In the Woods with Maggie Rogers

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A version of this story appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Uncommon Path

Maggie Rogers is listening to glaciers—not just in the symbolic sense, heeding the planetary message their movement represents, but actually listening to the hollow sound of glaciers moving. In fact, she has sampled that sound and other natural noises (croaky frogs, the patter of rain) underneath the electronic beats of her self-described dance music.

While Rogers, 25, appreciates the pace and noise of New York City, where she attended New York University and lived for six years, she’s also drawn to the tranquility of her parents’ barn in Maryland, where she recorded many of the songs she wrote and produced for her wildly successful debut album, Heard It in a Past Life.

Here, she riffs on how her experiences outdoors inspire her music.

Illustration of Maggie Rogers

Illustration by Jordan Carter

On nature’s ability to provide perspective and an oasis for a busy life:

“One of the best ways I can find space and time is when I’m in a quiet, beautiful place. I find that I’m often really overstimulated, and if I can find my way to nature, whether I’m in Ohio or Australia or Los Angeles, even if it’s just for an hour, it allows me to shut down and shut off and come back to my real priorities.”

“Being outside makes me feel so much like myself. When I took a NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School] backpacking course in Alaska, I just remember being a week in and crying because I was so happy. Most recently, my number one go-to when I’m on tour and I have an off day is I rent a car or a motorcycle. Recently, we had an off day in Eugene, and I drove out to the coast in Oregon and it was unbelievable, and I had the best drive and the best day.

On summer camp fostering her love of music:

“I grew up going to a seven-week overnight all-girls camp in Maine called Wohelo. There’s no electricity, and there’s a real strong emphasis on the outdoors and self-sufficiency. It always felt like a really safe space. I started writing songs when I was in middle school, but I would never perform them because middle school is terrifying. But at camp, I felt safe to share my music, and I had a lot of friends who saw the beauty in me being me.”

“Also, everyone was always singing all the time. ‘Color Song’ [which Rogers now sometimes uses to great effect to close her concerts] is sung at council fire on Monday nights. The whole camp forms a circle in the woods at the end of the ceremony, which is basically completely in the dark and a hundred girls sing this song a cappella together.”

On her go-to piece of gear while touring:

“I’ve started traveling with a candle. I’ve had to unlearn a lot of things as I’ve been on tour because I’ve spent a lot of time doing super lightweight, long-distance backpacking. When I first started touring, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to bring minimal things.’ I was treating it like backpacking. The reality of touring is that I’m not going out for two or three weeks. It’s not a temporary state of mind; I actually live on the road. I’ve had to learn how to give myself permission actually to take more things. You would never bring a candle in the backcountry. But when I’m in a different hotel room every night, it's something that makes it feel like home.”

On making space for time outdoors to create great art:

“As a songwriter or any kind of artist, you’re constantly having this sort of existential conversation about existence and emotion and trying to understand your experience as a human. And nature shows that everything is interconnected, and it provides a holistic, peaceful view on life. [In the music business] there’s such a level of urgency. But the reality is, a career is made by great art, and the only way great art happens is if you make space for it. Whenever I am in nature, I feel really connected to that sense of purpose.”

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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