Margaret Debay Rogers grew up in Maryland, the daughter of a Ford salesman and a nurse. She began learning the harp at the age of 7, and writing songs by the age of 13. In high school she indulged a wide range of musical interests, playing the harp in the orchestra, singing in the choir, learning the banjo, and playing jazz. Before her major label debut album Heard It In A Past Life, Rogers self-released two folk albums in 2012 and 2014.
Rogers discovered dance music while clubbing in Berlin. She started to blend folk and dance music, and while studying with Pharrell Williams at New York University, she played him a song she’d written. Williams’ reaction to ‘Alaska’ went viral, and three years later ‘Alaska’ has been included on Rogers’ major-label debut album, Heard It In A Past Life.
Maggie Rogers Album Reviews
2012, not rated
2014, not rated
I’ve never heard Rogers’ first two self-released albums. They’re not available in full on Spotify – instead, the highlights are compiled onto the compilation Notes From The Archive: Recordings 2011-2016.
HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE
For all the talk of blending folk and dance, I don’t hear a lot of folk on Heard It in a Past Life. The finished product is essentially an electronic pop album, reminiscent of HAIM’s more synthetic moments. Rogers’s voice is a beautiful instrument – it’s warm yet authoritative. Her backing vocals are often used as an instrument as well; ‘The Knife’ features beautifully arranged choirs of Rogers’ voice.
There are plenty of nice tunes on Heard It in a Past Life, although Rogers’ lyrics are lacking in personality. There’s lots of twenty-something romantic ennui – hardly unusual territory for pop music, but it would be nice to hear this lovely voice put to better use.
With the synthetic sounds, often the up-tempo songs sound better. ‘Give A Little’ is supposedly inspired by school anti-gun protests (“Drop your weapons, drop your guard”), but still sounds like a relationship song. ‘Overnight’ sounds closest to Haim’s template, while ‘Past Life’ is the only song that breaks significantly from electro-pop, with a sparse piano backing. The sparse live version of ‘Fallingwater’ allows Rogers’ voice to shine better than the studio take.
Heard It in a Past Life was released in January 2019, and Rogers has already released newer material – ‘Love You For A Long Time’ sounds closer to the promised folk/dance crossover. She hopefully has an even better album in her; with a great voice and some sharp melody writing skills I’ll be watching Maggie Rogers’ career with interest.
Notes From The Archive: Recordings 2011-2016
In this era, with easy access to recording technology, it’s common for artists to self-release albums in their teens. If they get a record deal, they then relegate these early efforts out of their canon. Rogers has taken the approach of cherry-picking highlights from her early releases for Notes from the Archive. As you’d expect, it’s all over the place stylistically and it’s uneven. But it’s also a worthwhile endeavour – Rogers’ vocals are reliably lovely, and there are a couple of first-rate songs.
On Twitter, Rogers wrote about ‘James’ that “He’s one of my best friends to this day. He’s the trumpet player on ‘Satellite.'” It’s a lovely and evocative acoustic song – “may your snow-capped mountains carry you far” is a great line. ‘Wolves’ is from Rogers’ 2012 album The Echo, released when she was still in her teens. The strings from Katherine Haroldson and Courtney Chang are gorgeous. 2013’s ‘New Song’ made its debut on the compilation, a duet between Rogers and Del Water Gap.
Repackaging her early work was a good move from Rogers, showcasing her best work before Heard it in a Past Life.
Rogers has raised the bar with her second record, which pretty much does everything you want from a sophomore effort – it’s more confident and more expansive. It comes off the back of some time away from music for Rogers – in 2021 she attended Harvard Divinity School, where she was “studying the spirituality of public gatherings and the ethics of power in pop culture.”
She’s brashly confident on the single ‘Want Want’, where she adds a pop edge without sounding contrived. Rogers is a gifted vocalist, and her soaring melodies on songs like ‘Honey’ and ‘Horses’ allow her to shine. Rogers is assisted by Kid Harpoon, a Kent-born producer who’s also worked with Jessie Ware, Harry Styles, and HAIM, and he helps her capture a range of sounds and emotions, from the lush R&B flavoured ballad ‘Begging for Rain’ to the tough guitars on the sparse closer ‘Different Kind of World’.
Surrender has proved a successful second outing for Rogers, peaking just outside the Billboard top ten – she deserves stardom with her vocal and songwriting chops.
Best Maggie Rogers Songs
Love You For A Long Time
Give A Little
Begging for Rain