Arlo Parks' Super Sad Generation
Newcomer Arlo Parks on the music and experiences that have shaped her.
Words and photography by Pamela Boland for Issue 2 of Love Letters Zine.
Arlo Parks is producing a sound that floats somewhere between pop and smooth beats - it’s soulful and soft, yet loaded and full of body. A sound that’s perhaps best described by Arlo herself as “Guitar-nB - like RnB with guitars... But I don’t wanna actually say that because everyone is gonna be like ‘what the fuck, who is this girl?!’”
An outstanding voice, musically and in her own right, Arlo’s just released her debut EP Super Sad Generation, featuring lead single Cola which blew up and garnered praise from the likes of Lily Allen and Adwoa Aboah - all while studying for her A-Levels.
“I had only put out Cola, that one track. I was on Instagram and saw this message from Lily Allen, and I thought, alright it’s a Lily Allen fan page. I clicked on it and it was her, being like ‘I can’t stop listening to this song’, I was so excited.” The track led to Arlo meeting her management, who she then worked with for the release of her debut EP in early April this year.
Super Sad Generation is a little morsel of some gooey-voiced RnB with some biting writing. The entire EP has been in my ears since the release and it really is something different than what is out at the moment. It’s smooth, easy, and the interesting beats really flesh it out, showing more than just Arlo’s impressive vocal chops. If it is any reflection of the abilities of Arlo Parks, I feel like she’ll be around for a while.
A poet first, then singer and songwriter, Arlo explains that most songs start out as poems for her and grow when they are ready to, allowing for experiences to inform them even more, “It’s a mixture of personal and shared, experiences that my friends have told me.”
Cola is at the very crux of this, about a friend who’s boyfriend tried to use a bouquet of flowers as a band-aid, a fix-it when he fucked up, “He asked to go back to normal, and that doesn’t x anything!”. The horrible heartbreak, the kind that makes your chest heavy, is captured so perfectly on the track as she sings, “So take your orchids / Elsewhere, elsewhere / I loved you to death / And now I don’t really care.”
She has an air of wisdom about her but not in a stuck up way, she just knows what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, she listens intently and carefully chooses the words she uses. The way she speaks is extremely eloquent and simultaneously reflective of her age and generation. This dichotomy also exists in her music taste; she grew up in London, and from a young age was listening to Coltrane and Art Pepper, lots of Jazz. She moved through that, to her emo phase and made it out to see the light. Now she feeds on MF Doom and Slum Village, Phoebe Bridges and Julia Jacklin - two completely different ends of the spectrum, but a mix that definitely informs her sound.
The massive force of music in her life meant that when she was 15 she started making her own music in her bedroom, “I kept experimenting with different things, teaching myself how to produce a little bit. Then kept going from there and now I’m here.” With the ability to upload tracks online now, there is an ease that didn’t exist for artists before. You remove the need, at the beginning, for someone else to decide that you are worth listening to. You decide, you upload, and other people will find and listen of their own accord.
Social media is also allowing us easier access to a wider range of music, meaning broader and better representation, accessible from a much younger age. The ability to find and see the goings on of artists that you love without them being dictated if worthy of your time by media outlets who once ruled is incredibly powerful and igniting a shift throughout the industry. There’s now a role reversal in which fans have more control and this means that younger girls and gender non-conforming people can see and listen to more people in which they identify with, something incredibly important for inspiring the next generation.
We discuss how London as a city is also moving forward, considering lineups more and the conversation growing, “I think in general it’s going in the right direction, people seem to be more accepting. I mean, obviously I live in London, a very privileged part of the world, and there are other places where it is still completely awful. But in general, there is a lot more acceptance and representation.”
Arlo explains that looking to artists such as Angel Olsen and St. Vincent growing up and artists now like Nilüfer Yanya, have inspired her to forge her own path in music, they were her representation. When I ask who she would write a love letter to, she instantly responded with, “Phoebe Bridgers, because I just really connect with her sonically, lyrically. She’s bisexual as well and seems to just go out there and do her thing and be unapologetic. I’ve listened to her music in some tough times and it’s made me feel a bit more understood, so yeah Phoebe Bridgers all the way.”