Even before releasing her latest album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, Hammersmith-based musician, song-writer, and poet Arlo Parks already had critical acclaim and an adoring fan base that found comfort and connection in the ethereal, warming and deeply visceral lyrics behind her songs.
Finding an even larger audience during lockdown, Arlo is a rare celebrity, both in terms of the context of her stardom and in the earnest prophecy and humility of her songwriting. She creates musical scenes with allusions to Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and Radiohead that remaining as wholly original as they are personal. We spoke to Arlo about life right now, the vulnerability of her songwriting and the significance of her album artwork.
Hey, Arlo! How're you? How are you finding life amongst the buzz of your album's release and success and the current corona-shambles?
I've been fortunate enough to exist in a state of relatively sheltered calm - mainly cooking Mediterranean recipes, doing my fair share of the hoovering and reading Joan Didion. It's definitely been surreal to experience my career blossoming in this way, but life hasn't really changed, which I'm actually pretty grateful for.
Your songs are beautiful, to say the least; they're sonic poetry! Your music has a definite diaristic quality; do you feel vulnerable when you release something so personal?
Thank you! I definitely feel vulnerable and exposed - that comes with the territory - but there's a beauty to that. Whenever I have that little niggling fear, I know it's because I've stayed true to my vision of honesty and pure expression - I started music as a form of therapy; it'll always be that way.
Your touch is very present in the music, both emotionally and physically. Within the press and album's artwork itself, your handwriting features heavily – how important to you was this? What is the virtue of it being your hand behind the imagery?
It was very important to me. This record is a part of me; it's an actualisation of my taste - all the little stories, conversations, dreams and pains that make me who I am. I'm a very visual person as well, so it's important that all the colours, textures and imagery reflect what I have in my head.
What is the relationship between the music, the writing and the design?
Honestly? The ideas of instinct and intuition. All of my work operates in this very organic, warm place that just makes complete instinctive sense to me. I'm also very interested in the idea of collaging - everything I make is a collage of different elements of work I love.
How significant is the album artwork to you? What's your relationship to it, and what do you feel when you see it?
It's very important to me - I brought all these little artefacts from my house, including my collection of crystals. I wanted something that bridged the gap between candid and stylised. I feel a quiet sense of achievement when I look at it, and I think of a little 17-year-old me.
The poetry zine you made with the album is as beautiful as your songs – it conveys the same delicacy, personability and biography as the lyrics. Was this fun to make? What is the story behind it?
It was very, very time consuming but also a lot of fun. I've always been obsessed with physical formats of things - hardback books, vinyl, cassettes, polaroids etc. It felt like a nice little idea to be able to read along with the lyrics and have a little photographic diary of my journey so far.
From what I've seen, the music you play is akin to your mood; what relationship does music have with your emotional state and your day-to-day?
I use music to complement my mental state and also to affect it - for example, if I'm low, it's Pink Moon by Nick Drake or No Surprises by Radiohead on repeat, if I'm happy, it's currently that Sister Sledge record. But I play music 100% of my waking hours when I'm not having conversations - it grounds me.
Have you been rinsing one artist, album or song recently? What've you been listening to?
I've been obsessed with the new Perfume Genius record and 070 Shake's record Modus Vivendi - also been listening to a lot of Happyness and Sparklehorse.
What do you want to see more and less of in the music industry?
More diversity, representation, mental health support for artists and kindness. Less greed and less silly beef.
Who should we be listening to right now?
Mid Air Thief, Joesef and that Hope Tala tune, All My Girls Like to Fight".
Finally, what questions do you wish people asked you?
What's my favourite flower! Today it's a nice simple red carnation.