Arlo Parks laughs as the biting wind of Berlin in February makes her eyes water and wipes her face with the back of her sleeve. We are standing in the middle of the crowded Warschauerstraße in Berlin and holding up the passerby traffic with our little photo shoot. The young Londoner singer poses confidently in the retro style sweatshirt she is sporting. Her brown eyes reflect the whitewashed cloudy sky. A lady walks up to us and lingers around while I am kneeling on the dirty pavement of the bridge to get the right shot. Recognizing Arlo from her song Cola, which flickered across several radio stations, she wishes the artist good luck for the very first headline show she is about to play in Berlin that same night. ‘In London people recognize me quite a lot’, the singer tells me as we move on. ‘But I am surprised that someone did here.’
Taking her time to chat with the fan, much to the worry of the manager who needed to get the singer to her next interview on time, Arlo Parks radiates charm and down-to earth-ness. With the same patience she answers my questions and takes interest in my work and life in Berlin, as well. Sitting in a café in the middle of the bustling district of Friedrichshain, talking to Arlo feels less like an interview and more like a relaxed conversation among friends.
Ahead of her very first headline show, Arlo Parks admits to being just a little bit nervous. To calm her nerves, she strolled around the city with her friend in between press appointments. ‘We walked across Berlin and I found it quite inspiring.’ Walking in the footsteps of the many artists who have found inspiration in the city, Arlo Parks went on to recite the poem that she wrote on her way to Potsdam during the show later that evening. When she held on in the middle of the concert to read out the lines, scribbled into her notebook she carries with her everywhere, the room went dead quiet. Patiently listening to the words pouring off the artist’s lips the crowd held its breath as Arlo shared her intimate thoughts in the shape of poetry. Performing pieces that she has never performed before and taking a moment to share her poetry with the audience, the show had an intimate vibe.
‘Yesterday I drove to Potsdam towards a sky of crushed clouds, bathed in gray – a lap full of dumplings from Saigon Dragon. I felt a strange kind of peace loosening the lump in my throat. For a moment I forgot I missed the girl, forgot my hands tend to shake in the car, forget the night you fell asleep in the bath and I thought you were dead.’ – Excerpt from Arlo’s poem
What friends are for
‘My friends are my sounding board for new work,’ she tells me the same afternoon. ‘They are honest with me and have listened to my demos since I was like 15 when all my songs were awful guitar songs.’ Especially poetry in the raw and confessional way Arlo Parks expresses her feelings and thoughts in, can be hard to share with even the closes off your friends not to speak of with the rest of the world.
‘In the beginning, it is hard, but you get used to it,’ Arlo explains. ‘I once read an interview where someone said, when you create something that has the ability to connect with someone else, you should share it.’ Following the philosophy of when it matters to you and when it helps you get through hard times, it will do the same thing for others, Arlo does not hesitate to pour out her heart on her personal songs.
Drawing inspirations from poets like Sylvia Plath and more modern writers like Nayyirah Waheed, Arlo Parks has found her distinct style. ‘I do not want my poetry and music to be opaque. Everybody should be able to understand it. When I studied poetry in school some works were quite different and created a barrier between the writer and the reader.’ Yes, anyone who has ever picked up a piece of classic poetry, knows that it can be quite hard to make sense and it often takes time to decipher the complicated word arrangements to understand the meaning behind them. Arlo on the other hand, wants to lift that distance and connect straight with the people reading or listening top her words. ‘I want my work to be accessible.’
Through writing about her own feelings in an honest and straightforward way, she bridges that distance and makes it easy to relate to the feelings behind the words. ‘I guess when people are nervous to share their personal thoughts it can be easier to hide them in really complicated structures and phrases,’ she reasons. ‘That is valid on its own, of course, because it is hard to share things but I am a really straight forward person.’ Especially in our modern day generation where everything is overloaded with information, we tend to get cluttered and Arlo Parks’ refreshing simplicity shows an essential way back to uncomplicated communication of emotions.
‘But you leave a bit of blood in every room
Purple roses underneath your shoes
When I see the petals by the pool I know that you’ve been here’ – Lyric from george
Of First and Second Loves
Eugene, the latest release by the artist goes underneath the skin with the utterly personal lyrics. The intimate video to the song shows Arlo falling for one of her best friends, while they ‘cry over Eugene’. The mellow instrumentation gives the painful lyrics a laid-back twist. ‘Seeing you with him burns’, she croons with vocals so smooth they are blowing around you like a warm summer breeze. With simple verses she speaks straight out of the hearts and minds of the Super Sad Generation. The title of the EP refers to the extreme teenage angst many millennials struggle with, Arlo Parks being one of them.
‘I got into poetry around the age of fourteen,’ Arlo explains that she spent the past few years writing and practicing on a daily basis to get to where she is now. ‘I am glad that I wrote so much because, of course, in the beginning the staff is not very good, but it got me to where I am right bow. It is nice to see the progress.’ But yes, even Arlo Parks has a drawer full of cringy old poems written when she was in her early teens and hopelessly in love with someone.
‘Poetry was my first love. Music was my second.’
Something with Words
Communicating emotion through words is a very special gift – or skill. To Arlo, it was always clear that she wanted to ‘do something with words.’ If it weren’t for the poetry and music, she would have probably studied journalism or literature. ‘Whenever I read something interesting, a word or sentence I really, I have to write it down into my notebook right away.’ The black notebook is the artist’s constant companion and the one she read her Berlin poem out of at the show.
Being good at words, at expressing oneself and your emotions, is arguably one of the greatest skills ever. Poems and music can release the tension for those who do not know how to articulate what they are feeling. That is why Arlo’s music resonates so much with the youth of today. She manages to explain a feeling that you cannot even explain to yourself.
The appreciation for Arlo Parks’ music, especially shone through at the live show later that night. Even though the room was crowded, and the show completely sold out, everyone in the audience paid respect to the art Arlo put on stage. And she made up for it by giving everything in her performance.
Between grooving to the guitar solos and the drumbeats, from her band members, she was incredibly touched by the way the audience received her. Overwhelmed by the experience of playing her first headline show in a sold-out venue, she almost shed a tear. Not only Arlo Parks lyrics are extremely personal but the concert as well. The mutual appreciation between audience and artist, made the show a special experience and the best example of how music and art can connect people no matter from where.