Like any true lover of words, Arlo Parks has always found refuge in books and poetry.
But what began as childhood escapism has spun into something wider. Writing poetry and stories from the age of 11 – creating her own little fantasy worlds – and making beats on GarageBand from 14, Arlo now weaves this love of tales and narrative into her spellbinding music; a fusion of smoky R&B, ‘90s trip-hop inflected pop, shimmering guitars, and hip-hop breaks, underpinned by her sweetly soulful vocals.
It’s a voice of paradoxes: shruggingly nonchalant but loaded with emotion, shining with youthful naivety, while underpinned with a world-weariness far older than her 19 years, tackling everything from mental health and sexuality to unrequited teenage love.
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All this is getting attention. With her pillow-soft pop moving miles ahead of the curve, there’s something about her songs that simply resonates. Arlo puts this down to writing music that’s genuine, about things she’s felt and seen. "I guess people can sense that honesty," she says.
"I've always been an observer and quite empathetic, I've spoken to a lot of people quite deeply about things they’ve been through, and learned how to convey emotions with words in quite a specific way. Books and words were always my way of escapism but also a way to access other peoples worlds. In the same way, when people listen to my music I try to give them access to my world."
Arlo’s literary loves – everything from Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath (whose poem Lady Lazarus features in the Loyle Carner-directed ‘Eugene’ video) to Haruki Murakami and Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber ("I liked how she talked about female sexuality, quite dark and warped”) – are as wide-ranging as her musical inspirations.
She cites MF Doom alongside Courtney Love among her favourites, as well as King Krule, Portishead "and then I'll find some weird random lost tape of some niche hip-hop crew, I love that,” Arlo smiles, looking forward to a year of touring and – above all – writing her first album. “I'm really curious - I just want to know more and more.”
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Where: South West London
What: Confessional, beats-led soul pop
Get Three songs: ‘Cola’, ‘Sophia’, ‘Paperbacks’
Fact: Arlo earned to speak French before English (she is a quarter French, half Nigerian, and a quarter Chadian)
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Words: Emma Finamore
Photography: Joel Smedley
Styling: Zarina Shukri
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