The 19-year-old singer, producer and poet Arlo Parks is a nominated BBC Sound of Artist 2020 and recently a DAZED100 shortlist Artist. Last year she released her critically acclaimed debut EP, ‘Super Sad Generation’ and her new single is Annie Mac’s (BBC Radio 1) ‘Hottest Record in the World’. She is fast becoming the voice for her generation and now we’re thrilled to announce that she’s our new CALM ambassador. Arlo’s created a personal spoken word piece just for us. We chatted to her about all of this and more.
During her spellbinding performance for our Lock In event last month Arlo Parks took the time to perform a beautiful, poignant and personal spoken word piece that she had written specifically for the event. It begins with the line “I am grateful for the mint tea leaves, the beat tapes, the letters you wrote to our future selves when I was asleep” and the confessional, tender poetry focuses on hope and appreciation even in darkness.
Just like all the songs we’ve heard so far it showed a songwriter who can capture the specifics of being young and uncertain and the messiness of life like no-one else.
Arlo struggled with her identity growing up; a self-confessed tomboy who was super sensitive and “uncool”, she says it was like “I’m a black kid who can’t dance for shit, listens to emo music and currently has a crush on some girl in my Spanish class. Her track ‘Super Sad Generation’ highlighted youth and struggle and she’s passionate about getting people to talk openly about any challenges they’re facing. “Talking about problems helps to get rid of feelings of shame isolation. When people are struggling they often feel like islands or aliens – opening conversations lets people know that they’re not alone.”
It’s why she was so keen to become an ambassador for us. “I think supporting people in their darkest hours is one of the most important missions one can embark on as a human being. I’ve seen people around me suffer with anxiety, depression and trauma so what CALM stands for hits close to home. Being able to support an organisation that offers help to people in deep pain is a real blessing.”
She lists her role models as Thom Yorke, Frank Ocean, Solange and Erykah Badu – “artists who are unapologetically idiosyncratic and are so gifted at creating a mood.” And that’s what she does. Her new single Black Dog – just announced as Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World – is a powerful song for anyone fighting mental health issues. It’s a song she describes as being about “the feeling of helplessness that comes along with watching a loved one suffer. It’s supposed to make people who are struggling feel less isolated and start a conversation surrounding the prevalence of mental health issues in today’s world.”
To help with her own mental health she works out in her kitchen and watches arthouse films. Music, of course, is also central to helping her feel like herself. “Listening to albums, especially ones filled with positivity and nice memories, has really been lifting my spirits,” she says of life during lockdown. And what’s she looking forward to doing most when it’s over? “Hugging my friends.”
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