Arlo Parks Wants Her Songs to ‘Feel Like Surround Sound Cinema’

Parks said that a sense of intimacy and connection is at the crux of her record: “I think during this time where the space between people is so pronounced and the chaos can feel overwhelming, the songs touch a specific, vulnerable part of people.”

The past year has been a whiplash for Parks. Her United States tour, opening for Paramore’s Hayley Williams, was scuttled by the pandemic, but her profile has risen nonetheless, aided by the endorsements of a gaggle of well-known admirers including Billie Eilish, Wyclef Jean and Michelle Obama. “Cola” was featured prominently in Michaela Coel’s celebrated HBO series “I May Destroy You,” and Parks herself starred in an episode of “Ouverture of Something that Never Ended,” an artsy mini-series co-directed by Gus Van Sant for Gucci. To have her career blossom as so many are suffering has obviously been a mixed blessing. “I’ve definitely had to work through feeling undeserving,” Parks said.

Phoebe Bridgers, who played two songs with Parks in a London church this past September for BBC Radio, has experienced a similarly timed, and therefore similarly fraught, rise. “We talked about that,” said Bridgers. “It’s depressing but also just for our own sanity, putting music out makes you feel like at least you have some semblance of a job. But I’m looking forward to the world we both step out into being different from the one we left.”

AS A TEENAGER growing up in the West London district of Hammersmith, Parks was simultaneously bookish, sporty, awkward, sad and filled with anxiety, which is to say, not too different from teenagers anywhere. She felt herself constantly watching the world around her, then struggling to process what she saw. “It was more a question of overthinking — purpose, love, what success meant, what loss meant, what I was going to do with my life,” she said. “I think living life in a way that was very observant and sensitive was sometimes stressful but made me who I am.”

Her sharp eye and gently bruised psyche have proved invaluable assets to her songwriting. “Super Sad Generation,” another product of those early sessions with Buccellati, opens with Parks coolly setting the scene: “When did we get so skinny/Start doing ketamine on weekends?” On other early songs, exacting details and proper nouns pile up: Ritalin, powder-blue walls, eating Parma Violets — a popular British candy — on the way back from therapy, the T-shirt that makes an ex look like the My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.