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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.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17. 

Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

Iggy Pop

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained… I wanted to be free," the Godfather of Punk explained

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2019 - 11:47 pm

Today, GRAMMY-nominated punk forbearer Iggy Pop revealed the details for his forthcoming 18th solo studio album, along with its short—at under two minutes—yet spacious title track, "Free." The 10-track LP is due out Sept. 6 and follow's 2016's GRAMMY-nominated Post Pop Depression.

"This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice," Pop explains in a press release.

The statement notes jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and L.A.-based electric guitarist Noveller as the "principal players" collaborating with Pop on this exploratory new project. On "Free," Thomas' horn and Noveller's guitar add layers of depth, somberness and exploration, as Pop's echoing voice cuts through twice to proclaim, "I want to be free."

Pop adds that his last tour left him feeling exhausted but ready for change, and the shifts eventually led him to these new sounds:

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that's an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need—not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen."

Post Pop Depression earned the former Stooges frontman his second GRAMMY nod, at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. It was produced by GRAMMY winner Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and as a tribute of sorts to David Bowie, Pop's longtime friend the producer of his first two solo albums, and was released shortly after Bowie's surprising passing.

As the press release states, "While it follows the highest charting album of Iggy's career, Free has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor—or with any other Iggy Pop album."

You can pre-order and pre-save the new album now for the Sept. 6 release here. You can also check out Pop's new book, 'Til Wrong Feels Right, on Sept. 26.

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

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