Arlo Parks on “Collapsed in Sunbeams” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, February 24th, 2024  

Arlo Parks on “Collapsed in Sunbeams”

A Series of Vignettes

Dec 24, 2021 Photography by James Loveday (for Under the Radar) Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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First and foremost, Arlo Parks is a poet. Born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, Parks grew up in London both as a storyteller and an amalgamation of her family’s varying music taste. Raised on ’80s French pop, Prince, and her uncle’s record collection that ranged from Sade to Bob Dylan to Earth, Wind & Fire, Parks had a solid musical foundation when she picked up a guitar at 13. By the time Parks was a teenager her storytelling had evolved to poetry and now with a guitar in hand it transitioned to songwriting.

“I was teaching myself how to make loops on Garageband and how to make beats in general,” Parks remembers. “And I started uploading demos to SoundCloud when I was about 15 or 16. And then it just kind of all went from there. I mean, I wrote ‘Cola’ when I was 17 and then I guess we’re here.”

Now 20, here is Parks’ debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. The record, much like Parks’ previous material, is a series of vignettes based on writings in her journals.

“The idea behind the album was just kind of discovering and processing things in my life that have shaped me up till now,” she says. “I wanted it to be a kind of time capsule of my adolescence. So it was a lot of looking to the past for inspiration.”

Although most of her material focuses on looking and reexamining her past—“I write in order to process things, I write in order to understand things”—Collapsed in Sunbeams also features Parks’ past for another reason: lockdown. She began writing the album pre-pandemic, but as with everything, the original plan was upended and instead saw Parks and her producer Gianluca Buccellati “basically holed up in this Airbnb in East London for a few weeks” as they focused on nothing except the album.

“It was strange, it was quite intense being immersed in the bubble of an album to that extent, you know, there were no distractions, no other responsibilities other than to write, which was quite intimidating, but also very liberating,” she says, “it gave me a sense of purpose.”

Despite the change of circumstances, Parks doesn’t think her debut would’ve been much different without the pandemic. “I think I would be probably pulling from things and situations that were happening in the moment and I mean, nothing was happening, which is why I was looking to the past. But I definitely think there’s always been this urge in me to uncover the things that have shaped me, so I think I would have gone down that route in some capacity or another.”

When asked which song by someone else she wished she had written, Parks contemplates for a second before deciding on “Ivy” by Frank Ocean. Parks loves so many things about “Ivy.” “The way that he is singing and his lyrics, they’re not opaque,” she explains. “Everyone can understand them, but that’s the beauty of them. Everyone has been in that position either of unrequited love or things dissolving. And that idea of we’re not kids anymore.”

The elements Parks loves in Ocean’s songs also appear in her own discography. Parks sings about everything tenderly, even when talking about grief, loneliness, and, like Ocean, unrequited love. It’s not often a young person can so eloquently understand and reflect on their experiences, but on “Green Eyes,” one of the lead singles from Collapsed in Sunbeams, Parks sings about the struggles of self-acceptance with wisdom beyond her years.

Living through things is often hard in and of itself as a teenager, and yet Parks processes her experiences and packages them up into miniature stories of self-discovery, first loves, and the sometimes crushing weight of young existence.

“I feel like everything that I write is about people,” she says. “It’s about how they love and what they love and what they hate, what frustrates them, and also I guess, just about humanity. I mean, not necessarily just myself, but friends. And my favorite thing to write about is definitely more kind of concrete. I’m really bad at writing about abstract things like ideas and metaphors, I’m just talking about what’s happening, what I’m seeing with my eyes.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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