Live from Anne’s Backyard: Arlo Parks

Intimate performances, fresh sounds, and candid conversations with a view.

From the moment we heard poet, singer, and songwriter Arlo Parks’ music, we were gripped. With the elegance and precision of her literary-infused lyrics and the disarming tenderness of her dulcet voice, the rising British star has emerged amongst the foremost troubadours of our time. But don’t take our word. The awards bodies of The Mercury Prize and The Brit Awards have already taken notice, and she might be adding a Grammy (or two) to her awards shelf with recent nods for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album for her debut, “Collapsed in Sunbeams.”

In a rare moment of consensus for KCRW’s DJs and Music Staff, “Collapsed in Sunbeams” has also landed at the top of our Best Albums of 2021, so we couldn’t think of a better time to share her recent Live From Anne’s Backyard session with you.  

With a hazy LA skyline behind her, Parks delivered a stunning, intimate performance of album standouts alongside a single guitar accompaniment. She also sat down for a conversation with Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host Novena Carmel about her writing style and process, the itch to explore further creative pursuits, and the surrealness of waking up in a strange new city every day while on tour in North America.

Check out a video of the performance plus audio of the full set and interview below.

Watch Arlo Parks play a live set in KCRW DJ Anne Litt's backyard.
Photo by Jason Kramer

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

KCRW: The last time that we saw each other was in February, over Zoom. Your debut album had just dropped. You described feeling like everything was a whirlwind, but that you were trying to stay present. Do you feel as though that whirlwind has died down a little bit?

Arlo Parks: It’s a continuous whirlwind for sure. I definitely feel like I have been intentional about that feeling of presence. (I’m) journaling a bit more, writing things down like when incredible things happen. (I’m) writing down how I feel, what happened that day, and just trying to take stock of it because it's been an incredible year so far.

Read more: How Arlo Parks followed her musical instincts into “Sunbeams”

You're in the midst of your North American tour right now, how's that been going?

It’s been an adventure because every single city I'd never been to before. I'd only ever been to LA. 

Wow, not even visiting?

No, not at all, so every time I wake up I’m in a new city and it’s like — whew! But it's been lovely to be able to bring the music to people in that live kind of communal way, it's really nice.

Have there been any songs that are occurring to you in a different way now that you're performing them live? Or that are impacting folks in a way that you didn't expect?

I think for me, “Black Dog” was the main one, because it was written about such a personal, specific moment in a flat in London. It felt kind of insular as a song. Then when I brought it to the stage, people would come to me with all sorts of different stories about losses they'd suffered, or things that they'd managed to get through. So then, it felt… like, beyond me. I think that's what I've learned from these shows. Even though I'm writing about this specific period of time in my life, it's kind of stretched to all these different people, which is really nice.


Arlo Parks talks with Morning Becomes Eclectic’s Novena Carmel at her Anne’s Backyard session. Photo by Anderson Wright.

Have there been any unexpected moments from this tour? A crowd giving you something you didn’t see coming? Or maybe finding a great, cool coffee shop in the middle of Idaho? 

Yes, I had a really great crowd in Denver. It was crazy, which is wonderful. I had a really great time in Portland. Lots of nice coffee shops there, as you say. San Francisco was so much energy it was like… woah. But to be honest, every city that I visited kind of welcomed me with open arms. To be so far from home and to be greeted with that kind of love was pretty special.

You are a musician. You are a poet. When you're writing, are you writing a poem first, and then it turns into a song? Do songs become poems? How do they overlap? Is it a different approach?

When I'm writing anything, be it a poem or a song, it starts with about 10 minutes of just writing continuously. And then I'll usually hone that into a poem, which then becomes a song. Rarely have songs transitioned to poems. But I kind of just write, and then it turns into what it turns into. I try not to be too kind of prescriptive about it.

The way you described journaling earlier… that could turn into something too, right?

My journals definitely provide a lot for the music, for sure.

You're a big fan of Radiohead. Are there any of their lyrics that stand out to you as particularly beautiful or devastating, any that you hold on to?

My favorite record is “In Rainbows.” I feel like the simplicity of some of the lyrics is something that I really look up to. For example, in “House of Cards:” “I don't want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover. No matter how it ends, no matter how it starts. I think what I look for in songs, poems, and in books… it's just that kind of singular voice and having that really pure kind of way of expressing yourself. It doesn't necessarily need to be complicated, or particularly beautiful, it just has to be true and that's what I look for.


Photo by Anderson Wright.

Can you pick three words that have come to you while you're in Los Angeles?

I would say familiar. I would say vibrant. And I would say… I would say warm, Not [in terms of] temperature — though obviously, also temperature. But because I’ve just got a lot of friends here. It feels like almost a home to come back to. All the other cities were completely fresh and new. [But in LA] I've had time to go out for dinner with people, to just spend time, which has been nice.

Congratulations on your debut album winning a Mercury Prize. You’ve written about how you used to ride your bike by that venue, and now you have this prize. Can you describe the experience a bit?

That was definitely one of those whirlwind experiences. But my whole team was there, my family were there as well in the crowd. And with both the Mercury's and the Brit’s as well, there was no kind of previous expectation. No one had secretly told me, or even given me a little elbow nudge. I literally had no idea. And I feel like with those things… The biggest thing that I take out of prizes, is just the fact that I can be myself. I can make the music that I want to make. So it doesn't change the way that I write, it just kind of affirms me. It was just wonderful. Especially the Mercury Prize, which is like a music music prize.

What’s next for you?

A lot of touring is up next. We're coming back (to North America) with Clairo in the New Year. But a lot of writing, working on the next project, exploring other kinds of creative paths as well. I’d like to try painting a little bit more, as well as acting. I like spreading around because I'm quite disorganized in my head. So I like to be like all over the place. But yeah, generally just kind of growing and taking time to just sit in a room and try things, you know? Being on the road and bringing the music to people live is going to be a big part of the next few years I think.


Photo by Anderson Wright. 

Credits
KCRW Music Director: Anne Litt
Video Director/Editor: Angie Scarpa
Director of Photography: Vice Cooler
Camera Op: Leslie Bumgarner
Producer: Melanie Makaiwi
Sound Engineer: Paul Smith
Artwork: Gabrielle Yakobson
Digital Producer: Andrea Domanick

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