At the time of writing Arlo Parks is still in the midst of her A Levels.
Despite commitments to full-time education, the 18-year-old has already released a series of strong and dynamic singles and shares her latest, ‘george’, via Beatnik Creative. Her first single, ‘Cola’, saw Parks reach acclaim. And for good reason. Underneath the command of Parks’ vocals lie a combination of downtempo, Portishead-esque grooves and a minimal, simple bassline. Her vocals on ‘Cola’ twists and harmonises around the chorus with crystalline quality, delivering visually rich and anecdotal lyrics. Her latest sees a marginal departure from ‘Cola’ and her other singles ‘Super Sad Generation’ and ‘Romantic Garbage’; lyrics feel more vivid, the production is fuller, and the shredding guitar solo gives the track a more complete roundedness. ‘george’ has been released with an accompanying video directed by Molly Burdett.
Whether fortunate or unfortunate timing, I caught up with Parks shortly after she completed her A Level English Literature paper and discussed – fittingly – her literary and musical influences, as well as her new single.
Parks has been open about her passion for literature in previous interviews and has cited Ezra Pound and Sylvia Plath as poets she admires. Composing literature, too, is something Parks has always enjoyed, and she claims she has been writing for as long as she can remember.
“I started off writing short stories as a kid and then I moved on to poetry and then song writing. There’s always been something that I was into.” She continues, describing her lyric writing process.
“Usually I’ll write like a poem or I’ll write for five minutes [using a] stream of consciousness type thing. Then I whittle it down into a format that works like a song. It’s just working off poetry.”
Literature has informed Parks’ writing too. “[Literature] kind of influences my style of writing,” Parks explains. “The poems and books that I like to read are kind of about building worlds you can immerse yourself in. So, in terms of my lyrics, I like to make references to literature or to build up a visual world. For example, in ‘Cola’ I use references [and] vignettes to Gerard Way, bacardi, and all of that. I guess it’s about building a complete world that people can immerse themselves in. So, I guess I learnt that from reading a bunch.”
It’s literary references that are used in her latest single ‘george’ too. The title references the salacious 19th century poet and politician Lord George Byron and uses his character to construct an inventive narrative in the lyrics. “It was mainly about his heartbreaker tendencies and his kind of narcissism”, Parks explains. “When I read his poems, he just seems very sorry for himself and not aware of other people he’s hurt. So, I kind of imagined someone like that walking into a room and seeing all the people that they’ve hurt. It sounds so cheesy, but like [he’s] leaving a trail of broken hearts. It’s like I know he’s been here and leaving these little broken people everywhere and you kind of know that that’s the damage [he’s] caused. So, yeah, I guess it’s his brutal narcissism.”
With her best vocal performance so far, it is a theme that comes across instantly in the first lines of ‘george’ as Parks sings “I’m so sick of being down and watching you get arrested”. The line playfully borders on abstraction whilst being, well, arresting.
Parks is still testing and developing her sound before committing to a more permanent release, such as an album. Acknowledging that it is still early days, she is entirely aware that her tastes, techniques, and overall development will evolve with time. “I want to work on finding my sound and my voice” Parks explains, before discussing prospective plans for an album. “[I want to] develop a little bit before I launch into something that’s so big scale. I kind of want to figure what I’m all about before I launch into that. I want it to be meaningful and true [and] I want it to be saying something, I don’t want to just be making a record for the sake of making a record.”
Joining a cache of other artists that Parks has previously cited as influences, she lists her current interests. It is clear that she is not limiting herself to a particular genre or sound. “I’ve been listening to a lot of funk and soul. I’ve been listening to Parliament Funkadelic and Sly & The Family Stone. Also, some psychedelic rock [like] The Zombies. I kind of just want to try a bunch of different things and make some kind of fusion of all the weird little bits that I like. I’m just going to try and go down a lot of different avenues, see what sticks and do some more of my own production.”
Shot in a brutalist estate, the video to ‘george’ features masterfully shot sequences of couples intersected with unnerving and claustrophobic shots of insects, blood droplets, and goldfish. The Molly Burdett video can be viewed below.