The Best of 2021: Arlo Parks: “No part of me thought that any of it would happen”

At the start of the year, we were pretty sure Arlo Parks would ‘do quite well’, but what followed was positively interstellar.

At the start of the year, we were pretty sure Arlo Parks would ‘do quite well’, but what followed was positively interstellar. Awards, universal acclaim and runaway success, we gave one of 2021’s breakout stars a call in the middle of her North American tour to catch up on a truly extraordinary twelve months. 

Words: Jasleen Dhindsa.  Photos: Alexandra Waespi.

If 2021’s achievements are anything to go by, Arlo Parks is an artist that needs no introduction. But we’ll do one anyway. The West London born and bred singer-slash-songwriter has had a year that would make even the most legendary artists envious. Releasing her debut album ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ back in January, the record went on to receive critical acclaim across the board, bagging a Breakthrough Artist gong at the BRITs (as well as nominations for British Female Solo Artist and British Album) and the coveted Mercury Prize (don’t forget that £25k cash prize, too).

When we chat with Arlo, she’s in the midst of an extensive US tour. You can almost feel her beaming through the other end of the line. “It’s my first touring experience in North America. It’s definitely been an adventure. I’ve enjoyed taking in a bunch of nature as we’ve travelled around, like finding parks and forests and spaces to be away from the cities. I had my first time in New York, which was a pretty transformative experience. I walked for 30 or 40 kilometres in one day, just taking it all in. And visiting Electric Lady [Studios, in ​​New York City] and taking in the music along the way has been incredible, like going to little jam nights or jazz clubs as we go. Seeing how cultures change as you cross into different states and cities.”

“You can’t really picture New York until you actually get there,” she continues. “I think in my head, I was like, I live in a city, I don’t know how much more intense it can get. But then you go to Manhattan, and it’s literally just skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. Things happening on every single street corner. So many people and so much energy. It’s unlike any other city I’ve been to.”

“With the Mercury Prize and the BRITs, it felt like being accepted as I am”

Arlo Parks

“It’s definitely been a multitude of different emotions,” Arlo muses when reflecting on the colossal year she’s had. “There’s a sense of gratitude, of course, because with the Mercury Prize and the BRITs, it felt like being accepted as I am. For making the music that I wanted to make and encouraging me to be myself. I think a lot of people often ask me how I feel. I’m just quietly happy and very aware that this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. Also trying to stay grounded and make sure that I’m working hard and focusing on making music because that’s what it’s all about.”

And that’s undeniably true. Arlo’s achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the release of her debut album earlier this year. Critics (hi! – us) praised it as a raw yet comforting insight into the complexities of Gen Z life, covering topics from depression to sexuality. The soundscape Arlo provides is a warm concoction of R&B, neo-soul and bedroom pop, laced together with the sensibilities of hip-hop and jazz. The album is poignantly personal to her own experiences but also painstakingly relatable, whatever your age.

“It’s interesting because I was making the record during the pandemic in this very insular, inward-looking time. I was in a flat very much in my head and my stories, and it’s opened it out a bit more. People are even coming up to me after shows and telling me what the songs mean to them. Sometimes it’s things that I didn’t even think about. Speaking to me about their personal experiences and how closely they aligned with the songs. It’s allowed me to let the songs go a little bit, allow them to be nebulous and have a million different meanings. It’s been really lovely, to be honest. Even the more quiet and sadder songs have taken on this sense of energy and hope to them. Having hundreds of people singing the words back to you makes it this joyful experience, even if you’re talking about something quite difficult.”

Known for her humble disposition, Arlo didn’t preempt any of the success she’s had in 2021. “I didn’t go into the record-making process with any external goals or things that I really thought were going to happen. Of course, there are hopes and dreams, but when it came to the BRITS or the Mercury Prize or announcing the Billie Eilish thing [Arlo is supporting Billie on one of her three nights at The O2 in June] and all these different amazing things that have happened, I didn’t expect any of it. No part of me thought that any of it would happen. So I’m definitely going into most of these situations very wide-eyed and like, wow.”

Aside from the universally acknowledged achievements, she appreciates the small victories just as much. “I taught myself to DJ during lockdown. That was really fun, literally just in my bedroom. I was given this deck, and I DJed a lot of techno and house, which is cool. I did my first few auditions for acting, which was always a private dream of mine. So that felt really fun.”

“I did my first few auditions for acting, which was always a private dream of mine. So that felt really fun”

Arlo Parks

“There have been a lot of little moments, even getting time to paint and spending time in Mexico for the first time. Learning to cook different dishes. To be honest, it’s been those little things that I have cherished a lot, things within my personal life that have made me smile and brought me little specific kinds of joy.”

With the success she’s had in 2021, the world really is her oyster. Is she the sort of person who makes new year’s resolutions? “I kind of do.” She says. “What I do is I’ll always write myself a letter – things that I hope for or where I’m at now. Then I’ll open it and reflect on that next year. But I don’t make the set in stone [ones]. Usually, it’s just drinking more water [and] getting to sleep before 3am,” she laughs.

What was in 2021’s letter to herself? “The main one was getting to a place where music was solidly my career. Where it was something that I felt I could do for the rest of my life because it’s a career with ebbs and flows, and very few people get to do it full time. I wanted to be at a point in my life where I could have that for myself. I wanted to get a dog. That was the big one that I wanted. I wanted to move into my own place, which I did. A lot of it was also being more mindful about doing little things each day that were away from music. So whether that was catching up with a friend, or going to my dad’s garden, or taking a second to read or meditate. I think it was about finding little pockets of peace rather than going a million miles an hour. I didn’t really do that, but I think next year, I can put that in place a little bit more.”

“Next year, I want to collaborate a lot more,” she reflects. “That’s something that I obviously wasn’t able to do as much during the pandemic, but spending time with other musicians will be really special. I want to tour Asia. That’s been one of my dreams for a long time. I’d love to pursue other sides of my creative interests. So as I said, acting, screenwriting, maybe working on my book of poetry. There are lots of different things. I’d like to get better at painting, and maybe pottery as well. I want to focus on creating a sense of presence. When incredible things happen, actually taking a second to emphatically take it in. It can be difficult when things are moving quite quickly, but getting back into journaling, getting back into sitting in the present moment.”

Whatever she gets to do, it’s hard to argue she’s earned it. After a stellar 2021, Arlo can make her own resolutions now.

Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 edition of Dork, out now.

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