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Arlo Parks plays songs from 'My Soft Machine' in The Current studio

Arlo Parks performs three songs from "My Soft Machine" at The Current The Current
  Play Now [16:22]

by Ayisha Jaffer

April 17, 2024

It’s easy to think of Arlo Parks as a musician because she is indeed that, but Parks herself considers it a bit differently. “It's always been storytelling at the heart of what it is that I want to do,” she says. “So I guess I was writing short stories when I was young … and I started falling in love with poetry, and then made my way into songs.”

Parks’ latest album is My Soft Machine, and the London-based artist visited The Current to play songs from the new album and to talk with host Ayisha Jaffer.

The Current
Arlo Parks – interview at The Current with Ayisha Jaffer

Interview Transcript

Ayisha Jaffer: Hey, what's up, I'm Ayisha Jaffer, weekday host here on The Current, and I'm hanging out with Arlo Parks.

Arlo Parks: Hello.

Ayisha Jaffer: Thanks for being here.

Arlo Parks: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Ayisha Jaffer: So you're partway through your tour now, how are you feeling?

Arlo Parks: I feel good. Like I was telling someone earlier, I think this is like the most fun I've ever had on tour.

Ayisha Jaffer: Oh, my gosh!

Arlo Parks: Which feels so good. And like, we've condensed the band down to like the original four. We've played together since I was a teenager, like, from my very first show when I was like, coming from school. And you know, being on the road is, it can be quite complicated, because obviously, it's this moment of like, real community and exchange, but it can be difficult to kind of like, replenish your personal resources and being kind of constantly in motion. But I feel like my band are very much my family at this point. And we go on walks, and we work out together, and we like explore nature and stuff. So it's really, really beautiful.

Ayisha Jaffer: That's a very healthy way to tour, too. And I love you were saying that these are people you've played with since you were a teenager. So family vibes, like you said.

Arlo Parks: Yeah.

Ayisha Jaffer: And you were just announced on Glastonbury.

Arlo Parks: Yes. The lineup is perfect!

Ayisha Jaffer: Yes!

Arlo Parks: I can't wait. I think I'm gonna stay all weekend. But yeah, so amazing artists. I saw James Blake, I saw Orbital, obviously like SZA. And yeah, it's gonna be special. 

Ayisha Jaffer: What makes this, because I saw you say this, this is your favorite festival in the world?

Arlo Parks: Yes, completely. Hands down. The reasons why, I think that there's like such a pure love of music at that festival; like everyone is just like, covered in mud, and just like completely just open to it. Like there's this kind of like feral quality to it, which I really love. And yeah, the lineup is always like such a melting pot of different people. And a lot of artists kind of stay the weekend, and like, we all hang out and just like go and see the music and dance. And it was just like a freedom to it. I love Glastonbury.

Ayisha Jaffer: I like that. I like that. Also, the imagery of the mud. I think when I went, there was like a group of people who chanted "mud people" and like, ran together.

Arlo Parks: Yeah! Yeah, that sounds like Glastonbury, definitely!

Tents are set up as festivalgoers attend the Glastonbury festival near the village of Pilton in Somerset, southwest England, on June 23, 2022.
ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

Ayisha Jaffer: Well, that's gonna be a lot of fun. Well, I want to dive into your story. I want to kind of start from the beginning a little bit and ask you — and I know this is a very broad question, but  — just what, how did you find music? Or how did it find you? And then what was the moment that you decided like this is going to be part of my life forever?

Arlo Parks: Well, I guess my first exposure to music in general was probably through my dad, just like playing a lot of jazz, a lot of like Miles Davis, my mom playing a lot of Prince, a lot of Whitney Houston. My first song I ever remember hearing was "(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, just like in the car on the way to the shops. And we would drive from London all the way to the south of France, which is like an 18-hour drive. And my dad would just like have records playing. And I remember just like, even as a tiny child, just like the way that music would like move things in me and that sense of like this weird, nebulous connection to it. So I was always a music lover, but I think I never really thought about making it until I was kind of like in my early teens, and just falling in love with like bands, like, just watching bands play like watching like Nine Inch Nails, or Radiohead or whatever, being like, "I want to do that." Like I want to kind of have that energy and be on stage and stuff.

Ayisha Jaffer: Do you remember your first concert?

Arlo Parks: It's interesting, because I didn't grow up going to concerts at all. Like my first concert, I think I was like 15. And it was like an artist from London who's still performing called Loyle Carner, who I then supported. But yeah, I didn't really grew up going to concerts, maybe like my friend's older brother's like band in a garage was probably my first show. But yeah.

A man sings onstage at a large music hall
Loyle Carner performing at Royal Albert Hall on October 6, 2023 in London.
Jack Hall/Getty Images


Ayisha Jaffer: That's great, though. But you're talking about, you know, music kind of inspiring, being part of your life. Watching them live. Was it something that you like found on on TV? Or was it ... ?

Arlo Parks: On YouTube! I was, Yeah, I'm like the YouTube generation. Yeah! So so much of it was just like looking up like old '90s performances of like people on the Pyramid Stage and like Nirvana and the Pixies and all of that. So that was my musical and like, performance education was like via the internet. Yeah.

Ayisha Jaffer: That's great. I love that. Well, OK. And I also know poetry is part of your creative life. So what came first for you? Was it poetry or was it music?

Arlo Parks: And you actually published your first book, The Magic Border, which is so exciting!  It was poetry. It has always been writing, I think. It's always been storytelling at the heart of what it is that I want to do. So I guess I was writing short stories when I was young, and then realized that like, my focus was mainly like, imagery and like feeling-based rather than like trying to create plots. So that's when my teacher introduced me to like Sylvia Plath and Alan Ginsberg and all those folks, and I started falling in love with poetry, and then made my way into songs. Yeah, very exciting.

Ayisha Jaffer: So how did, what was that process like for you? How did that come into fruition for you?

Arlo Parks: It was kind of accidental. I just like had written a lot of things down while I was making My Soft Machine, a lot of kind of little pieces and fragments, or maybe stories that I didn't want to condense into a song format, I just wanted to kind of leave as they were. And my best friend, like, took the photos that's in the book. So it was just us two sitting around his kitchen table listening to like Grouper and Gia Margaret and like all this ambient stuff, and just trying to find the like, spiritual twins of the poem and the photo, just going back through his archives, and yeah, so it was kind of accidental. In a nice way, though, I think.

Ayisha Jaffer: The best things happen around a kitchen table, I think. 

Arlo Parks: Always! 

Ayisha Jaffer: All the art happens there. And well, you touched on this, My Soft Machine, of course, your new record is out. And I'm curious, I'm thinking about Collapsed in Sunbeams, your first record, and My Soft Machine. And from an observation, I'm seeing that that first record is more of an external observation. And this one is more of an internalization. If I'm interpreting that right. What made you go inward on this album?

Arlo Parks: Hmm, I guess it was just the way that my life had shifted, where the first record made in the pandemic, kind of trying to mine the world for inspiration and having to kind of go outside of myself in order to find that. And the second record, being very much out in the world, very much perceived and seen and traveling. And my refuge was to kind of journal and be in solitude and reflect. So I think that's what kind of made me contract in that way. But then also listening to records, like listening to more and more records that felt like they came from that perspective, like going back and listening to like [Sufjan Stevens’] Carrie & Lowell and listening to [Nick Drake’s] Pink Moon and listening to [Elliott Smith’s] Either/Or, and like, the fact that those hyper personal records were the ones that really moved me. And spending time with people as well, like spending time with boygenius and all those, you know, the people within that indie sphere who write in that way, too, was really inspiring.

Arlo Parks against a blue backdrop next to a black shadowy square
Arlo Parks, "My Soft Machine"
Transgressive Records

Ayisha Jaffer: There's a lot of growth there, too. And for you personally going from Collapsed in Sunbeams to My Soft Machine, do you feel like there was growth? Like, personally, emotionally, but also in songwriting? And technically?

Arlo Parks: Definitely, definitely. I think for the second record, there was a lot more patience and like spaciousness with the process. Because the first record, every song I just wrote and recorded that day, and never changed. Like I just mixed what was there. And then with the second record, there was that recording process, you know, with "I'm Sorry," it was like, "OK, we need a guitar part," bringing in David Longstreth from Dirty Projectors, because I love the specific time that he has, you know, it was more of like a crafted spacious process. And I think that came with confidence as well. Being like, "OK, I've made a record before," and I didn't have that with the first one.

Ayisha Jaffer: Yeah, and this is a different process, too, because you worked with — let me see if I can get the whole list: Romil. Ariel Rechtshaid.

Arlo Parks: Yeah.

Ayisha Jaffer: Paul Epsworth. Buddy Ross. Carter Lang. And...

Arlo Parks: Yes.

Ayisha Jaffer: Did I miss anyone?

Arlo Parks: Oh, and Baird. My friend Baird, who played guitar on "Devotion" and "Pegasus" and all of those songs. Yeah. 

Ayisha Jaffer: And Baird. So you've worked with all these kind of new people. What was that experience like? I know, it's a big question, it's a lot of different people. But kind of, like you said, with patience and piecing things together, what was it like to work with new people?

Arlo Parks: It was amazing. It was challenging. Like, I love the fact that they would sometimes challenge me, because I think I'm very like, confident and tunnel vision when it comes to my work. But sometimes it's like, "But what if we actually like, slowed down and tried this?" and maybe it will make me grumble a bit at the beginning, and then I'd be like, actually, that's kind of yielded like some of the best work and something that I could never have conceptualized, so kind of took me out of myself. But then also held me in those risk-taking moments, like "Devotion," for example, where I was like, we were listening to "17 Days" by Prince, and then we were listening to like, Mellon Collie [and the Infinite Sadness], the Smashing Pumpkins' record. And I was like, "I want to create something that has that drama and that has that like, kind of frenetic guitar energy," like, I want to play guitar. And I was a bit scared about it. And then Romil, and they were like, "Why not? Like, "Nothing is holding you back. You know, you're like, 21, like, no one has any expectations." So I think that's why collaborating was beautiful, because it was challenging me, but also supporting me on those decisions that I wasn't super sure about, you know?

Ayisha Jaffer: Was there like a one-liner lesson that you learned from any of them that you're gonna hold into the next record?

Arlo Parks: Hmm, that's interesting. ... Hmm. One line.

Ayisha Jaffer: It doesn't have to be one line. I shouldn't restrict it!

Arlo Parks: I guess I'm thinking about the like, yeah. I guess just trust, like, just trust yourself. Like in those moments where your gut is saying something, then just like ignoring those other voices that's like, "Oh, this is too different," or "People won't expect this" or like, "Maybe this is too far out." Or like, you know, just like trusting that center that tells you like, "This is what you need to do."

Ayisha Jaffer: Yeah, I like that. I think a lot of times artists go, "Oh well, they're expecting this sound so I'm going to create this sound." But I think more and more, like, you see artists evolve, and you're learning new things and trying new things, which clearly has happened on this new record and everybody loves it.

Arlo Parks: It's shapeshifting, you know? And when you think about, at least for me, personally, the artists that I love, I was listening to this podcast that Bjork has called Sonic Symbolism. And just like the way that she moves through those eras, and she's like, the only glue for all of this is a love of music. And that's why I can move in these different spaces. Same with like a Radiohead, or, you know, even like St. Vincent, for example. I love people with that trajectory.

Ayisha Jaffer: Yeah, the reinvention but like still at the core, it's still you and your perspective and what you're bringing to it is still very unique. That's really cool. I like trust; trust is a good one. And the confidence it sounds like in there too. One of the things I really love about this album, or learning about this album, is there is nature intertwined in it. So you went out and captured some sounds. So I'm wondering where you went and and how nature is now sort of fit into your process just overall as a person, but also creatively?

Arlo Parks: Yeah. So — I don't know why that came out as like a cough and exclamation at once! — but yeah, so the collection of the Foley and the sounds kind of actually started because I was doing this podcast, with [BBC Radio] 6 Music in the U.K., and I wanted to have these little soundscapes in between. So I would record like the stream in like my partner's garden, or like the sound of footsteps or whatever. And then as I started going into nature more, I like took my little zoom recorder and like when I went up to Big Bear when I went up to like Sequoia National Park, or to Joshua Tree, or even when I was traveling around the world, and I went out to like the valleys outside of Tokyo, and when I was in Seoul, you know, I was just always recording. And I think what I enjoyed about it was just like, yeah, it kind of was like the texture that was the soundtrack to my solitude and me getting more comfortable with being by myself. And just walking a lot more and having that be like a kind of active form of meditation. And just being in the ocean more, or just like feeling small more, that I think that really helped my process definitely.

Ayisha Jaffer: So is space part of your nature too? Because then that feeling of feeling small. 

Arlo Parks: Yeah.

Ayisha Jaffer: I love that. It's really important to feel that. And there's some solace in that as well.

Arlo Parks: Yeah, I agree.

Ayisha Jaffer: So one of the songs that you just performed in your session and we're playing here on the station is "Weightless." And I love this one because there's a lot of, it feels like there's a lot of self awareness, there's a lot of relatability. It also comes with an amazing music video. I'm wondering about this song. Why was this one of the singles for you? Why did you feel like this was that for you?

Arlo Parks: Yeah, I think there was something like quite... even sonically, like something just like quite muscular and driving and assertive in a way that I think people maybe would have expected. Like, I wanted the first step to feel like an emphatic kind of just asserting that this was a new like era in a way, I guess. And also the vulnerability, I think, in that song, where it's just like needing someone and staying tethered to them, staying attached, hoping for it to be as good as it was in the beginning, hoping for change, needing that person's validation, needing to be witnessed by that person. Like, I think there was something quite vulnerable about it that people could relate to. And it's also one of the first songs that I made that I think made me feel confident in the next direction of the record, it was like one of the first songs I made for this album.

Ayisha Jaffer: I love that. I feel like the record, I feel like this album is very cinematic, like you kind of have these mini movies in your songs, they're very detailed and beautiful. And the music video going along with it was really, really wonderful. Did you pick the horse?

Arlo Parks: No! I did't get to pick the horse! I wish, I wish, I wish! Yeah, yeah, that was, that was an awesome one.

Ayisha Jaffer: Well, so creatively, you're a creative force. I know, so poetry, music, is there something else that you're hoping to do or are doing or anything you can talk about that you're working on?

Arlo Parks: I can only speak in abstractions. 

Ayisha Jaffer: Yes, sure!

Arlo Parks: No. But I mean, something that I've always loved is film. I would love to do something in the film world, whether that be like writing a script or acting in something, or like curating a soundtrack in some sense. I love fashion and design, I want to, like, make furniture and stuff. And also, I'm doing more stuff in the kind of charity space as well, which is cool, doing a lot more stuff with UNICEF. I just want to do a little bit of everything in my lifetime. I love that. You have a lot of time.  Yeah, I do, I guess.

Ayisha Jaffer: Well, you touched on the next thing I did want to talk about because I think this is so important: So one thing I really admire about you and any artist who does this is using your platform for good. I think it's so important to use that power for good, right? And like you said, you're you're part of UNICEF, but also calm. And I just wanted to give some space to anything that you're advocating for or working on within these organizations or other organizations that you might be a part of.

Arlo Parks: Yeah, definitely. So especially with UNICEF right now, I've been doing a mixture of things, but my favorite projects that I've had recently have been like throwing these like poetry workshops with kids, and kind of facilitating, like, the inclusion of like art as a form to kind of better kids' mental health and just kind of allow them that expansion. And I'm also thinking, I'm not exactly sure when in the year, but I'm going to do like a trip out to somewhere in Africa to be able to kind of speak to kids there and like, hopefully, I guess, highlight the importance of like art and education. And also, there's like, immunization and more like practical things like that, but just being able to use my voice, rather than, you know, come in and like assert myself and you know, suggest that I know best, more like, you know, listening, just sitting with these kids and like learning about what they love and hopefully making more space for joy in their lives.

Ayisha Jaffer: That's beautiful. I really love that. One other thing I totally, I wasn't gonna ask, now I'm gonna ask this: Jai Paul, you covered his song "Jasmine." 

Arlo Parks: Yeah.

Ayisha Jaffer: So I'm just wondering, has he tapped you yet and been like, "Hey, Arlo, I hear you."

Arlo Parks: Yeah, he sent me the stems. 

Ayisha Jaffer: Oh, he sent you the stems! OK, OK, great! OK, because I was like, I was loving that mutual connection, maybe there's a future.

Arlo Parks: Yeah. I mean, he's the one. Like, when I saw the first show, because I saw the Coachella show, his like, first one. And it was just like, I feel like a specific, I think, like, pocket of people, that record was just everything.

Ayisha Jaffer: Yes.

Arlo Parks: And hearing like "BTSTU" live, and also that like meta thing of like, "I know I've been gone a long time; I'm back and I want what is mine," and he's just 10 years later, is just there. Oh, it was everything; so good.

A man sings into a microphone onstage at a music festival
Musician Jai Paul performs onstage during day 2 of 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 22, 2023 in Indio, California.
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Ayisha Jaffer: I love that. I just had to ask. Well, before I let you go, is there anything else you would like our listeners to know?

Arlo Parks: Um, no, I don't think so.

Ayisha Jaffer: It's a very broad question.

Arlo Parks: I think so. Yeah. Just thanks, thanks for having me. Thanks for listening, always.

Ayisha Jaffer: Well, Arlo Parks, thanks for being here at The Current. My Soft Machine is out now.

Arlo Parks: Thank you.

Video Segments

00:00:00 Weightless
00:03:24 Eugene
00:07:06 Pegasus

All songs from Arlo Parks’ 2023 album, My Soft Machine, available on Transgressive Records. 


Arlo Parks – vocals
Daniele Diodato – guitar


Guest – Arlo Parks
Host – Ayisha Jaffer
Producer – Derrick Stevens
Video – Aaron Ankrum
Audio – Derrick Ramirez
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Arlo Parks – official site