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Maggie Rogers turns YouTube views into sold-out shows

By Lisa Brown
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Maggie Rogers no longer knows what day it is, but there’s a pretty good reason, given that she’s in the middle of her first headlining (sold-out) tour. Following the viral success of the hypnotizing, Pharrell-approved single “Alaska” last year, Rogers released her debut genre-fluid EP, Now That the Light Is Fading, in February. That project chronicles a journey of self-discovery with layers of lush vocal harmonies, whirling synths and enchanting piano riffs. The NYU graduate finishes her tour with two NYC shows this week before hitting the festival circuit this summer.

You started out playing banjo. How did that shape your electronic-leaning sound?
It definitely influences me as far as putting sounds together and even chord progressions. People call it hybrid music, but I think if you heard it in the coffeeshop, you probably wouldn’t say, “What is this folk tune?” I have a funny time rectifying the genre of this music because I feel genres are meant for selling music or for explaining it to people, not really for making music.

Was there a specific catalyst that led you to experiment with dance music?
I think being in Paris [studying abroad], I really experienced dance music and house music for the first time. It helped me decide what I wanted to make. But as far as wanting to play with electronic sounds and production, I studied music production and engineering in school, so I really had to use synthesizers in class. But it was my junior-year study-abroad trip that really brought me to make this music.

You’re from rural Maryland, but you wrote the EP while at school in New York. How did the city influence you?
Growing up, it would be four-hour round trips to see live music, and I had to convince some really nice adult to drive me. When I moved, I could suddenly see music four or five times a week, and I think that opened me up to so much. When I came to New York, I really just identified myself as a folk artist, as a banjo player, and suddenly I was seeing all these different kinds of music. Rather than defining myself that way, I would concentrate on my voice and myself as a creator. That’s when I started to experiment.

Is there one show that sticks out?
One of my most memorable nights was seeing Diarrhea Planet play Music Hall [of Williamsburg]. I think I got a black eye, a fat lip and chipped my tooth. It was just a great time. I walked into Bowery Ballroom my freshman year, and I set a goal to myself right then—within five years I want to be on that stage. Whether I’m opening or playing, that place was always the benchmark. To sell out in minutes is unbelievable and incredible. People keep asking me what my goals are and I don’t really know, because Bowery Ballroom was kind of the only goal.

Graduating is a big transition on its own. How has it been dealing with that and your music career?
I was expecting a lot of change no matter what. The sold-out tour is incredible, but I also kind of have a hard time believing that all of this is real. It definitely feels like there are still a lot of uncertainties.

Maggie Rogers plays Bowery Ballroom April 11 and Music Hall of Williamsburg April 12 at 8pm (bowerypresents.com). $15.

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