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A Rotation of the Sun With Arlo Parks

With Glastonbury and Coachella, a Mercury Prize, and a debut album added to her resume, we caught up with British songwriter Arlo Parks on the week of her 22nd birthday to talk about growing up, tour life, nostalgia, and significance of the last year.

Arlo Parks is a name you ought to be familiar with by now, given her rapid rise into prominent music circuits over the past few years. Releasing her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams at the beginning of 2021, this creative leap launched her into opportunities and spaces she could barely even fathom. Her debut album acts as a blanket of reassurance to herself as she battles coming to terms with her identity and newfound success. It’s draped in vivid sentiments around nostalgia and self-discovery as she tells intimate stories plucked from distinct parts of her memory. Embarking on a world tour, Parks has been able to take Collapsed In Sunbeams on the road, stopping in at Glastonbury and Coachella, and sharing stages with names she’s looked up to throughout her musical journey. Despite her young age, Arlo’s ability to connect her audience has allowed her to touch down on stages around the globe, singing to crowds who are all there for the same reason – to laugh, sing,  smile, cry, and fully bask in the sunbeams of Arlo Parks. 

She lives vicariously within her poetic interests, navigating aspects of her everyday life through the words and lens of the literature, music and film that shaped her. With Alro’s life experiences broadening as she grows as an artist and as a person, we caught up with her in Sydney to talk about life in the year since we last spoke.

I saw that you just celebrated your 22nd birthday the other day. How was it, what did you do to celebrate?
We had lunch around Melbourne and played a show. I like birthday shows. Last year, I played a show the day after my birthday. I always kind of fool around there. But the crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to me is very cute. I like to go on long walks on my birthday and having eggs. Those are the two traditions and I managed to do that.

In an Instagram post on your birthday, you expressed how pivotal this turning of age was for you because of all of the magical things that came to fruition. Can you tell us a little bit about the events of the last year and the mark they’ve made on you?
Right. I feel like there have been lots of different types of landmarks in my life. There’s been the live element of things, because I haven’t really toured that much like this before. This last year was my first festival season. I’m getting to play Glastonbury, getting to play Coachella. But then also the kind of collaborative aspects of those shows and playing with Lorde and Clairo, and then with Phoebe Bridgers, Harry Styles and Billie Eilish. I think the collaborative live aspect of things was a big deal for me. Getting to play in massive spaces, but then also getting to learn from people who have been doing this for a very long time, and just kind of finding that joy and community because I spent so long being in this quite insular process because it was the pandemic and we couldn’t, you know, hang out. Just being able to hang out on a pure level is my favourite thing. And then I guess, you know, the prizes and stuff have given me a sense of confidence. I wouldn’t say that those prizes are everything. But that was definitely very special for me, especially with the Mercury Prize, because that’s something that I paid attention to. I mean, the Mercury Prize takes place in a venue that’s right next to my house. So I cycled past it on my way to school, and then being there winning it. I don’t know, it was really special.

It’s a full-circle moment.
Exactly. And then, just putting out this record and seeing it live out in the world. Because it’s my first one, I didn’t really know how it would go. I had no idea. I think seeing it kind of slowly spreading through the world and it kind of allowing me to visit Japan, to be here with you today. Seeing the music grow and blossom was really important. So I guess those are like the three main things in the past year. And also, just growing older.

Absolutely. Were there any big lessons you learned turning 22?
I think when I turned 22, or whenever I turn a certain age, I try to think about a lesson I learned or something that I want to continue to do that I recently learned was important. I think for me, it’s really that sense of balance. I think that I struggle with balance when it comes to work and play and I think I kind of throw myself into my work completely. Sometimes I don’t take the time to just cook a meal or just be a human being. I think that learning that sense of balance and how healing spending time in nature and in water is for me, and kind of trying to do more little good things for myself rather than saving it all up for when I have a big holiday. They’re like daily little sprinkles of good things. 

Has it been an easy process trying to find that balance in between?
I haven’t found it yet. It’s a striving thing, but I think I realised that it’s important. And I realised that what makes me happy is when I do find that balance and when I do have time for little human things, grabbing breakfast here, discovering a new walk in nature, mountains or whatever it may be. And I think that then feeds into the work. I think realising the rest actually does feed into the work is important to maintain that balance, because then you feel like you’re doing something positive for both sides.

Yeah, absolutely. Circling all of that back to your work and how strongly attached to nostalgia it is, is there a scent or a feeling or mood that you’ll remember the last year of your life by?
I think for me the smell of sandalwood, like woody scents, because I like to bring a piece of home with me, whilst I’ve been on the road so much. I always bring candles that have that kind of sandalwood, earthy, smoky smell. And I always have that in every dressing room, every hotel room, and then every place that I visit. Make a little pocket of home wherever I am. So I would say that, that’s my grounding scent. So I would say that.

I wanna touch a little bit more on nostalgia because I feel that the way you convey its sentiments in your music makes it very relatable. Listening to it, I can sort of find myself identifying all of these nostalgic things that similarly shaped my own formative years. What kind of music or films or books were you consuming during your formative years?
I guess formative for me, feels like I’m 15 to 18. I mean, I’m still growing. But that’s the age where the things that you watch and read and listen to are so important. I’d say in terms of music, the album Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stephens was a big one for me. Radiohead was a big one for me, Syd from The Internet, and Odd Future. That group was a big one for me and for a lot of people my age when it came to the way that they were so wild and carefree, and it was very DIY. I think that was the age as well where I started to make my own music. All of those things kind of blend into what I do. And then when it comes to books, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was a big one for me. I think my discovery of poetry really kind of blossomed in that period of time. Reading Mary Oliver, reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. I think I really started to hold on to literature, music and film as my thing. I think when you find your thing, then you kind of get a better sense of who you are. And you kind of start to gain that confidence. When it comes to comfort films, things like Studio Ghibli. Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, Nausicaa, all of that. Fantastic Mr Fox is one of my favourites. And then I think delving into indie film, watching Gus Van Sant films like Paranoid Park, or My Own Private Idaho, and discovering queer filmmaking. I was just on the internet so much, nourishing like a little sponge. Absolutely. So yeah, those are the main ones for me.

In an older interview, you mentioned that you started collecting vinyl from quite young, which is a nostalgic act in itself already. What were some of the first few vinyls that you got your hands on?
There were the ones my uncle gave me which was a wide range of everything, from Bob Dylan to Sade, to the really early hip hop like LL Cool J and Grandmaster Flash and then Prince, Diana Ross. And then the ones that I bought for myself, it was the classics as a teenager. Some My Chemical Romance in there, King Krule, MF DOOM as well – that was a big one for me. The way that he used his words was really influential to me. Beach House as well, Smashing Pumpkins. Erykah Badu. 

And then what have been some of your more recent purchases?
I bought Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator, Selected Ambient Works by Aphex Twin, and 1999 by Prince. But I’m hoping to go into little local record shops and buy some new stuff.

Touching base on tour, I saw just the other day, you tweeted that Australia and New Zealand have been making you pop & lock and that the energy has been unmatched. How else has touring these ways been treating you?
Yeah, everyone is just so loose, like unselfconscious. It feels like people just like breaking free out of their cages in a way and I think that’s something I noticed about the shows coming out of the pandemic is that people crave that community, just like loud music, feeling it in your bones and just screaming lyrics with thousands of other people. I think that people have really thrown themselves into the shows. And it’s created this really positive energy exchange where like, they get excited, I get excited, they get excited. It’s like this tennis match energy. Especially the shows that I’ve played here, I felt that more than ever. And I think since these are my first shows, I didn’t know what to expect, of course, but you know, most of them sold out and just receiving that kind of energy is really nice.

And how has it been touring with Milan Ring? She’s kind of a gun here on the local fronts.
She’s so lovely and her music is incredible. I think one of my favourite things is, you know, when you are on tour, and either as a support act or like bringing along a support act, you feel like you’re kind of doing it with someone. Going through the ebbs and flows and just having someone who’s kind of experiencing exactly the same crowds as you in exactly the same places. 

I can imagine the level of intimacy that can be gathered at a show with both you and Milan on stage. Your album Collapsed In Sunbeams is a really intimate album, and I feel like being able to see it reflected into a live performance is very special. How have you been able to conjure up the visual imagery of Collapsed In Sunbeams in these live settings?
I guess people have conflicting ideas about what a live show should be. For some people it’s like it should be exactly as the record is, it should be played so that people feel like they can recognise it completely. For me, I’ve kind of added a little bit more spikiness to it while still maintaining the kind of visual world of sun and flora and reds, oranges, deep, burnt sunrise kind of colours. A lot of it is in the lighting. And it kind of differs from room to room, because sometimes there’s a video wall, sometimes it’s just a backdrop with the lights. So we have to be adaptable. But for me, I want that orange and red halo of light at all times.

I feel like there’s a lot of poetry in the way you move. From your music to your own Instagram captions, I get the sense that the inclusion of poetry in regular aspects of your life is a very mindless thing for you. Is this something you consciously do or something that comes entirely natural to you?
I think it’s natural. I think I just love words. And I’m curious. And I think those two things put together just leads naturally into a love of poetry, and maybe not in the traditional sense of like it having to have a particular form. Because I think a lot of people try to gatekeep poetry, saying it has to have this kind of rhyme scheme, or be written by a person that looks like this, or whatever. And I feel like there’s so much freedom to poetry. When you approach it, it just seems like words and curiosity together. And it’s something that anyone can do.

The last time we checked in with you, you mentioned wanting to work on a poetry collection and wanting to delve a little bit into filmmaking. In between everything, how has the progress on those things been so far?
I’ve been chipping away. I feel like the shows are taking a lot of energy out of me. And I think when I do get to properly honing in on things, whether it’s writing a script or a book of poems, I feel like I need just more time in one place. Because I feel like when I travel, I’m gathering little nuggets like a magpie, and then I have to have my little gestation period at home. Just peaceful. And I think that when that time comes, then I’ll have a lot of things to write about, and it’s definitely something I’m interested in.

On that note then, what do you see the next year holding for you?
I think a lot of writing. I want to kind of go back into my little nest and just craft some more by myself. But I’ve still got my tour of North America at the end of this year. Then I’m gonna kind of go into the New Year and into Spring a little brighter.

Follow Arlo Parks here for more and stream ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ now.

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