Arlo Parks started the year by releasing her critically-acclaimed debut album ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’, and she’s now ending 2021 with an array of awards – including the Mercury Prize and Best New Artist at the BRITs – lined up on her mantelpiece.
Despite these massive achievements, the 21-year-old’s overall goal hasn’t wavered: to be a full-time creative person every day for the rest of her life. Determined to grab any and every once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes her way, Parks says she only manages to “deal with the aftershock” of accolades or huge performances in the relatively little downtime she can find in her otherwise packed schedule.
However, with live gigs across Europe scheduled right up until September 2022, as well as some exciting projects that are already underway, Parks may not get that much more downtime any time soon. Although she says she has an urge to do “human stuff” – like get her driving licence, see her friends and sleep more – her genuine passion for music, and that little residue of disbelief that this is all really happening, is giving her the confidence and eagerness to continue into 2022. This time next year, Parks says, “I’d like to just still be really enjoying what I do, because I’m so happy right now”.
Ahead of her double bill of sold-out shows at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London last month, NME caught up with the breakout star for the latest instalment of our In Conversation series. Here’s what we learned.
People knowing the words to Parks’ songs still seems weird to her
Despite playing shows across the world – including a 24-date North American tour – Parks still says that “having people literally shouting every single word” to her songs is indescribable. Having previously only visited LA in the US, Parks said it was “incredible being welcomed by crowds of hundreds of people so far from home”, especially in New York, a place Parks had always wanted to visit.
A particularly poignant show took place in Texas. “These are songs that I’ve written, and they’re really personal stories and songs that I’ve sung quite a lot of times,” she says. “But I think at that particular show I just felt held and supported, through especially the difficult sentiments. Some of the sad songs actually had this kind of residue of joy on them afterwards because I was like, ‘Wow, this is something that I can sing with people. People are understanding me and approaching me gently and share the same feeling, so I felt less alone’.”
She adds: “It’s still quite weird to me, because I wrote the record in a flat in east London. And to then be having people in Arizona knowing every single word? I guess it reminds me of the power of music and the fact that it is this tool to build communities and that sense of togetherness. But it’s still really surreal.”
The way Parks makes music hasn’t changed
Winning the Mercury Prize and a BRIT Award in 2021 felt extra-special, Parks says, because she “never compromises” on her music. “It was music […] about me and my stories, and being given prizes for a body of work like that just reinforces the fact that I am enough. People enjoy me as I am and my work as it is.”
Parks has come a long way since writing her first song for a homework project when she was 13 (“it was on my acoustic guitar, probably something Fall Out Boy-themed. How embarrassing!”), but her music-making methods haven’t changed much since. “My sonic palettes and tastes have definitely expanded, and the kind of music that I want to make has changed. But I think internally, the way that I write my lyrics, the way that I put songs together, is still that very personal, intimate, intentional way of doing things.”
Music legends are queuing up to praise her work
Today’s musical icons have lavished praise on Parks this year: there was a congratulatory tweet from Taylor Swift praising her “stunning” album back in September, while Billie Eilish has invited Parks to support her at The O2 in London next year. Parks also recently covered Patti Smith’s ‘Redondo Beach’, which led to the punk poet laureate reaching out to say how much she enjoyed it (“she’s a legend, that was incredible,” Parks says). On the day of her NME interview, burning bright in Parks’ hotel room is a candle that was gifted to her by Florence Welch.
“I think being able to receive that kind of feedback from people whose music has impacted you when you were a kid – like having the person who was on your little iPod Nano when you were 13 say ‘I love your music’ – is just… my brain exploded.”
Parks will continue to speak out about better mental health support for artists in the industry
Parks has previously spoken about the importance of progressive mental health help, both through her music and directly. She’s also been a part of mental health campaigns with UNICEF, and became an ambassador for the charity CALM in 2020 to further help campaign for accessible mental health support.
“When it comes to accessing help in general, I feel like it’s not seen as something that is accessible to everyone: it’s seen as something that’s either expensive, or that has very long waiting lists,” Parks says. “And I would like to see a world where everyone can have access to therapy if they need it. It should not be something that is exclusive to people who are wealthy.”
Parks also told NME about the mental health challenges that particularly face musicians. “When it comes to becoming public-facing and the feelings that come with that, I feel that musicians go through a lot when it comes to that adjustment. [Musicians] are also generally quite sensitive people, having to mine those parts of yourself that are so deep and often difficult. That’s why I’d like to see more support specifically for artists in the industry. I have a real sense of purpose when it comes to that kind of thing, because I feel when you have a platform you have a voice and you have the means to actually enact change.”
Parks has been working on some secret collaborations
This time last year, just ahead of the release of ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’, Parks described how nervousness and introversion were her main feelings (“I was very much staying inside my own head”). Looking to the future, Parks now has a big goal for this time next year: “I’d like to collaborate more: I’d like to have made music with people that I really look up to”.
Parks has already done a fair few collaborations, having teamed up with Phoebe Bridgers for a Radiohead cover and worked with Glass Animals on a collaborative version of their song ‘Tangerine’. But, it turns out, there’s more to come.
“I’ve done some secret ones that are yet to be revealed” Parks teases. “It’s something that I definitely want to delve into in the future, because it’s so wonderful to just experience how someone else works and to have two worlds colliding. When you think about Rosalía and Billie [Eilish], or you think about Toro y Moi and Flume, these kind of power duos where worlds crash together and it creates something really new and exciting. I think it definitely allows you to be more open and fluid about how you go about making music, and it just allows you to learn”.