Every artist can remember their first time. For some, it’s ten awkward minutes on stage at school, or in a hastily arranged set in a living room, with only mums and dads in attendance. For Arlo Parks, her very first headline show took place in Berlin, and it was absolutely everything she wanted it to be.
“It was a really special moment. Everyone was so lovely; somebody bought me flowers… It was just perfect,” she enthuses, speaking to us on the phone the morning after. “It felt like such a listening crowd – during the songs, I could see people dancing and having fun, but when I read my poetry, people were completely silent, which was so nice. People were really attentive, and I love that.”
Parks is certainly worth paying attention to. Having wrapped up her A-Levels last year and temporarily shelved her plans to study English Literature in order to focus on music, her steady stream of singles speaks to her enthusiasm for soulful beat poetry and Gen-Z angst, tapping into cool-R&B and bedroom indie along the way. Her 2019 EP ‘Super Sad Generation’ pricked the ears of many an industry expert, landing her spots on a hefty array of ‘Ones To Watch’ lists, not to mention a nod of approval from a personal hero…
“I just saw that Hayley Williams shared my song ‘George’ on her Instagram story – that is absolutely crazy,” she laughs. “To kids my age, she is an actual goddess, so it was so wild to see. Have I reached out? No, I haven’t – I was a bit nervous to. At some point, I’ll pluck up the courage, but like… it’s Paramore! God Status!”
Having grown-up as something of an emo kid (“I loved My Chemical Romance, and Good Charlotte – when you’re young, and you’re feeling a bit confused, having someone shouting about their feelings feels really cathartic”), Parks has grown tired of writers assuming that she’s just another miserable teenager.
“The ‘Super Sad Generation’ thing, I think expect me to just be like ‘there’s no hope’, but nah, that’s not what it means,” she reasons. “There are positives and negatives – as young people, you sometimes feel both helpless and like it’s your responsibility to clear up a mess that already feels so far gone. I think that makes a lot of people feel very anxious and down. But at the same time, I do think there is a lot of hope and vibrancy in our generation, people actively campaigning to instigate positive change.”
Part of that positivity is a determination to use her growing platform for good. “Anything that is to do with LGBTQ+ representation and rights, that something I’m always going to be passionate about,” she explains. “I think it’s quite a recent thing for young artists to be so upfront about their sexuality, but it’s so important for me as a young black queer woman to speak up and be someone that other can see and maybe realise that it’s okay for them to be themselves. I just want to be transparent – I want to able to have poetic and artistic license in my songs, and I don’t want to just spew out every single thought at once, but when I write, I definitely say exactly what I think and feel.”
Reflecting on the whirlwind that her life has become, Parks recognises the power of a good network to keep her grounded. A keen collaborator, her smooth vocal tones can be found on Easy Life’s ‘Sangria’, and old tourmate Loyle Carner pitched in with his brother to direct the music video for ‘Eugene’, a gentle lament to watching the friend you secretly fancy fall in love with somebody else.
“Working with the Coyle-Larner brothers was just the best – to have a director who is a musical artist themselves, it’s a very special thing,” she says. “The crew was quite big and a bit overwhelming, and it was my first time doing any acting, so it was really nice to have that familiar, calming presence. With ‘Sangria’, Murray [Easy Life’s Frontman] just reached out to me over Instagram. We’d been fans of each other, and were going around the same festival circuits but always just missing each other and never meeting. He sent me the demo and asked if I’d like to jump on it, and I just recorded it on my little mic at home. They’re such lovely boys – we got to play it live for BBC Sounds at Maida Vale, and then at the Roundhouse, it was all so nice. Always work with your friends, I’d say!”
With her mates on speed dial and a jam-packed summer schedule mapped out far ahead of her (27 festivals and counting), the little matter of her debut solo album is still niggling in the back of Parks’ head, a single shot that she is determined to get absolutely perfect.
“It’s definitely something I’m taking my time with, hopefully have it finished by the end of the year”, she says. “I’m a proper perfectionist – when I was back in London I was doing sessions every day, and there were some songs coming out of it that I was really proud of.”
“I feel like there’s more variation in vocal delivery – there’s a bit more grit to certain songs in terms of how they sound. I’m delving into a few more different genres that I haven’t explored yet. But it’s all a big secret really…everyone will have to wait and see!”
Taken from the April issue of Dork, out now – order your copy below.
Words: Jenessa Williams