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Arlo Parks Talks Debut Album 'Collapsed In Sunbeams,' Winning Over Billie Eilish & Phoebe Bridgers

Arlo Parks

 

Photo: Alex Kurunis

 

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Arlo Parks Talks Debut Album 'Collapsed In Sunbeams,' Winning Over Billie Eilish & Phoebe Bridgers

The British singer/songwriter plumbed profound emotions with a simple toolkit on her debut album, 'Collapsed In Sunbeams.' Now, some of her favorite musicians are along for the ride

GRAMMYs/Jan 28, 2021 - 10:09 pm

"I'd lick the grief right off your lips."

Fans rejoiced at the tantalizing thought of new music from Billie Eilish after she captioned a passport-style Polaroid to her Instagram in January with those emotionally charged words. But the lyrics actually come from a hotly tipped singer/songwriter from the U.K. Eilish was referencing Arlo Parks' "Black Dog," a candid look at the realities of trying to help a friend living with depression. A year apart in age, Eilish and Parks represent a new generation of songwriters intent on tackling Gen Z's problems head-on.

It's not just Eilish who's singing the praises of Parks—the vanguard of the creative arts is rooting for the young singer. "Cola," from her 2019 debut EP Super Sad Generation, appeared in Michaela Coel's critically acclaimed HBO series, "I May Destroy You." Phoebe Bridgers and Florence Welch have shown love, too. Although the influencer generation has shifted the capacity to create stars from institutions to individuals, Parks has taken home a host of industry awards, too, landing a spot on the BBC Music Sound Of 2020 long list, which launched the careers of Michael Kiwanuka, Haim and Sam Smith, and NME's Essential New Artists For 2020 list.



Parks has had a meteoric year, but she's remained undeterred by the pressure; she spent 2020 and early 2021 mostly confined to her childhood bedroom. She's gained and maintained a fan base via a social media presence as sincere and personal as her songs, emphasizing self-love and openness. Her lyrics tackle big subjects—unrequited love, addiction, mental health struggles, sexuality—and her vocals are tender, unflashy and inviting.

Themes like these are the bedrock of her debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, a series of vignettes describing friends and their problems tied together by a calm, wistful energy. (The album's title is lifted from British author Zadie Smith's 2005 novel, On Beauty.) Nodding to her influences, like Radiohead and Portishead, Collapsed In Sunbeams easily flits between lo-fi pop, R&B and the indie sounds of her youth. Yet the real beauty is in Parks' smart observations on life, which she tackles directly yet compassionately.

GRAMMY.com chatted with Arlo Parks about Collapsed In Sunbeams, her literature collection and how her heartfelt lyrics entered Eilish's imagination.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.



What are you reading at the moment? I learned a new Japanese word recently—tsundoku, or the art of leaving a book unread after buying it. Are you like that?
I'm definitely like that! My favorite thing to do is wander around quaint little book shops in SoHo, like Skoob Books, and buying 10 books at once. I've got Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland, This Young Monster by Charlie Fox and The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst on my desk, to name a few. There's something so comforting about books as a little physical world to explore, but making the time to read them is a different story.

Aside from your musical influences, which artistic figures inspire you?
I'm obsessed with sensory, muscular writers like Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith, and Raymond Carver. Some special books to me are Just Kids by Patti Smith, Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles and Blueberries by Ellena Savage. I'm also interested in [photographers] that capture youth culture and act like super-observant documentarians, like Wolfgang Tillmans, William Eggleston, and Nan Goldin.

In terms of films, I love Xavier Dolan—especially Mommy—[as well as] Wes Anderson's catalog, Vertigo by Hitchcock and quiet, sensitive films like In The Mood For Love by Wong Kar-Wai or Driveways by Andrew Ahn.

Can you remember which came first, writing stories or listening to music?
Listening to music came first. I remember sitting on the carpet in the living room and listening to everything from Françoise Hardy to My Funny Valentine by Chet Baker to Zombie by Fela Kuti. Music permeated the house, and the car rides to Sainsbury's. It's in all my conscious memory.

You're a prolific journal writer. Is that where your ideas for songs germinate?​
Definitely. This album was inspired by poring over old journals and picking out fragments of conversation, dissecting explosions of emotion and important stories [magnified] by adolescence. Journaling also allows me to have those quiet moments of introspection and makes me a more honest, focused, and experimental writer. Everything I write feeds into my songs.



How did you go about recording Collapsed In Sunbeams?
It was recorded between my bedroom, a few Airbnbs, and two studios. I wrote the demos for "Portra 400" and "Bluish" in my bedroom and recorded the Bluish vocals at 3 a.m. at home. Most of the songs were written and recorded in Airbnbs in East London—Dalston and Hoxton.

It was a very organic and instinctive process. We approached this album on a song-by-song basis to make sure everything felt fresh, and the sonic palette was broad.

Your songs' emotional maturity is surprising given your age. Have you always been that emotionally in touch?

I've always been somebody who felt a lot all the time. That sensitivity and empathy is a big part of who I am, and I've always had a sense of self-awareness when it comes to my inner landscape. I learned a lot about emotion and communication just from being around very open people—from helping friends and understanding myself.

You've spoken elsewhere about being blessed with a supportive family, who helped with that emotional intelligence. What do they make of your new stardom? And what has it been like living with them while your career has skyrocketed?

They always say how proud they are of me, but there have been adjustments to be made. Being on TV or being recognized in the park, or being in the paper has taken some getting used to. It has felt so grounding to be surrounded by the people who know me and love me best during the chaos of this year, so I'm grateful for that. It's refreshing to watch some Hitchcock films with my mom or just chat with my brother between interviews. It centers me.



"Black Dog" is particularly devastating, but elsewhere on the album, there's a more uplifting message. How can we maintain hope during this bleak period?
I think this album is an exercise in balance. Being a human being involves spikes of elation and dejection, and I wanted to explore both sides. Honestly, I would say try and make space for your own joy every day, whether it's going for a quick walk, getting a posh coffee, having a solo dance party or a bath with candles. Doing little things for yourself consistently and being aware that what is meant for you will not pass you by.

How do you feel about flaunting your influences? I can hear bits of Radiohead and Portishead.
It's super important to me. I'm a music lover before a music maker, and I love the idea of picking little elements of records I enjoy. Maybe a kick drum from [A Tribe Called Quest's] The Low End Theory, some guitar reverb from a Beach House song, a melodic approach from [Elliott Smith's] Either/Or, creating a unique collage.

I like paying homage to and basking in the songs that made me fall in love with music and allow me to fall more deeply in love every day.

Speaking of influences, Billie Eilish says she's a fan. So is Michaela Coel and Phoebe Bridgers. How do you cope knowing the cool kids are watching?
It's surreal to know that such powerful, unique human beings are a fan of my work. It's validating in a specific way because these are people I look up to.

You're very in touch with your fan base, particularly through your candid social media presence. What's been the most impactful fan reaction to your work?
I feel connected to my fans, there's a familial quality to [my] community, and I find that lovely. Someone said that "Eugene" helped them come out to their older sister and feel a sense of comfort in themselves and their sexuality. I also remember someone saying the only way their baby boy would sleep was listening to "Cola", which I thought was very wholesome.

Your natural lyricism and interest in words of all kinds lend themselves to rap. Can we expect that on future albums, or will you keep it centered around spoken-word for now?
Maybe so. Who knows? I'm a big fan of hip-hop. Artists like Navy Blue, MF Doom, and Earl Sweatshirt are so playful with language. The sky's the limit, and that's so exciting to me.

Phoebe Bridgers Talks 'Punisher,' Japanese Snacks & Introducing Conor Oberst To Memes

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards