Arlo Parks hasn’t enjoyed lockdown any more than the rest of us. But the 20-year-old, London-based singer/songwriter and self-described “social creature” has ridden out the year with help from the kind of oddly specific activities that populate her emotive songs. Recently it’s been photographing brightly colored flowers that has been keeping her busy. (She laughs, remembering how she asked that a recent press photoshoot be held at South London’s Rookery Gardens just so she could sneak in a few shots on her phone).
There’s also been endless cups of tea drank alone, journaling, and reading list that has her tearing through David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, and Joan Didion’s essay collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Overall, she’d call herself happy—even though it took her a beat to get there after pushing pause on touring behind last year’s EP Sophie.
“Sometimes you have to consciously make the decision to be optimistic about where the world is right now,” she muses via Zoom. “Because it’s easier not to be, I think…The global climate shifted, I felt like I was kind of connected to the world by a very thin thread. Moods were shifting because of COVID. I found myself getting weirdly sensitive to that.”
It’s that spirit of honesty that informs Parks’ percussive folk. She’s been the thoughtful outsider, just trying to figure out her place in the world. Likewise, her characters deal with messy bisexual entanglements, partying to numb the pain, and suicidal ideation. “Let’s go to the corner store and buy some fruit,” she begs on the devastating single “Black Dog.” “I would do anything to get you out of your room.” It’s no wonder she’s been tapped to work with Glass Animals (that’s her distinctive alto on their recent single “Tangerine”) and named a spokesperson for the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). Her music has become an oasis for listeners who believe things will get better—even if they’re not exactly sure how that will happen.
To that end, Parks is aware Gen Z often takes a more open position on mental health than previous generations—and she’s honored to help push the conversation forward, whether that’s in interviews, songs, or in the comment section of her YouTube videos, where fans often go to help and be helped.
“When I look at the kind of people around me, and even in terms of my own friendship circles, talking about mental health, talking about low mood or grief, all of this is something that has become quite normalized,” she says. “And I feel like that kind of allows people to feel less alone, which I think is really positive.”
Written in a concentrated two-week burst earlier this year, Parks’ first full-length Collapsed In Sunbeams (a Zadie Smith reference), continues to tease out her poignant self-exploration. Anchored by the rejection anthem “Green Eyes,” she promises that the album’s thoughtful vignettes and stories are both extremely personal, liberating. (“It’s about giving into emotions completely and almost surrendering to them,” she confirms.) But more than a slog through the contents of her old journals, it’s a victory lap, as the process of rehashing devastating wounds and delirious victories has made Parks feel better in this weird era. Now she hopes her album will do the same for others.
“That’s why that’s part of the reason why I make music,” she confirms. “I like to make people feel something make people feel better or feel understood. And every time and I’m aware that you know, that’s happening. It makes me feel like I’m doing something good and putting out positive energy into the world.”