In Arlo Parks' world, words are as useful as photographs. Luscious, expressive vignettes pepper the poetic lyrics in her sweet, ruminative indie pop songs. Born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, the 22-year-old from West London - who burst onto the scene with 2018’s “Cola” - uses poetry as her songwriting compass, weaving vivid imagery and sensory touches throughout the stirring, honest stories that make up her already-rich body of work. “I was really interested in the idea of delving into a hyper-specific moment and making it feel universal, making it something that people could connect to,” Arlo says about drawing from poetry in her approach.
A sensitive child, Arlo grew up in a peaceful part of town. “There wasn’t that much to do, and I was a pretty happy kid, I was very much in my own little world,” she explains, describing spending her free time exploring creative ways to express her emotions. “Because I was feeling a lot, I started writing quite young,” she says, referencing poets Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver and Pat Parker and more who inspired her to write. “It’s that cinematic quality that can make you feel like you’re plunged into someone’s subjectivity,” she adds about poetry’s impact. Arlo recalls a gift from her uncle—a record collection that included classics from Sade, Earth Wind & Fire, and Bob Dylan—and choir practice as fundamentals to her musical side. Like most kids her age, she grew up digging around on YouTube for music, discovering Portishead, Odd Future, Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, King Krule and an eclectic range of music to root herself in.
Her most recent body of work, ‘My Soft Machine’ is a deeply personal body of work; a narration of Parks’ experiences as she navigates her 20’s and the growth intertwined. It was recorded between London and Los Angeles, with the producers Paul Epworth, Ariel Rechtshaid, Romil Hemnani (Brockhampton), Frank Ocean-collaborator Buddy Ross and Carter Lang (SZA) – as well as some self-production from Arlo herself.
Explained ever-articulately in her own words below, you can also watch this beautiful performance video to learn more about the record and the themes within.
“The world/our view of it is peppered by the biggest things we experience – our traumas, upbringing, vulnerabilities almost like visual snow. This record is life through my lens, through my body – the mid 20s anxiety, the substance abuse of friends around me, the viscera of being in love for the first time, navigating PTSD and grief and self sabotage and joy, moving through worlds with wonder and sensitivity – what it’s like to be trapped in this particular body. There is a quote from a Joanna Hogg film called the Souvenir, it’s an A24 semi-autobiographical film with Tilda Swinton – it recounts a young film student falling in love with an older, charismatic man as a young film student then being drawn into his addiction – in an early scene he’s explaining why people watch films – “we don’t want to see life as it is played out we want to see life as it is experienced in this soft machine.” So there we have it, the record is called….My Soft Machine.” – Arlo Parks
‘My Soft Machine’ is the follow-up to Arlo’s critically-acclaimed and award-winning debut ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’; a record which received two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album, won theBRIT Award for Best New Artist, received the Hyundai Mercury Prize, and won theBBC Introducing Artist Of The Year Award. Her debut album also reached the top 3 on the UK Album Charts and won the AIM Awards for Best Independent Album and UK Independent Breakthrough. On top of all this, Arlo was also nominated for Breakthrough International Act at the BET Awards, was named as the youngest ever high-profile supporter of UNICEF and an ambassador for the British mental health charity, CALM. She has plans to continue her extensive work with both charities into 2023.