Arlo Parks is exploring other perspectives

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: Ellius Grace

For Issue 007 Arlo Parks spoke to Dylan Murphy in Dublin on two separate occasions six months apart. The young singer supported Loyle Carner in Dublin in October 2019 before returning for her own headline show in March of 2020. A lot happened for her in between the performances and she explained how she has navigated her rapid rise.

2020 has been a year defined by caveats. Premeditated plans have been laid to waste, aspirations have been put on hold and antiquated conversations interrupted. It’s become impossible to move on autopilot whilst we to try put out the flaming dumpster that is this year. As we revise old habits and adapt to the new normal it’s become apparent through all the banana bread, Tiger King memes and 5G conspirators that time stops for no one. Young Londoner Arlo Parks appreciates better than most, that a lot can happen in a short space of time. 

Writing introspective ruminations for Gen Z, Arlo’s stripped-back records are a scented candle for tight airways. Routinely comforting me as I wrestle the Sunday scaries, her records have become a staple in my self-care routine. In an era where attention spans are fleeting and society champions the immediacy of Tik Tok, Arlo’s words command considered listening. 

Having met initially in October of 2019 backstage in Dublin on her support slot for one of her heroes turned biggest advocates and mentors – Loyle Carner, the young wordsmith told me of her whirlwind six months until that point. Recounting an early summer afternoon where she bounced from a history lesson to play her first show at The Great Escape in Brighton, she revealed it felt like she was living a “Weird double life”. As a full time student with a burgeoning music career she admitted that, “it was quite heavy having to do both in that moment and do them both well.”

In spite of being propelled to dizzying heights so quickly after finishing school, she remained grounded. Maintaining a mantra of gratitude informed by the flurry of experiences she had in her brief career until that point Arlo was making sure to enjoy every moment. Most notably she reminisced over her opportunity to play at The Roundhouse in London, one of the capital’s most iconic venues whilst on tour in support of Jordan Rakei. The show was no small feat for any artist, let alone a teenager. She told me she could only mutter “oh christ” as Lianne Le Havas congratulated her and Tom Misch and Loyle Carner – two artists that soundtracked her adolescence watched from the wings. Going from SoundCloud loosies to ‘Ones To Watch’ lists and Youtube’s Foundry programme that’s graduates include Dua Lipa and Dave in a matter of months was impressive. Compounding that evolution was her transition from enamoured fan to respected contemporary. 

By the end of our conversation, I got the impression that she felt everything had gone even better than she could have ever imagined. By early March 2020, she was already back in Ireland again, only this time as part of her own headline European tour. With her status rising even further since we last chatted, the once touted new kid on the block was now a certified solo artist with a debut album in the works and an acclaimed EP under her belt.

She’d been hand-picked by Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams to support her US tour, adorned magazine covers, released a collaboration with EasyLife and was booked for over 30 summer festivals that year. In terms of achievements and relative position in the industry, she had numerous year’s worth of success compressed into a number of months. The rise was remarkable, but I couldn’t say it wasn’t expected. So much had changed since we last spoke so it became a necessity to supplement our last chat with an update of sorts.

Arriving ahead of her show in the Grand Social, taking her travel case up three flights of stairs to the office following a brief taxi ride across the city, Arlo was tired, but still upbeat. 

Settling in, we revisit our first encounter several months previous and she tells me how she’s found the ride since then.

“It is quite tiring because I’m experiencing things for the first time – It can be overwhelming” she admits.

“Even with this headline tour I feel very fulfilled. I do feel like people give me a lot of positive energy back. But at the same time travelling can be quite tiring”, she explains throwing her head back to point towards her team’s modest clump of travel bags in the corner of the room.

There’s a sense of realism and resilience that rings off every softly spoken syllable and without it, it’s unlikely she would’ve handled her meteoric rise. Arlo understands that young adulthood has its hurdles even without the unconventional challenges that a career in music brings. So she doesn’t heap any more unnecessary pressure on herself.

“Obviously there is a pressure when you have a growing profile, it feels like there is an expectation but you kind of get on with everything and take it in your stride, but at the same time I don’t really look outside of what I’m doing.”

I was always so immersed in the world of words that I learnt a way to manipulate them in a way that conveyed exactly how I was feeling

Arlo Parks

“I’m not really on Instagram that much. I just focus on the journey and enjoy the journey, rather than thinking about how other people perceive what I’m doing.”

Her considered and thoughtful approach to life is informed by her time in school as an Earl Sweatshirt loving “loner” that spent her days writing poetry in her room. She’s also quick to note the impact of creatives closer to home, with her early stanzas being inspired by a “kid in the year above” who MC’d and the London-centric croons of King Krule. 

“Honestly ever since I could speak or write, words have always been my thing. I would literally read the dictionary and pick out words and be like ‘Oh that looks interesting’… I was always so immersed in the world of words that I learnt a way to manipulate them in a way that conveyed exactly how I was feeling… like even in the van just now I was just picking out words and they asked me what I was doing. I told them I was just picking out some nice words [laughs].”

‘Eugene’ is directed by the ‘Coyle-Larner Brothers’ made up of Loyle Carner and his sibling.

Like most self-taught musicians her age, she figured things out on Youtube and pulled together a number of influences into her DIY approach.  Building on the musings of her English class and the lo-fi sound of her Odd Future hero she used poetry and later music as a medium to express teenage frustrations. 

“I was a teenager and going through this mad stuff, but it probably wasn’t that mad I probably just had a crush on someone [laughs]. I was like ‘oh my god I’ve got to get this off my chest’. So it was this adolescent angst, seeing all these cool people on youtube and figuring out a few chords..” she says pausing before snapping her fingers for dramatic effect. “Then it all came together and I was like ‘it’s time’”.

As everything fell into place she had her team and older brother in the scene Loyle Carner help guide her decisions.

“Loyle Carner was telling me even just in terms of writing the album, ‘Just don’t look at what everybody else is doing. Don’t try to plan it too much it will all come out in one go.'”

“It’s little nuggets of advice or even other people my age who are up and coming I’ve started to meet and we are going through similar things, getting on ones-to-watch lists, playing festivals trying to put an album together. So there is a sense of community which is nice”, she explains.

“I think the nature of music is there does seem to be a lot of things planned in advance, but as a person, in general, I’m in the moment and quite spontaneous. I only get really overwhelmed if I think ‘oh I’ve got to do this and this and this in the next few months’, but I just think all I have to is ‘play my show today, play like this and so on’. It’s important for me to be in the moment rather than overthink things too much.”

This approach mirrored a lot of mindfulness practices exercised from the apps on phones tucked in trouser pockets. It’s a busy business and Arlo owes it to herself to practice self-care. Having recently become an ambassador for CALM, it’s clear that compassion is paramount in her world.

The ability to write confessional songs from the perspective of others highlights her tireless kindness and nuanced approach to storytelling. Blending alternative viewpoints and imagined experiences not only helps develop a well-rounded worldview but helps make sense of her own challenges.

“I think it does help me process my own things because putting yourself in the shoes of someone else you..”, she says, pausing to carefully craft her words. “I’ve definitely written other people’s stories or things that other people have gone through and then been like ‘oh wait I’ve been through something similar or that mirrors something that happened to me’. So it’s kind of like it is more than just an observational piece, it is like mixing their perspective and how it affects me.”

For someone who has been subject to so many interviews prying for information in a short space of time, she’d be forgiven for tuning out, but instead, it becomes clear Arlo is an incredible listener intent on digesting every sentiment.

“I think it’s important to explore perspectives other than my own.”

Arlo Parks

“I have always been interested in other people’s realities and feelings” she says.

“Ever since I was a kid I have very much been a people’s person and found it easy to slip into someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. I think it’s important to explore perspectives other than my own.”

It’s no wonder that listeners build such strong bonds with her words with her recent single ‘Black Dog’ being written for a friend suffering from mental health issues and ‘Sophie’ is penned from the perspective of another person. It’s selfless and universal music written as much for her as it is for other people.

‘Black Dog’ highlights Arlo’s thoughtful penmanship.

“I feel like at all the shows we’ve done on this headline run, I’ve gone to merch to speak to people and everyone has been so positive and had a massive range of ages as well. There’d be like a 70 something-year-old couple who drove from some random city to see me and then little 11 year old kids that came with their dads. Their dads know the words, they know the words, it’s like a community of people brought together by this feeling that no one can quite explain”, she tells me cracking a smile.

“It’s really nice, it feels like everyone is coming together and enjoying it as human beings. It’s not about gender or age or background, just so many people coming together.”

Arlo Parks makes reassuring music in uncertain times and as our conversation comes to a close she acknowledges the idea that her younger, less confident self could only dream of the position she is in now. 

“When I was younger it very much felt like I was going nowhere with music and I was putting out all this stuff that to me felt like it was coming from the heart and coming from an emotional place and no one is paying attention.” 

“So I think telling younger me that you’ll sell out shows and be able to bring your friends and things will happen for you… I think one day people will listen to what you have to say and you have to keep going.”