POETIC PARKS words Amy MacKenzie - photography Filipe Phitzgerard - fashion Maisie Daniels - MUA Emilie Louizides
We caught up with Arlo Parks days after she finished her A-Levels and days before she headed off to play at Glastonbury. We spent a memorable afternoon with her during which she gave us her own unique take and enlightening insight into how she handles living in our modern society.
She takes inspiration from everything around her, her confessional lyricism is engaging and thought provoking. She seems naturally adept at expressing the issues that affect Gen Z, and acting as a spokesperson for her era. With a growing fan base that already includes Lily Allen and Jodie Comer, she is definitely one to watch, a star in the making.
Amy MacKenzie: So, how are you?
Arlo Parks: I’m good thank you, how are you?
A.M: Yeah, I’m good too! So where did you grow up and what was your family like?
A.P: I grew up in South West/West London, near Hammersmith. I’ve got one little brother and my parents and we’ve stayed in the same house all my life. Yeah, it’s quite a chilled neighbourhood, really residential, not that much going on there but I enjoyed growing up there.
A.M: Cool, so how did you get into music in the first place?
A.P: When I was younger, my Dad would play a lot of jazz records so that kind of sparked my love of music, I guess. Then I picked up the piano when I was really young and then the guitar so I was making acoustic songs by myself in my bedroom when I was about 13 or 14. Then I just kept doing that, got into my own production a little bit and it all just went from there.
A.M: Did your dad play any instruments?
A.P: No, not really. None of my family members play any instruments so I was the one who was like ‘I wanna play guitar and be cool’. [laughs]
A.M: Wow! I think you have a really unique style, but how would you describe your sound?
A.P: Ooh, that’s an interesting one. I don’t know, it’s a mix of a lot of different things. I feel like I have quite an eclectic taste in music. There’s a bit of R&B/Soul influences, a lot of guitar stuff because that’s what I listened to growing up. I had my emo phase [laughs]. I had those phases listening to a lot of singer-songwriter stuff. I don’t know, it’s quite confessional music that sonically changes quite a lot because I am still finding my sound.
A.M: You’ve talked about being inspired by art as a whole, not just music alone; can you talk a little bit more about these influences and what they mean to you?
A.P: I’m into visual art. I’m really into Basquiat’s work, it’s quite crazy but I remember going to an exhibition at The Barbican and I think when I write songs I try and create a visual picture so visual art is really my thing. Film as well, I think I pull inspiration from a lot of different mediums because I just enjoy art as a whole. It sounds so cheesy but I watch a lot of films, read a lot of books, literature is one of my big influences and poetry as well, so all sorts really.
A.M: And who are some musicians who have inspired you?
A.P: Well there’s so many. I’m really into Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, like funk. More recently, people like Phoebe Bridgers, Elliott Smith, Otis Reading, all sorts. My playlist is a mess, there will be like Death Grips and then there will be an Elliott Smith song and you’re like ‘what?!’ [laughs] but yeah just a bunch of different stuff.
Arlo wears roll neck MAISON KITSUNE; shirt WEEKDAY; bag EASTPAK; sunglasses ACE&TATE
A.M: You just talked about the importance of imagery; I think you create really strong images through your lyrics. So, what inspires you lyrically and does the music or lyrics come first?
A.P: Thank you. Lyrically I mainly write what I’ve lived and what the people around me have lived, their stories and personal experiences. Definitely for me lyrics come first because at heart I feel like poetry is my thing. When I’m writing a song, the lyrics will inspire the music and that’s what I prioritise when I write.
A.M: That’s cool. Let’s talk a little bit about ‘Super Sad Generation’ which is the first song I heard of yours. Why do you describe your generation as being “super sad”?
A.P: I mean I feel like there’s a lot of pressures with social media and I feel like in terms of mental health there seems to be this epidemic. People around me, there’s a lot of people that struggle and I just wanted to encapsulate that sentiment. I feel like even though a lot of us are sad there’s a lot of hope and vibrancy and I wanted to focus on that side of things because it’s not always talked about.
A.M: So, can you talk about the first verse in particular and where that came from? I feel like it starts the song off in a really strong way and gives a really clear vision of the way the song is going to go.
A.P: I feel like that was mainly based on my friendship group and the people around me. Where I grew up and the people I was around, there was a lot of drug use and eating disorders and depression and stuff and even though it was quite a dark way to start the song I really wanted to make people a little uncomfortable and be like ‘oh shit, these are things that are really happening’. I wanted it to start off a bit punchy but yeah, it’s just personal experiences and people around me.
A.M: Yeah. You mentioned social media a little bit before, what’s your relationship like with it and has it changed over time as you’ve grown up?
A.P: I think I’ve come to like it less. I feel like it eats away at a lot of my time, it’s kind of a double edged sword so on one side you can connect with people from around the world and you can really see inspiring stuff but on the other side there’s a lot of pressure, for example, Instagram, people display their most perfect self and it’s not really real and can give you false expectations. So, when I was younger, I was really into it and I thought it was so cool but as I’ve got older I feel like its disillusioned.
A.M: It’s just faded.
A.P: Yeah exactly!
A.M: I think the importance of it has faded as well, everyone at school was so into it and now people are taking social media breaks and stuff.
A.P: Yeah and I think that’s so healthy. People are learning to take a break from it and not be so obsessed 24/7. It’s still kind of a bit of an issue but I think it is getting better.
A.M: Yeah, I think people are coming round to the idea of it and becoming better and knowing their own limits on it.
A.P: Yes, definitely.
Arlo wears shirt ULLAC
A.M: So, your latest release ‘George’ – what is this about?
A.P: So basically, it was inspired by Lord Byron, he’s a romantic poet around 19th Century time. He was a massive narcissist; a heart-breaker type and I was kind of drawn to and disgusted by it. He would sleep with loads of women and just throw them away and I basically imagined a trail of destruction that he left behind him whilst being oblivious to causing any damage. So, I took that idea and made it into a tune.
A.M: Wow, that’s so interesting, I was not expecting that! Which lyric of yours still feels most relevant to you?
A.P: Ooh, is it my favourite or the one that resonates with me? I feel like in ‘Super Sad Generation’ when I’m like “everything will sort itself when I get to LA” - that lyric, it sounds so cocky to say it’s stuck with me, but I was super proud of it. I feel like it encapsulates me because my dream is to make it in music and I feel like LA really encapsulates that, but at the same time, that’s not all there is to life. I still feel like I have that feeling. Maybe I will feel happier when I make it, I don’t know, it’s complicated. That’s a good question, I like that question.
A.M: [Laughs] Thanks! So you recently signed to Transgressive Records.
A.M: Why did you decide to go down the independent label route?
A.P: I just feel like it fitted in with my ethos as a person, like the kind of person I am. I want to have creative control and work with a tight-knit family that are backing me and there’s a personal aspect to it. Ever since I knew what being an independent artist was, that’s what I wanted and they fitted in with my vision and they are really supportive so it just made sense.
A.M: Cool. You have received praise from Lily Allen and Jodie Comer, amongst others, how does it feel to have recognition from such stand-out artists, actors and people in the creative world?
A.P: It’s really weird actually. For a long time, I was just making stuff in my bedroom getting like 50 plays and nobody knew what I was doing apart from my best friends! So, it’s weird that there’s people that I have looked up to, or people that I know of, know me back and I’m like ‘what?’ [laughs] but yeah, it’s been amazing!
A.M: So, what’s next? What have you get planned for the rest of the year?
A.P: We’ve got Glastonbury, lots of festivals. Then I’m going on tour with Jordan Rakei in September/October time and then just working on the record next year. I will probably drop an E.P around Autumn and we will just see where it goes.
A.M: Cool, I’m looking forward to it. I saw you a few weeks ago at the BBC Introducing at The Lexington and I didn’t realise until today that that was only your second show.
Arlo wears roll neck MAISON KITSUNE; t-shirt TONY HAWK; hat WOOD WOOD; earring ARTIST'S OWN
A.M: I was going to ask about highlights of shows you’ve played because you just seemed so at ease, but what was it like to face a whole room of people like that then, because it was totally packed?
A.P: It is a bit terrifying. But at the same time, I feel like playing live is where I feel most free and most connected to people. I enjoy it so much!
A.M: You could really tell that, it was so infectious in the room, as cheesy as that sounds.
A.P: Yeah, because I was so excited to be there and I feel like the live side of things is my favourite side because you can really connect with people and people come up to you after and you can have a chat and you can do weird stuff and it’s all part of it, you know what I mean? Yeah, it was fun, it was scary, but it was fun!
A.M: I would not have guessed that that was your second show, I was like ‘she’s so used to it’!
A.P: [Laughs] Thank you! I don’t know, I’m not used to it at all!
A.M: So, what’s a dream venue for you to play?
A.P: Ooh! That’s a tough one. I would say maybe KOKO.
A.M: I love KOKO!
A.P: It’s sick!
A.M: I was on the bus going past it the other day and there was all this scaffolding up and I panicked that it was shutting down and I didn’t even know!
A.P: [Laughs] I know I know! Yeah, it’s coming back I think in a few months, don’t worry! But yeah that’s definitely the dream one.
A.M: And what’s a dream collaboration?
A.P: Ooh, that is an interesting one. Maybe something with Syd from The Internet, or with The Internet in general, maybe Steve Lacy. I really love what they’re doing at the moment. I have so many but I will go with that one for the moment.
Arlo wears roll neck MAISON KITSUNE; shirt WEEKDAY; trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS; bag EASTPAK; sunglasses ACE&TATE; shoes CONVERSE
A.M: Yeah, that would be cool! So, what are some of the struggles of being a youth today?
A.P: I feel like especially in England, you have to make decisions about your future so early. Exam pressure is a big one because we are doing exams since we are 11 years old and there’s a lot of pressure there. But at the same time, I feel like we are lucky now that we have the internet and YouTube, you can learn skills online and do things for free so at the same time it balances it out. There’s a lot of pressure but at the same time it feels like you can express yourself creatively and connect with so many people as a young person today, way more than you could in the past.
A.M: Yeah, and what would you say some of the best things are?
A.P: Hmm, about being young…
A.M: I guess it is hard now because you don’t have the perspective.
A.P: Yeah, exactly. I feel for me I have my whole life ahead of me. There are a lot of different things that I could do and I still have the freedom. I am still young so I’m living with my parents and I have the freedom to take whichever path I choose. I have really supportive parents so not everyone could do that, but I still have a lot of time to decide what I want to do.
A.M: And what is the biggest change that you’d like to see in the world?
A.M: That’s such a huge question, I’m so sorry [laughs]
A.P: [Laughs] That’s huge, man! It changes every day, there’s so many things!
A.M: Let’s just take the one for today?
A.P: I feel like, the one I would pick for today, is for more LGBTQ+ in other parts of the world that aren’t as fortunate as we are. There’s a lot of progress here in the West but in other places there are still people getting killed and I feel like that is something I really want to change. We are getting there but there is still a long way to go.
A.M: Very much a work in progress.
Arlo wears jacket LEE; shirt SCOTCH & SODA; t-shirt LES BASICS
A.M: And finally, what is your favourite F Word?
A.P: [Laughs] Hmm, food!
A.M: Love that!
A.P: Yeah, man!
A.M: Well, thank you very much!
A.P: Thank you, that was fun!
Words: Amy MacKenzie
Photography: Filipe Phitzgerard
Fashion: Maisie Daniels
MUA: Emilie Louizides