had a hard time figuring out what era the film took place in.
"But I found the depiction of the road and the acting - I think the cinematography is really beautiful - yeah, it has been funny. I played Saturday Night Live like a month after it came out and there were definitely a lot of people on the Internet talking about A Star Is Born."
She picks up the contrasting thread.
"I think it hammers home how grateful I feel to be in this position where my life has changed but the difference between my life and A Star Is Born is that hopefully nobody dies!
"Also, I feel really intact. Even though I have this crazy ride I feel really like myself and excited about the world and excited to keep making music."
Speaking of, the much-discussed 'Alaska' is a rare gem, so you don't mind it making the final track listing of an album that arrives some 28 months later. Same goes for 'On + Off', which made its bow at the beginning of 2017.
Clip via Maggie Rogers
They join 10 other tracks that are cut from the same rich cloth, all 12 dancing together with a shimmer of pop magic, folk signatures and vocals that boast real conviction.
Ask her how she feels in the days following Heard It In A Past Life's release and you can practically see the beaming smile through the phone.
"I feel fuckin' awesome," she says.
"I’m so proud of it and so in love with this record; it’s such a big breath of fresh air that it’s finally out in the world."
The wider world has become Rogers' office of sorts over the past couple of years. Touring relentlessly has afforded an enthusiastic scholar of culture the chance to travel far and wide, getting a feel for people and places.
Ireland, for instance, is no longer an unknown voyage with Rogers having visited four or five times in the past year. She's back over in Dublin for a pair of gigs later this month and intends to get reacquainted with her favourite pubs, restaurants and vintage shops.
But back to the whole 'movie versus reality' thing when it comes to the life of a touring musician for a moment.
"It’s actually a really funny part of music culture," she offers.
"The last time that touring was really seriously documented was in the '60s and '70s. It looks so different now. All of the classic movie depictions of touring, whether it’s Inside Llewyn Davis where it’s harsh and dark or Almost Famous where there’s this vagabond, otherworldly lightness to it, or even Bohemian Rhapsody or classic tour documentaries - touring just doesn’t look like that anymore!
"It’s not this crazy party bus because you can’t keep stamina. I think technology has changed it so much, too. I have a cell phone and people know where I am, I’m doing radio and press in the morning and then I’m playing a show. It’s like you’re an athlete. I’m super healthy and running all the time and eating well because otherwise there’s no way to sustain that kind of lifestyle."
Rogers cites elder statesmen like The Rolling Stones as an example, pointing to the mischievous romance of roaming about with nobody able to track them down should they stray from the bright lights in the middle distance.
Expectations, as she notes, were different.
"I love efficiency and I love getting to bring as much of my music to as many people as possible. There are pros and cons.
"Maybe it means that the road is slightly less inspiring or that there’s less time to write music but the whole point of being on tour is bringing music to people and getting to interact with them and get a taste of different cultures."
As should be evident by now, Rogers is a studious sort, one who holds degrees in both journalism and English to fall back on if the whole professional music career thing falls by the wayside.
She's also managed to etch her name into some interesting musical lore, having served as an assistant editor on Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman's acclaimed oral history of the New York rock scene that exploded as a new century came into focus.
"I was offered the opportunity to transcribe my heroes talking about the music I loved that they made in the neighbourhood that I was living in," Rogers recalls.
"And so it was so exciting for me, because it was this inside information about these people that I cared so much about. I was really studying culture, and that has always been super fascinating to me, but it was really great taking a different route to school because I wanted to pass that one bar that The Strokes used to hang out at.
"I remember hearing Tremble Under Boom Lights [EP by heavily-hyped scene progenitors Jonathan Fire*Eater] for the first time and just falling in love with all these different bands.
"That also gave me a whole lot of perspective. I’ve heard so many stories about how other people treated and ran their 10-plus-year careers, so it was just a lot of research."
Clip via Maggie Rogers
Life experience is often the best research of all, of course.
In that regard, it feels only fitting to ask what the Maggie Rogers of early 2019 would make of her younger self.
"It’s funny, because with a lot of the press for this record, people have shown me videos of me when I was performing at 16 - people just find shit on the Internet and dig it up for a reaction - and I’ve just been thinking about that version of myself.
"I posted a photo on Instagram a couple of days ago of the first show I played for the EP two years ago. That was for, like, 30 people in a DIY rock venue in deep, deep Brooklyn and I just have a lot of love for that girl.
"I got kind of teary in my hotel room thinking about how I wish I could tell that girl everything that was coming."
Heard It In A Past Life is out now. Maggie Rogers plays The Academy, Dublin on 14 and 15 February