When London-based singer-songwriter, Arlo Parks, first began writing music, she figured no one outside a few friends or her mom would hear it. At one point, though, Parks came across a quote in a book that read, essentially, “You are what you think about all day.” Well, Parks thought, all she thinks about is music and writing and expression, so maybe she should pursue those thoughts in earnest. So, Parks decided to allow herself a “gap year” in 2019 between finishing high school and finding a professional career. In that time, the artist proverbially hit it out of the park with millions of song streams and her gap year has yet to conclude.
In January, Parks released her acclaimed debut LP, Collapsed in Sunbeams, and today the 20-year-old artist is already working on new ideas and compositions for future projects. It’s a stunning output for a mature songwriter and performer poised to bring a great deal more to the world of creativity.
“Just finishing something of that magnitude was a learning process in itself,” says Parks of her latest release. “I learned a lot of patience. I learned a lot more about my process, the idea of inspiring myself.”
Parks says she wrote much of the record during lockdown. Normally, she would find inspiration in conversation with friends and other artists. But during the pandemic, she had to find new ways to spark songs. Since the album’s release, Parks has garnered significant consideration from fans and media outlets. This has caused the young and burgeoning talent to focus also on ways to maintain her authenticity amidst swirling torrents of attention.
“Not relying too much on external validation,” Parks says. “And how to take criticism gracefully. This was the first time I had people reviewing my music; I hadn’t really had that experience before.”
One of the standout tracks on the new LP is the song, “Black Dog,” which, among themes, talks about the idea of mental balance. The idea is one that’s important to Parks, who often tells her listeners or audience to “take care” of their heads. Parks sings about it with her signature lilting, dreamy voice on the single, which has amassed more than half-a-million views on YouTube already.
“I think it’s more important than ever,” Parks says. “Especially when we’re living in a time of no distractions. Usually, we can go out to meet a friend or go to a bar, a party, travel aboard. But now we’re forced to sit with ourselves. Finding more ways to make yourself happy every day is important. I think it’s important for everybody. Everybody has a head to take care of.”
For Parks, music was everywhere while growing up. She remembers hearing “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding at a young age. Her father would often play music in the car and at home. It was part of the family atmosphere, Parks says. Later, her uncle gifted her his record collection and she began to dive in more and more seriously. While her family members weren’t especially creative, they fostered creativity. As she got older, Parks began to meet more people interested in music, writing, fashion and acting. She listened to established musicians like Elliot Smith, Nick Drake and Frank Ocean – artists with “idiosyncratic” voices. This helped her confidence when it came to her own at-times fragile style. More and more music came and she wrote it all down and the songs excelled.
“I think it’s just a question of intuition,” Parks says. “When I feel like I’m going to a deep or unexplored place within myself or creating something I would want to listen to—those are the things I can really trust. You never know what other people will get out of the work.”
Today, Parks says she finds herself more and more interested in the idea of memory. Why isn’t it more reliable? What does she remember from a given experience now with hindsight? How does a smell or a favorite place affect her recollection and, as a result, her songwriting process? In addition, Parks has been listening back to her old songs, re-examining them and feeling again what it was to be in that state of “childlike” or “innocent” creativity back in her mid-teens.
“I wanted the record to be a time capsule, as well,” she says.
Now, with myriad possibilities at her fingertips, Parks says she feels hopeful for the time ahead. She’s an optimist and as she thinks about the future. She wishes that people around the world will feel a deeper, more poignant sense of freedom and a stronger sense of empathy after a tumultuous 2020. For herself, Parks says she hopes for more creativity in her life. She contemplates writing prose or screenplays, acting and touring again with her new songs. While she has many interests, music remains fundamental for Parks. It’s essential.
“You can put on a song and feel nourished, refreshed or transported,” Parks says. “I love the fact of how healing it is.”