Artist of the Month is an accolade we award to an up-and-coming artist who we believe is about to break out. We begin 2021 with our attention focused on Arlo Parks, a London singer-songwriter and poet about to drop her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams.
All therapists would love Arlo Parks, who practices an advanced form of mindfulness. The poet and musician takes my phone call while on a train from Hammersmith (just west of London) to an undisclosed location to film a new music video, but remains wholly engaged. Parks speaks with a curiosity and sense of presence, as though she were sitting right across from me at a small, intimate coffee shop.
Her music evokes a similar, quiet magnetism. Collapsed in Sunbeams singles like “Green Eyes” and “Caroline” are relatable without being over the top, yet vulnerable in their complete rawness. And it’s not like she’s shallowly poking at the human experience, either; the 20-year-old untangles knotty wires related to mental health, body image, self-acceptance, and queer desire. In fact, Parks’ debut album opens with this deep spoken bit that’s likely to stay with you throughout your entire listening session: “We’re all learning to trust our bodies, making peace with our own distortions.”
Part Nigerian, Chadian, and French, Parks inherited her sense of openness and inner strength from her introverted parents. From an early age, both her mother and father encouraged her to air out her emotions no matter what, and Parks hopes her songs help others do the same. By living out a moment with her, unrestricted and fully absorbed in feelings, perhaps they’ll be able to better understand some aspect of themselves.
And for the ever-mindful Parks, taking in every moment matters, especially during this pandemic when previously joyful activities and socializing are nearly nonexistent. We bond over our newfound obsession with very long walks and how they’ve impacted the way we not only see relationships and ourselves but the entire world. Parks specifically mentions paths along London’s Regent’s Canal, Hackney Marshes, and a park with goats as some of her favorites because of their connection to nature.
“I definitely think I’m a nature-oriented person,” the Phoebe Bridgers- and Billie Eilish-cosigned songwriter tells me. “And it just feels grounding to just be — and this might sound quite hippie-dippie — surrounded by something that’s so much bigger than you and your little songs that you’re trying to write. It kind of humbles you in a way.”
We’re about 40 minutes into our conversation by this point. There’s been loud train passengers barking in the background and a number of lost phone connections due to the many tunnels. But she remains true to her word. Even as she’s now above ground, hurriedly lugging her suitcase to get to the video shoot on time, she’s still very much present and here with me. She knows how to protect her energy.
Earlier in our chat, we talked about the possibility of Parks one day scoring a film because of her visual mind and love of matching moods to music. As she’s in the middle of a hectic work day, I can’t help but ask her to soundtrack her own chaos this very minute.
Parks, whose songwriting taps into folk, R&B, jazz, and even bedroom pop, pauses for about 10 seconds before picking “Noid” from Yves Tumor’s acclaimed 2018 album, Safe in the Hands of Love. “It’s so like, explosive and cinematic, and I feel like I’m rushing, but I’m ultimately at peace,” she remarks thoughtfully. “I know sometimes there’s chaos and you’re running around kind of stressed out, but I’m just reveling in the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Collapsed in Sunbeams arrives January 29th via Transgressive Records. Click ahead for our exclusive Artist of the Month interview with Arlo Parks…
On Finding Joy in the Little Things
I definitely feel like it’s been a year of having to adapt and to find pockets of joy where you can. And I think that it’s kind of taught us, I don’t know … I feel like I’ve been more active in my sense of gratitude — even in those chaotic moments where everybody’s freaking out. Whether it’s like, oh, just making a cup of tea or listening to an album that I love. Having those little moments is like something that I hope I can carry forward [into 2021].
On Her First Scoring Project and Favorite Film Score
I had my kind of first taste of scoring in I think it was September. [Game of Thrones star] Maisie Williams, her boyfriend was doing his first kind of a fashion show in Paris, and she asked me to kind of write a poem and score the instrumental behind it for the opening for the show. That was my first goal, like matching music to visuals and just the colors and patterns. I think it’s something that I really love, and the visuals can really be elevated by the music. Even when you’re watching The Blue Planet by David Attenborough, the music makes it so much more exciting or poignant or adorable.
I feel like Call Me by Your Name is the one [my favorite film score]. Just think about [Sufjan Stevens’] “Futile Devices”, the Doveman remix. Or Sufjan Stevens’ in general [his two original song contributions]. Also that song by The Psychedelic Furs. I feel like it just kind of created that sense of warmth and intimacy.
On Trying to Match Radiohead
For me, at the beginning, there was a sense of overthinking because I thought about a lot of my favorite albums. A lot of my favorite albums are, you know, these seminal records like [Radiohead’s] In Rainbows or Dummy by Portishead or [Kanye’s] College Dropout. And I had this sense of stress, where I was like, I need to create something that is like the greatest thing out there, and it led me to be quite kind of paralyzed by this vision. Then, once I let go of that and just started operating on a song-by-song basis — being like, “This is a time capsule, this is like the best that I can do right now” — then it just got easier and got fun.
On Recording Music in Random Airbnbs
I like places with lots of plants, lots of natural light. I also think about the area. I like areas that are quite bustling. Because often, you know, if I get stuck on an idea or I need a break, then I would just go for a walk and kind of be among people, be among life. So, I think the thing that I love about Airbnb is that there is a homely energy to it, but it is in a way unfamiliar. And it’s not as removed from reality as a studio. I don’t really like the idea of having any artificial lights like an underground bunker or something. I can’t. I feel like I can’t get in touch with reality.
[Also,] I love having photos on the wall, having posters, crystals, candles, and all these little kind of artifacts around. When you’re in a studio, it’s very much … there’s nothing on the wall. There’s nothing that feels human.
On Receiving Great Advice from Snail Mail
I definitely remember Lindsey basically letting me know that I should trust myself. That my happiness should be the thing that I value above all else. Like, when I’m not feeling creative, or if I feel like I’m kind of overstretched or overworked, then, you know, I have to set those boundaries because my health and my happiness is important. I think that was something that really stuck with me, especially when I was like, so busy and so constantly in motion. And especially from somebody who’s kind of been through all of this before and who’s making music that I really love as well.
On Memorizing Arctic Monkeys’ Debut Album from Start to Finish
I think, for me, it was the storytelling [of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not]. It was the fact that it just sounded like a young person, just relating the painful and strange and romantic and sordid kind of underbelly of like just being in the north of England. For me, it’s not that I could see myself in it, but when he was speaking, I believed what he was saying. And I know that’s a strange thing to say, but I felt completely absorbed in the world he was describing. I just remember listening to “When the Sun Goes Down” and “Mardy Bum” and I don’t know … it’s just completely funny because I still love those songs. I am still an Arctic Monkeys stan.
On Her Favorite MF DOOM Album and the Late Rap Icon’s Genius
It would definitely be Madvillainy for me. I think when I listen to those songs, it’s the combination of his poetry and, of course, madness. Like, when you listen to songs such as “Accordion” or “Figaro”, it’s just so exquisitely balanced. I think sometimes there is a balance to be struck between instrumentals and lyrics, and I feel like that album does it perfectly.
And the reason why I love MF DOOM as well is because his raps are so obscure. I’ve definitely loved hip-hop outfits like Digable Planets or A Tribe Called Quest, where it’s sometimes very linear kinds of storylines, like, “I went to this party and I went here.” But when you listen to MF DOOM, it’s like, what is actually going on? [laughs] I love that because it’s so playful — language is there to be kind of bent and distorted and turned on its head, and I think he does that so well.
On Her Dream Collaborations
I would love to do something with Frank Ocean. I would love to do something with Solange or Dev Hynes. I would also love to do something with someone really outside of my genre — something weird. Like, I don’t know … Floating Points or Channel Tres.
On Her No. 1 Tip for the New Year
I think, for me, it’s knowing that when it strikes midnight and it’s 2021, we’re not immediately going to be, like, excellent and productive and our best selves. I think there’s, of course, a lot of hope going into this next year, but I think it’s a question of patience. Build things slowly, and don’t expect to immediately feel better or be better. And in the meantime, find enjoyment where you can as well.