Arlo Parks — Ray of Light

Toby Coulson
Grace Joel
Jessica Gianelli

Calm, clever and consciously collected – Arlo Parks is simply doing what she knows best – expressing her feelings through stanzas and rhythms, with the intertwined hopes of creating ‘something that feels like a positive force in the world.’ For her recently released debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, the  singer song writer looked to writing as an antidote to the chaos brought by 2020, hoping that the comfort that creating melodies brought to her could be extended to the rest of the world, too.

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Jessica Gianelli: How does it feel to be Arlo at this very moment in time?
Arlo Parks: I feel quite peaceful, actually. I’ve been writing a lot, meditating. I’ve been reading this book [called Bluets] by Maggie Nelson that always makes me feel very grounded. I feel peaceful and optimistic for the future.
JG: What are you looking forward to right now?
AP: Being in the world again, in a meaningful and more free way. Being able to play shows, being able to travel and meet people and party and just everything that we’ve been kind of missing out on. As soon as it’s safe…
JG: Just two months ago you released your debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, which really feels like a slice of sunshine from beginning to end – it seems like it’s an introspection that feels much like a lifeboat to the harshness and uncertainty of the last year’s waves. How have you managed to offer such truths to the world in such a vulnerable moment?
AP: Whenever I enter into chaos, I always turn to writing. It’s always been my tool for processing and personal healing. I’ve only written about things that I couldn’t help but write about. I’ve only written about things that moved me, upset me, or that I wanted to interrogate just as a human being. And during this time, people need art more than ever, you know; people need literature, and TV and films and they are seeking comfort in that. So I guess I wanted to create something that felt like a positive force in the world for people.
JG: And your music seems to always have been quite vulnerable. What do you think it is that calls you to this openness? What inspires you?
AP: I started off writing only for myself, because I wanted to work through stuff. A lot of the artists that I love operate in that same way – whether it’s people like Nick Drake, or Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, [or] even more recent artists, like Pheobe Bridgers or Clairo – there’s always that sense of vulnerability. And so I guess I’ve carried that spirit into the music that I now share with the world.

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JG: If nothing else, this time has kind of forced us to be radically present, seeing ourselves in ways we might not have been able to before. How important is presence and connection to your process?
AP: They’re completely essential. When I’m writing, I need to be present and honest with myself. When I’m writing a poem, or when I’m journaling, I try and just be – without judging myself, and without twisting things, without hiding or running from things. I think it’s important to kind of look yourself in the eyes when you’re writing, connecting with yourself, your tastes, and creating things that feel good to you. And, of course, having conversations with others, and being a sponge in that way to other people’s processes and art is really important for me when I’m creating.
JG: And beyond yourself, who would you say you’re writing for?
AP: I’m writing for people who don’t feel seen or heard, people who need comfort, people who are going through difficult times, [but] because I’m not writing for any one [type of person] specifically, it creates a level of openness to my work. Whoever you are, this is for you, in some way or another.
JG: When you’re writing from such an honest place it’s almost inevitable that other people are going to relate to it, even if it’s the things that we don’t normally want to express. What would you say has been the most exciting aspect of your musical journey so far?
AP: The connections that I’ve made with other musicians have really excited me. Being able to sing with Phoebe Bridgers and having conversations with artists that I really look up to. And because I’m a music lover, before music maker, and so much of my work is collaging – taking different elements from different art that I like and creating something unique with it by being able to connect with different people has definitely been the most beautiful thing about creating, especially in this time, [the ability] to still feel in touch with the world of art.
JG: A lot of the things that you’re sharing keep coming back to these ideas of honesty and truthfulness. Some people might argue that pop music doesn’t generally operate that way. How do you see pop music? What does it even mean to be pop music?
AP: I love it. [Pop music] has often become a misconstrued phrase. To me, popular music is literally just as it sounds: music that a lot of people like, and I can’t see why that would ever be bad. There are certain bands that may not operate in the kind of pop music that we would associate with, like, Sister Sledge, or Harry Styles – who I both love – but these other bands are also creating music that a lot of people love. Like Frank Ocean or even to an extent people like Radiohead and all of that. I definitely would describe my music as fully under that umbrella of pop music, but with elements of indie and soul. But yeah, pop music is pretty much all I listen to.

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JG: Empathy is something that’s really present when talking about your music. And it is this kind of vital ability that we can only hope that the current world is becoming a bit more attuned to. Where do you think music becomes a place where empathy can be fostered? And how might it be used to help us all connect a bit more closely?
AP: Art springs from the person, right? And in order to cultivate art that roots from empathy, you have to practice it yourself in your everyday life. Because my music is so completely rooted in the things I’ve seen, and the things that I’ve lived, I think my natural tendency is to be empathetic, and to be open to listening to others. But as you say, it’s vital for connection, for furthering positive growth. And just being kind and empathetic and being open to others is something that we should all do more.
JG: And If it wasn’t music, what would it be?
AP: Writing in some capacity. Or maybe even acting. There are a few things that I’m really interested in, like film and literature, or maybe even journalism? I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it too much.
JG: And maybe there are other things that you want to do, not instead of the music, but alongside it. Are there any specific things that you’re looking into or that you’d want to do at some point?
AP: I’d love to publish a book of poems and essays, to try directing, acting, maybe writing screenplays, even music production. There are a lot of different things that I want to try. I like the fact that the arts are all so connected, and that I’m in a position where I can explore those different art forms.
JG: You were meant to be studying a degree in English Literature at the moment, but you decided to focus on your art instead. What has empowered you to follow the current of your heart instead of going along with the ‘expected?’
AP: There is always a degree of risk when it comes to pursuing your passions, especially when it’s creative. I don’t want to be like eighty years old looking back on my life with regret and thinking, ‘Oh, if only I tried the music thing.’ We only have this one life, and you never know how things are gonna work out, so you can at least try. I’m glad that I have a family that supports me and that I was able to work on my passion while living with my parents, having them take care of me. I know a lot of people might want to [pursue their passion], but just don’t have the means for it. It’s definitely a privilege to have been able to.

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Photography: Toby Coulson
Styling: Grace Joel
Interview by: Jessica Gianelli
Talent: Arlo Parks
Makeup & hair: Lai Zakaria
Set: Helen Macintyre
Photographer’s assistant: Remi Hassen
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