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Singer-songwriter Arlo Park’s earliest and most vivid memories are of her family’s summer road trips from their home in London to the south of France. The soundtracks to those long journeys were a mix of jazz records and audiobooks, most of which—Farewell to arms, treasure islandIt went completely over the head of six-year-old Parks.
“Even though I didn’t understand most of what was going on, I felt the power to relax with a story and relate to a group of characters that I felt emotionally invested in,” says the 21-year-old. These early audiobooks formed the foundation for Parks’ love of reading; he devoured collections of poetry as a teenager until he finally discovered a sacred text: Patti Smith’s book. Just kids. A delicate blend of music, memoir and poetry, the book opened Parks up to the possibilities of what form his creative muse could take.
“I used poetry when I wanted to write in a more diaristic sense,” he says. “Writing songs became a way to turn those experiences into something that felt bigger than me”
In 2018, Parks began uploading his demos to Soundcloud and BBC Music Introducing, a platform created to support unknown and unsigned artists. His sound, a mix of haunting lyricism and spoken word interludes, established Parks as something of a cult figure on the London DIY scene. “Cola,” an R&B confession about a cheating lover, went viral among critics and made it a favorite of other artists, including Billie Eilish, Phoebe Bridgers and Lily Allen. “She’s from Hammersmith, just like me”, Allen later sprouted in your Apple Music program. “Honestly, this song left me speechless.” None other than Michelle Obama included Parks in a playlist “filled with a lot of #BlackGirlMagic.”
Parks eventually got a record deal and released Collapsed in sunbeams to instant acclaim in January 2021. Lush and heartbreaking, the debut album feels like an appealing mix of musical influences: a little bit Nina Simone, a little bit Jeff Buckley, a little bit Erykah Badu. He somehow manages to write about mental health, queer identity, and unrequited love with a playful twist (“Play her the records I showed you, read her Sylvia Plath, I thought that was our thing”).