“Ginger, honey, oregano, silver, echinacea and lemon.” Maggie Rogers is reading out the list of ingredients in a potent juice shot that she’s just downed. “It’s strong,” she tells me, after a coughing fit. “It’s good for me, but it’s strong.”
We’re at Quantum Coffee in Toronto’s King St. West district, chatting over an Americano (me) and a smoked meat sandwich (her). The Instagram-bait spot is packed with hipsters in long coats and dad caps and business people in power suits. But Rogers, who’s wearing a red Rachel Comey turtleneck sweater, a vintage biker jacket, vintage Levi’s jeans and docs, stands out effortlessly from the crowd.
The 23-year-old, who’s been doing press all morning, is in town to promote her recently released EP, Now That the Light Is Fading. “It’s my first time in Toronto,” she says. “We crossed the border early this morning from Chicago. Today’s promo day.” The freckled blond, who currently has her long strands in a messy top knot, is slated to play a sold-out show the following evening at the Mod Club, so that juice shot was probably a good idea on her part.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t heard of Rogers, then you are seriously missing out. Over the past few months, the singer/musician has amassed a devoted following, been praised by Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, and appeared on The Late Late Show with James Corden (in a Rachel Comey jumpsuit and Newbark loafers) and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (in Gucci). And all because of a video that went viral. Last March, Pharrell Williams was invited to host a master class at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Rogers attended. She played the famous producer a track she wrote in 15 minutes dubbed “Alaska.” He teared up, and the rest is history. These events were documented in a 30-minute video posted on YouTube, and the world caught on to it.
Born on the eastern shore of Maryland, Rogers grew up on her family’s farm on the Chesapeake Bay. “It’s a heavy local agriculture town, but it’s also really close to a lot of cities like Annapolis, Baltimore, Philly,” she explains. Living in a rural area meant that her parents would have to drive her two hours away to the nearest city to see her favourite bands in concert. “I remember seeing Death Cab for Cutie at this one venue called Merriweather Post Pavilion,” she reminisces. “I saw The Killers, and the Black Eyed Peas when I was in the sixth grade. The Pussycat Dolls opened,” she laughs. “It was pretty intense.”
Funnily enough, Rogers wasn’t raised in a musical household. “Nobody in my family or extended family played music,” she says. “I just have really supportive parents.” At eight years old, she asked them for harp lessons. She eventually went on to play piano, guitar and eventually the banjo. “There was a lot of great folk music happening in the late 2000s with Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver and Tallest Man on Earth,” she says when asked “Why banjo?” “It’s also really great because there are always like six guitar players [out there] who want to play. But if you play the banjo, you always get to play.”
During her first year at NYU, where she studied English and music, she was known as the “banjo girl.” It wasn’t until a year spent abroad in Europe that she learned to appreciate dance music. “I was in Berlin and France, and it was the first time I was really hearing dance music,” she explains. “It never struck me before to listen to a nine-minute house song.” Come to think of it, had this revelation not occurred, Rogers probably wouldn’t be where she is today.
Her music, a blend of folk, pop and electronic, is informed by many things “I was reading a lot of Virginia Woolfe and Woodsworth when I was writing this record,” she says, adding that she always keeps a book of T.S. Elliot poems with her. She also found herself being drawn to the works of James Whistler and Van Gogh during the making of Now That the Light Is Fading.
When asked about touring and fans, she gets very passionate. “I have awesome fans, and I think that that is what’s been so much fun about meeting people at the shows,” she says, adding that she gets along really well with those listening to her music. “Everybody does performance for different reasons. I think the audience and the performer create the show together, so I’ve had a really great experience.”
We’re just about to wrap up our meeting when I ask Rogers about something I read online: that she was an intern at ELLE. She confirms this, explaining that she was interning at the publication a year ago, helping in the online department, just before the Pharrell masterclass. It was during this internship that she told herself she needed to quit. “I just needed to be making music,” she explains. “It’s crazy, though! I was working on the ELLE “Women and Music” issue when I decided I had to quit. And then they asked me to be in the music issue this year!” Of course, Rogers couldn’t fit the engagement into her jam-packed schedule. (She was touring in Europe at the time.) “That was the goal when I quit. I was like ‘I’m gonna be in this next year.’”