The 20-year-old South West London singer-songwriter and poet Arlo Parks recently came across a journal entry she wrote at age 14, around the time she had written her first few songs. “I was like, ‘I have unveiled Arlo Parks to the world, and I hope that I can help people with my music,’” she recites.
Roughly six years later, Parks is doing just that by channeling her empathetic nature into songs that make listeners feel less alone — from her intimate debut EP chronicling one summer amongst friends, Super Sad Generation, to her upcoming debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, out Jan. 29, 2021 on Transgressive Records. Often, that means “making hyper-specific moments feel universal,” as she puts it. “I want it to feel like you’re looking down the lens of a camera and watching a scene unfold.”
“I’ve always felt very connected to people,” says Arlo Parks (born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho), whose habit of striking up conversations with strangers sometimes got her in trouble as a kid. As she recalls with a laugh, “I once went up to some woman in the supermarket when I was 3 and was like, ‘Why do you have wrinkles?’ ” At home, she poured her feelings into short stories and poems, inspired by Audre Lorde and Sylvia Plath. She was first motivated to turn her writing into music after listening to English singer King Krule’s debut album, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, as a teenager: “It was very gritty and dark,” she says, “but I felt very moved by it.”
In 2018, Parks uploaded demos to BBC Introducing, BBC Radio’s platform for unsigned talent, that caught the attention of DJ Jess Iszatt. Iszatt passed them along to Beatnik Creative’s Ali Raymond, who soon began managing Parks and helped release her debut single, “Cola,” later that year. It earned a co-sign from Lily Allen and has since racked up 13.5 million streams on Spotify. By April 2019, Parks had released her debut EP, Super Sad Generation, and she signed to Transgressive Records two months later. She performed at the Glastonbury Festival that summer and in the fall embarked on her first tour, supporting New Zealand-born Jordan Rakei while promoting her second EP, Sophie.
Parks wrote her after the coronavirus halted her plans to support Hayley Williams on tour. “I was mining these deep-rooted, sometimes traumatic places [at a time] when the world was crumbling around me,” she says. She hopes to eventually “branch out into other artistic mediums,” from publishing a book of poetry to acting and film directing. But “especially now,” she says, “where there is this global sense of confusion and uncertainty and fear, I like to think my music provides something soothing.”