Compassionate, considered and full of life, the poetic lyrics and poignant melodies stay with you long after the songs stop: “I just want people to feel loved by my music”, the 20-year-old British musician confides, “I don’t think it always has to be life changing. Even if it’s just a song they share with another person to hang out to; or a song that makes them feel more able to be vulnerable; or makes them feel seen and heard or understood. I just want it to be a positive force in people’s lives: I think that’s my main goal.”
A self-proclaimed “Black kid who can’t dance”, Arlo Parks has made up for her perceived lack of boogie-bility with an abundance of musicality. Born with lyrics leaping out of her, Arlo began writing at age seven: “I just had an interest in words”, she tells me over the phone, “I started writing short stories about spies and highway robbers…I’d just open the dictionary and throw in words I didn’t really understand.” Over time, though, these became less about escaping to a fantasy world, and more about dissecting the one she found herself in. “It evolved into something personal, about processing my emotions: rather than looking outwards, it was looking inwards so that’s when I started writing poetry.”
What Arlo Parks found when she looked inwards was a unique poetic nature, an existential need, and an urge to do something with it. “I always loved music,” she explains, “I just hadn’t really considered the idea of making it myself.” Then one day, Arlo gave it a go, laying her delicate writing over sound: “I remember I was like 14 or 15, and I picked up the guitar and I started teaching myself how to use GarageBand. I was writing a lot of poetry at the time, and so was applying these stories to beats, playing with a little bit of spoken word as well because I was really into hip hop. There was an innocence in the way that I made music, just because I never expected anyone to hear it. I was just trusting my taste and doing what felt good.”
Beginning to do odd gigs with friends, Arlo discovered a love for creating in a whole new way, developing tracks from her bedroom that she started to share on SoundCloud. “You know a lot of albums came out around that time whether it was Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange or King Krule’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon: all these records that felt so unique. I remember discovering artists like Clairo a little bit later on, who was making music from her home, and making things that felt so real and visible and exciting and fun and that kind of inspired me to start making music at home by myself.”
Fast forward to 2021, and Arlo Parks is still hanging out at her West London home, making music in her own way. She may have levelled up professionally, but the vibe remains the same, taking the time to remain authentic and keep part of that innocence her work began with. As her fame rises, the latter becomes more difficult, with the awareness that people are now 100% listening. “I am aware of it, definitely”, Arlo says, “but I try to keep that separate from the writing process because if you write in a way that is hyper-aware of the people on the outside looking in, then it can kind of constrict you a little bit. Or it can make you try to write almost a brief: if there’s a song that a lot of people like, then you find yourself wanting to recreate that success in a way. So I try and hold on to that childlike wonder that comes with making music. To let myself be excited by it; to act off of instinct and offer them pause.”
Read the rest of our interview with Arlo Parks in tmrw #39: The Evolution Issue, available to order below now.