How North Face And Maggie Rogers Became A Harmonious Pair

"Split Stones" is a new North Face anthem, thanks in part to Pharrell Williams and YouTube

Ever since the Grateful Dead played in front of the brand’s first store in 1966, North Face has embraced music as a key part of its creative DNA. They went on to host music festivals throughout the 1990s and, more recently, had My Morning Jacket record a rendition of the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land” for a 2014 campaign.

Last week, North face unveiled a creative new collaboration with Maggie Rogers, a singer-songwriter who mixes folk and electronic music, and samples nature sounds in her songs. “Split Stones,” her latest track, was released via an immersive digital experience orchestrated by The North Face and ad agency Sid Lee to promote both the song and the brand’s new Ventrix jacket on September 19th. And as we’ve covered before, choosing the right music is integral to establishing not only a successful campaign, but an overall brand voice.

Designed for mobile devices, the experience--dubbed "The Release Project"--requires listeners get moving and stay moving in order to unlock layers of the track—five in all, including drums and vocals—and, ultimately, the entire song, as well as gain access to a movement-themed Spotify playlist curated by Rogers.

Participants who delved into the experience when it launched got to hear “Split Stones” in its entirety 24 hours ahead of the song’s official release on September 20.

“Maggie’s fan base at The North Face is deep,” says Tom Herbst, vice president of marketing at the company. “We love that her sound is inspired by her connection with the outdoors and draws inspiration from the movement and rhythm of nature. She takes organic sounds like the wind through grass or her own breath while hiking, and through music exploration, she is turning it into something new, fresh and incredibly original. To us, she represents a new kind of explorer who is pushing beyond physical achievement, and that makes her the perfect partner.”

Herbst and his team first became aware of Rogers after a YouTube video of her and Pharrell listening to “Alaska,” a song she composed and performed while a student at New York University, went viral. As you see in the video, Pharrell, who had made a surprise visit to a music master class to critique work, was clearly stunned by how enthralling and polished the song was and quickly realized he was in the company of a major talent.

Masterclass Pharrell Williams Maggie Rogers

The North Face has been waiting for more than a year for the right project on which to collaborate with Rogers, and the release of the Ventrix jacket provided that opportunity. “When we started thinking about the launch of the Ventrix jacket, we were really inspired by the concept of release. The jacket is designed to release heat with movement, and we wondered if anyone had ever released a song through movement. That is when we thought of Maggie and the way she uses the outdoors and movement to inspire her creative release,” Herbst says.

The brand reached out to Rogers, and she sent them “Split Stones.” “I took the first sound samples for ‘Split Stones’ on a month-long backpacking trip in Oregon during the summer of 2013,” Rogers says. “I’ve been collecting samples and piecing the song together in bedroom studios and trails ever since.”

A song about breathability and the release of heat, “‘Split Stones’ opens with the sound of breath, and as soon as we heard it, we knew it would be the perfect soundtrack for Ventrix,” Herbst says. “It felt like it was written for us, and that made the partnership feel like it was meant to be.”

Among the sounds heard in the song: a sound recorder being clicked on, wind and a percussive sample of sticks tapping against an empty grain silo that was recorded in a field across from Rogers’ parents’ farm in Maryland.

The version of “Split Stones” accompanying a spot featuring Rogers and climber/photographer Jimmy Chin, a North Face athlete ambassador, includes a mix of additional sounds. “We thought bringing in the sounds of sport—the click of a ski boot, the clank of carabiners—would connect Maggie and our athletes, all people who are performing at the pinnacle of what they do and pushing the boundaries of exploration,” Herbst says, noting, “We are a brand that supports exploration of all types, whether it is artistic, creative or physical.”

For her part, Rogers enjoyed teaming up with North Face to share her music. “I’m super excited about combining the two things I love—technology and the environment—to create a way that people can hear the song but also feel a little bit a part of the action and process that inspired it,” she says.