Pharrell’s new favourite artist might have the dirt on The Strokes and Ryan Adams, but she’s not telling.
Pharrell’s new favourite singer goes for the chicken and chips. Good choice…
When Q arrives at the restaurant inside London’s Ace Hotel, Maggie Rogers is already halfway through a hearty portion of roast chicken, mashed potato, gravy and, for good measure, a side order of chips. The 24- year-old singer may be able to polish off a chicken dinner with admirable swiftness but it turns out gastronomic exploits aren’t currently very high on Roger’s agenda. “I don’t really care about food,” she chirps, catching the waitress’s eye to order an almond milk cappuccino. “I’m happiest when someone else is choosing my meal because I’ll eat whatever.” Rogers has had plenty of other things to focus on recently. In January, she’ll release her new album – an effervescent blend of sun-dappled pop melodies and bubbling electronica, it caps off a whirlwind two years. In 2016, a video of NYU music student Rogers playing her homework assignment to surprise guest lecturer Pharrell Williams went viral. The song, a ping-pong of twinkling electronics and feather-light vocals called Alaska, left the hit-maker jaw-agape. “I have zero, zero notes for that,” he murmured. “I’ve never heard anyone like you before and I’ve never heard anything like that.” Cue a line of record labels eager to snap up “Pharrell’s new favourite singer”. It’s a great story, for sure – unknown student whisked away for a life of fame after a chance discovery by a superstar benefactor – but one that doesn’t tell the whole story. Rogers had already self-released two albums under her own steam and was playing live in New York in various guises, including as part of a punk band, a folk group, a freestyling/DJ combo and a “synth French disco” outfit. “People say shit like, ‘Oh, I love that song Pharrell wrote for you’,” she says, picking off a stray chip. “People love these overnight stories, but it’s important for kids who want to become artists or who are working their way and putting the work in, to know that I worked really hard for this. Yeah, I’m young, but I’ve been working for 10 years for this.” She smiles. “You know, I do have a degree in this.” Her forthcoming album is the culmination of a lifetime devoted to music. After studying banjo and harp as a child in rural Maryland, Rogers begged her parents to send her to artistically minded boarding school St Andrew’s in Delaware. It’s the place that provided the idyllic setting for Robin Williams’s 1989 coming-of-age flick, Dead Poets Society. “It’s totally like that in real life,” she beams. “It’s amazing. It’s like Peter Pan school. There were no cell phones, no internet, no TV. At 18, I’d be playing cards in the dining hall on a Saturday night.” It meant the move to Manhattan to study was a bit of a culture shock. Awed by the musical opportunities the city had to offer, she procured a fake ID to go to as many shows as possible. While there, she also landed an internship to work on music journalist Lizzy Goodman’s book documenting the early 2000s New York rock scene, Meet Me In The Bathroom. The gig involved three-and-a-half years meticulously transcribing interviews with the likes of The Strokes, Interpol and Karen O. “It was the best education I could have received as a musician,” Rogers says. “It also means I’ve got a ton of fucking dirt on them. I got plenty of secrets about The Strokes and Ryan Adams, but I’m sworn to secrecy.” Coffees cleared away, Q wonders if Rogers has any interests outside of music. “I bought myself a motorcycle and went to motorcycle school last year,” comes the surprise answer. “Maybe that’s why I haven’t cooked anything since I left college. I chose the motorcycle over food!” Cooking will have to wait. Right now Maggie Rogers has more than enough on her plate.
“I haven’t cooked anything since I left college. I chose the motorcycle over food!”
Reasons to be cheerful: Maggie Rogers, Ace Hotel, London, 2018.