Arlo Parks’ soulful brand of indie pop plumbs emotional depths with striking sensitivity and detail. Stringing together poetic lyricism, mellow vocals, and shuffling beats, the South London-based artist makes deeply empathetic music that bridges the confessional with the universal, speaking to an entire generation of youth with its intimate portrayals of mental illness and complex relationships. The singer-songwriter first started making waves last year with her Super Sad Generation EP, capturing a kind of generational malaise: “When did we get so skinny?/Start doing ketamine on weekends/Getting wasted at the station/And trying to keep our friends from death,” she laments on the stirring title track. But the rest of the songs on the project also showcased a particular knack for painting beautifully nuanced interpersonal scenes, a skill she developed further on her second EP, Sophie. So far in 2020, she’s released a series of incredibly successful singles – ‘Black Dog’, ‘Eugene’, and ‘Hurt’ – became an ambassador for the suicide prevention charity CALM, and joined Phoebe Bridgers for a haunting rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’. Rather than resting on the melancholy mood her music might have initially been associated with, her latest releases radiate hopefulness and compassion without minimizing others’ experience: “Just know it won’t hurt so/ Won’t hurt so much forever,” she reaffirms on ‘Hurt’. It’s the kind of statement the world needs right now; and with a debut album on the way, it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing more from this emerging artist very soon.
We caught up with Arlo Parks for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
Do you remember the first song you wrote? What was it about?
I don’t remember what the song was called but I remember it being a quite angsty, emotional song about someone I had a crush on. I was listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and King Krule at the time, so it was written on the guitar with a few simple chords, I’m sure I’ve got the voice note somewhere.
You’ve described yourself as an empath. How does that side of your personality factor in to your songwriting process?
It’s crucial to the way I both create and consume art. It allows me to tell the stories of people around me, it means that I feel a lot at once and influences the sensitive side of my music heavily. Everything I write is an exercise in empathy.
Your songs often reflect the issues affecting young people, especially when it comes to mental health. Has the response your music has gotten inspired you to approach those issues from a different angle in any way?
I think it’s encouraged me to keep being vulnerable, keep talking about difficult feelings – it’s made the desire to help others overshadow the fear of feeling exposed.
Are there any songs or albums that you’ve found yourself clinging to over the past few months?
I’ve been clinging onto familiar albums: In Rainbows by Radiohead, Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, Mama’s Gun by Erykah Badu and the song ‘You’re So Precious’ by James Blake has been on repeat.
What was the inspiration for your latest single, ‘Hurt’?
I was inspired by Just Kids by Patti Smith, Inflo’s production and Wes Anderson movies. I wanted the song to feel like you were watching a surreal film unfold – like you were looking down the lens of a camera. My aim was to make something uplifting.
How is the writing for your debut album going?
It’s officially all done!
What are you most excited for in the near future?
Putting my record out, finishing a poetry collection and playing gigs again finally.
‘Hurt’ is out now via Transgressive.