Arlo Parks: Virtual Session

Arlo Parks joins Jill Riley for a virtual session from her home in London. (MPR)

West London's Arlo Parks joins Jill Riley for a virtual session--she'll be playing songs from her debut record Collapsed In Sunbeams, and talking about taking refuge in writing, and using art to lift others up.


Edited for clarity and length.

JILL RILEY: Hey, I'm Jill Riley from The Current's Morning Show. I'm very excited to talk with singer-songwriter and creative writer and poet Arlo Parks. We have been playing this artist I think, since the end of last summer. We started playing singer songwriter, Arlo Parks, and we were all kind of like, "Wow, who is this? Who is this woman?" As we were playing the song "Hurt" and just like, wow, this is such a great groove. Sometimes when I hear or play new music on The Current, I just assume that the record is going to be coming out right around the corner. But as it should turn out, as we were getting to know the music of Arlo parks, we were also looking forward to one of the most anticipated full length records of this year--of the year 2021. With the new year, the record Collapsed In Sunbeams is out now and that's very exciting for us to be able to play it for you, but also for Arlo Parks to now be able to talk about the record. I would love to welcome Arlo Parks. Hi, how are you?

Yeah, I'm good. I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

We're so glad to have you and looking forward to the day where we can get you into the actual studio or get you on a stage here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. For anyone who is, you know, we're all really getting to know you as a musician. Just for a little background, if you could just tell us where are you from? Where did you grow up?

Yeah. So I've always lived in West London, so that's where I grew up. I'm 20 now, and I've been living kind of in the same home my whole life. My parents are from----well my mom's French, and my dad's from Nigeria. Where I grew up, it's kind of quite like a sleepy part of town. There's not too much going on. So that's why I kind of took refuge in writing a lot when I was younger.

When you were younger and you started writing, I mean, clearly, there was indications early on that you have the writing bug, how did that all start for you?

I guess when I was seven or eight, I started writing short stories. I always just had this strange urge to write things down. I'm still not too sure where that came from. But I would write short stories you know about running away to Australia and wrestling snakes and being a spy, it was all very much escapism. When I got a little bit older, that's when I started using writing as more of a kind of healing mechanism to work through things.

Short stories, poetry, when did you write your first song and how is lyric writing different than the short story process? Or even writing a poem? I mean, the difference between writing poetry and lyrics must be very different.

I think my first song I ever wrote, I was probably about 14 or 15. That's when I picked up the guitar, and I was teaching myself to produce on GarageBand. And then I guess the difference for me is that there is more of a sense of structure to lyrics to me. There's more of a sense of having to put forward a sentiment or tell a story in a very kind of succinct way. That's what I kind of love about songwriting, to be honest, is that it kind of gives you the time and the space to format what can be quite a complicated set of emotions into something that feels quite bite-sized that can help other people as well.

So you write your first song, you're teaching yourself how to record it, gosh, GarageBand--the technology has allowed so many people to express their creativity and actually do recording without having to try to get into a recording studio, especially in the early days. So if you write your first song at 14, at what point were you like, okay, I'm ready to write something, produce it, and then put it out?

Yeah, I must have been maybe 16 or 17 when I first started actually putting out music on SoundCloud. It had been like a year and a half of me just figuring it out in my own little personal bubble in my bedroom. Then I remember stumbling across an interview, I'm not too sure who it was. But they said if you create something that has the potential to help someone else, then you kind of have that duty almost to like put it out into the world. So I started uploading my songs to Soundcloud very hesitantly and playing a few kind of gigs at DIY venues around me where I live. It just kind of took off from there.

When you say it took off, how did you know it was starting to take off? You put something on Soundcloud and kind of go, "Okay, well, that's out there in the world." When did you know that-- "Oh, people are listening to this," or what what kind of feedback were you getting? Or what's the indication that things were starting to pick up?

For a long time, there was nobody really listening. I would get like 20 or 30 plays on my songs. Then my songs got played on the radio. We have this thing in the UK, the BBC Uploader where you can put your songs on this site for free and then DJs might listen to it if they like it. My song got played on the radio a few times, then I got introduced to my manager. Then I spent that year while still being at school, just kind of putting together my debut EP. I think when I put out that first song "Cola" is when strangers started reaching out to me and being like, "This healed me, this makes me feel good." That was when I felt like I was doing something.

So "Cola" was kind of that moment where you could tell things were really picking up and people were responding. Well here in the US, I mean, the first song that I heard from you, was the song "Hurt". That was the first song that we added here on The Current. Gosh, I bet we started playing that song--it had to have been at the end of last summer, early fall. I just remember my first reaction being like, "God, this is a groove." Arlo Parks, where did she come from? Now finally having the opportunity to get to know you is really great. So Collapsed In Sunbeams, you mentioned that you have a couple of EPs. But this is the debut full length. How does it feel to have it out there?

It's very surreal for me, especially as somebody who spent a lot of time collecting vinyl and listening to music and that kind of album format. I was so nervous to put it out into the world, it felt like almost like a statement of intent. The response that I've had so far has been incredible. From musicians I really look up to, from my friends, my family, from fans, everybody seems to have seen the fact that this is really like a part of me and something I went into making with pure intention. That's been wonderful.

I love that expression, statement of intent. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that before. But I think that's a great way to describe it. When you were kicking around ideas or doing some writing when did the process of this record first start? Was it before the pandemic? Was it during? I just think a year ago is when, at least here in the US, we were starting to kind of whisper around about this virus that we were hearing about, which is just blowing my mind to think that was a year ago.

Yeah, so I think it must have been--I started writing--the first thing that I wrote was probably "Hurt" and I wrote that in January. I also wrote "Green Eyes" and "Just Go" in that time, but the idea of the album was still very nebulous around then. I wasn't even sure I was making a record, I was just making songs. Then in March, which is when we had our first lockdown here in the UK, that's when I started on the album in a more formal way. I was like, "This is what I'm doing now."

How much of the pandemic or solitude or the idea of lockdown--how much of that do you think crept into your work? Or did it at all?

I definitely think that it did. I definitely think that it encouraged me to find ways to inspire myself, that it gave me the space to be more introspective and reflective and really take time and think about what I wanted to say with the record because I would have had to write it, I think, between tours if the pandemic hadn't happened. In a weird way, it gave me the gift of kind of space and time.

Oh, for sure. I think a lot of people could relate to that. Not that we wanted a global pandemic to happen. I would wish this away in a second if I could, but I don't know that I've ever had the time to slow down and kind of learn how to, to sit with myself, if that makes sense. Sit with myself and be with myself and be a little more introspective.

That's so true. I've been using that phrase a lot like sitting with myself. Especially being a musician, I spend a lot of time surrounded by others being on set, going to shoot, doing sessions. But I hadn't actually had the time to just sit down and enjoy my own company and kind of look at myself without distractions.

I'm talking with Arlo Parks, the new record, debut full length record Collapsed In Sunbeams is out now. Arlo, I wonder, before the lockdown, had you done a lot of touring? I'm sure that you, at this time, wish that you could get on the road and now promote the record. But have you done a lot of touring? I know that you have a lot of great connections, and just friends in the music community and a lot of artists that we play here on The Current.

Yeah, I actually hadn't really toured that much. In terms of my own headline support, I got to play all but two of the shows that I've never actually paid a headline show in London. I've never played in America either. I haven't really traveled that much. I guess what's nice is that to look forward to.

Who were some of the artists that you did support shows for?

There's this artist in London whose--his name's Loyle Carner, and he is a rapper, a spoken word artist. And there's this artist called Jordan Rakei who does more kind of jazz than me, and I was supposed to be touring with Hayley Williams, of course, but I couldn't because of Covid.

As in Paramore, Hayley Williams?


What's your connection to Glass Animals?

Yeah, so Dave, the lead singer reached out to me over the first lockdown. We did this little cover together of "Hotline Bling" by Drake just as a bit of fun. We just kind of ended up staying in touch and becoming really good friends and working together and pondering and his record is like--there's a video of me 16 years old singing "Youth" in like the basement of this random youth club. He's been a big inspiration for me ever since I was a bit younger, and so it's wonderful to kind of have him as like a friend and a mentor.

They're great. And you know what, I bet it was this time last year that Glass Animals--they were back on tour after they had taken some time off. I think they were the last in-studio session I did in the building in a studio. They've been to The Current a couple times. They've got a big fan base here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and I love those guys. I think they just have this positivity about them but you can also sense how close of friends they are. That there's clearly a bond. That they're friends. I mean, they're also in a band together. But you can tell that they're all pretty close. Do you ever wish that you kind of had that? Have you ever been in a proper band? Or have you always been doing this on your own?

Yeah, no, I've never really been in a proper band. I mean, I have a bound when I play live when I play on stage and I do love that. The idea of being surrounded by people and having energy to bounce off of when you're on stage. But I think because my music comes from a place of very kind of personal stories and personal healing in terms of the actual writing process, I think it's best when I'm by myself.

Now you've got a song called "Hope." and boy, if there isn't a word that has meant more to me than I think it ever has before. Maybe I'm just appreciating the meaning of the word hope. Can you tell me what that song is all about?

I wrote that song for a friend who was going through a really low period of time, I remember. I wanted to almost make a song that reminded her of that light at the end of the tunnel, that undercurrent of joy, that sense of things getting better in the future, but then also kind of talking about how hard things can be. So having that sense of honesty, but also that sense of hope in the future.

I like that. To be able to recognize when times are hard. Sometimes I get met with maybe a pushback and maybe it's just the nature of where I'm from, and how we're raised. We're kind of raised to tough things out. Anyway, that's how my generation was raised. But I get kind of this pushback sometimes of like, "Well, it can always be worse." It's like, well, I don't want it to be worse, but I just want to, again, using that phrase, sitting with things when they're hard and recognizing that they're hard and admitting that they're hard.

Yeah, definitely, and I think that that's kind of at the core of this album, the idea of sitting with feelings, and not pushing them away, or not be validating yourself by saying it could be worse, because I guess it always could be worse, but acknowledging when you're struggling with something is important, I think, rather than just burying it.

So we're a year into this pandemic, and just hearing you say light at the end of the tunnel--I really do believe that we're going to be on the other side of something soon. When you look into the future, are you starting to think about your live show? Is there anything starting to go on the books for the future? I know that you've done a few virtual shows, but I bet you're just looking forward to being on an actual stage.

Yeah, I mean, that's honestly, that's all I really want. For now it is kind of a waiting game in terms of making plans. But as soon as I am able to travel and all is safe again, that I'm looking to definitely come to the state, hopefully, also Australia and Japan in time.

So you told me you haven't toured the states as an artist. But have you been here? Have you ever been to the US?

I went to LA once when I was 18 and I have a little bit of family, I've got family in New Jersey, in Philadelphia and in Houston, Texas. So I went to visit them when I was very, very young. I must have been ten or so, so I don't really remember. So I haven't properly been I guess.

Yeah. Well, we're looking forward to you especially coming to Minneapolis/St. Paul, I know we're not on the coasts, but you've got a lot of fans here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, a lot of great reaction.Just the anticipation of that record, I could really feel that there was an anticipation for Collapsed In Sunbeams. So I'm just really happy to be able to meet you and introduce you to The Current audience. Again, that light at the tunnel when we're on the other side of this thing, and you can stand on a stage here in the Twin Cities again, we're just looking forward to it.

Yeah, I think it's gonna be probably one of the most incredible shows yet so I'm excited.

Things are gonna feel different. I think we all got a healthy dose of perspective in the last year.

Yeah. Yeah, that's that's that's a good way to put it for sure. Yeah, you're right.

I wanted to mention this on the song "Green Eyes," we also play the artists Clairo I know our song bags quite well. How did you connect with Clairo?

I had met her after her show in Shepherd's Bush in London before the pandemic struck, and I'd always been a massive fan of her work and I wanted her to be part of the record in some capacity. So we kind of worked virtually, she sent me over the harmonies and threw in this little spontaneous guitar part that I thought was really cool. Yeah, she was really inspirational to me also in that thing that we were talking about earlier in terms of creating magic out of just like GarageBand and a computer. I really respect her as an artist.

Yeah, it's great. I think that there's something that, you know, anyone who wants to make music or do something creative to know that, that maybe somebody listening or watching this right now is like, well, I've always wanted to make music, but I don't know how to go about it. But the tools are out there. And thankfully, for the technology, I mean, that's kind of inspiring to know that anybody can give it a go.

Yes, definitely anybody can give it a go. When you think about all your favorite musicians, at some point, they didn't know what they were doing, either. At some point, they were just figuring it out. So I think it's important to bear that in mind. And that, you know, we've got the internet at our fingertips. So anything is possible really.

Yeah, I was kind of laughing to myself the other morning, I was talking about an artist, I keep saying, "Well, here's a song that went viral on TikTok." And I'm like, God, the world has changed so much. It's not a radio hit. But it went viral on Instagram, or TikTok, and it's just recognizing that the world is changing in that way. The game is changing and how people actually listen to their music. For anybody that wants to do it, we're so connected now in this world that it just takes maybe just a few people noticing, and then more and more people noticing. And then one day, you're Arlo Parks, and you're talking to us here on The Current, which is awesome.


Well, it's been great talking with you. We look forward to the day you can be here. I know, it's probably difficult as an artist like, you have this album and I'm sure at some point, you're going to be thinking about moving on from the album or thinking about what you want to create next. I'm sure that it's it's strange to be in this position of kind of having this waiting game of, "When can I play this record for people on the road?"

Yeah, it's definitely strange. But I think that, I mean, A.) I know that when I do get to play their shows, people will have lived with these songs for a while. S o it will make it even more special. And B.) As you say, I'm just kind of thinking about how I'm going to evolve creatively. I'm just spending my time recharging. just creating things for the sake of it, and just seeing where things go.


00:48 Hope
05:42 Hurt
09:00 Green Eyes
All songs appear on Parks' 2020 release Collapsed In Sunbeams.


Host - Jill Riley
Producer - Anna Weggel
Technical Director - Erik Stromstad
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza

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