arlo parks‘ the sophomore album is in some ways accidental. “I started listening to everything I collected and was like, ‘Wow! “I found almost the raw material for an album here,” he says. Variation. “Somehow I fooled myself.”
This has helped the 22-year-old London native avoid some of the pressure that accompanies an artist’s second LP – especially if they’ve had such an upswing like Parks’s. After building a loyal fan base in the UK, he released his debut album “Collapsed in Sunbeams” in January 2021. The album won the prestigious Mercury Award and earned Park nominations for best new artist and alternative album at the 2022 Grammy Awards. But all that success didn’t come without a price: After opening for Harry Styles, Clairo and Billie Eilish in the first half of 2022, Parks canceled part of his US tour later in the year, saying his mental health had “deteriorated to 0,000”. It’s a debilitating place.”
In many ways, this honesty has made him even more of a beacon of relevance for Generation Z, and his new album “My Soft Machine”, which is out May 26, is his most personal project ever. Below, Parks discusses mid-20s anxiety. Phoebe Bridgers And what makes a good love song?
How does it feel for “My Soft Machine” to finally come out into the world?
When you really get into the deepest recesses of yourself and show people what you’re dating, it’s like having a conversation with a best friend or a therapist, but you’re living it with the world. It’s scary, but when I think about some of my favorite artists – like Elliott Smith or Phoebe Bridgers or Jeff Buckley or anyone with that open-hearted approach to music – then that’s what moves about him, right?
I’ve been revisiting Buckley’s “Grace” lately. She was very special.
I listen to “Grace” a lot, but I was revisiting “Sketches for My Sweetheart” and “Everybody Here Wants You” – it’s tearing you apart, right? Something about her voice… actually it’s almost painful to listen to it. I was talking to my friend about this, like I must be in a good field because otherwise he’d throw me off a cliff.
Definitely. Much of “My Soft Machine” focuses on the unique yet universal feeling of being in your 20s. What do you think is so important at this time in life?
There is something really deep in the years when you find yourself and have to decide what your place in the world is… There is something quite painful but also beautiful in that journey because it is something that everyone experiences. And when you’re in it, you feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t understand, and then you talk to more people and it’s like everyone is in the same boat. I’m still trying to figure it out and I feel lucky to know that I have something that feels like a purpose, but it’s still complicated, you know?
When did you first start working on the album?
The first songs made on record were demos of “Ghost” and “Room” made in the winter of 2020, before “Collapsed in Sunbeams” was released. It’s the summer of 2021 and this was the first song that I felt really captured the energy of what I wanted to do with the record, and it was the first time I met Romil. And then January and spring 2022 was when the rest of the music came together.
I assume you mean Romil Hemnani from Brockhampton?
He’s so sweet, I love Romil. You have to surround yourself with people like this, because a big part of having a long career that always feels like you’re moving forward and into new corners is having people around you who really just want to do something you all love. Something that feels good is something you can keep from wanting to be acknowledged, appreciated, or whatever.
This makes the music much better and original.
It’s funny when you have an artist doing something great – like a Billie Eilish or even a Pink Panther or Phoebe. Someone who does something truly unique. And then you get people trying to do a version of that, almost becoming their side branch. But they already exist, so you can’t create something that tries to capture the spirit of the times in an unoriginal way because someone is already there. I feel like a lot of people forget that you are the only person you are, so just do it. It’s sad, because maybe it comes from a lack of self-confidence. Maybe it comes from people who want to do something they’re sure other people will like.
The pressure of the second album can be frightening and overwhelming. How did you approach?
Honestly, I’ve heard that tinkering with the second record is hard for a lot of people, but I started the process by just doing things and it’s the most natural thing in the world for me… There was a moment, I was in New York and I got into Electric Lady because they have such beautiful speakers. and I just started listening to everything I’ve collected and said, “Wow! I pretty much have the raw material for an album here. I kind of fooled myself. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m glad I did.
What inspired the title of the album, “My Soft Machine”?
[The film] “Memorial” tells us that we do not want to see life as it is played, but as if it were lived in this soft machine. Because the soft machine is the body, the brain, and I interpret how exciting it is to create work that comes from someone’s eyes and heart and a subjective place that sees the details of the memories they remember. this exploration of compassion, kindness and compassion juxtaposed with steel and coldness and the machine that evokes something inhuman without thought or soul – captured the fact that this is an album of light and shadow. It’s about lethargy, but also about being overly sensitive and even extroverted, as well as deep introversion and loneliness with the community. I think it captures most of these contrasts really well.
You can feel this contrast in the music as it is a bit more optimistic than your last album, but still handles heavy topics. What attracts you to this kind of juxtaposition?
My voice has a soft quality and I always want it to be balanced in the same way with some of my favorite songs. [do]. Take Phoebe’s song “Kyoto,” which is all about the feeling of being happy, but then the lyrics and the depth she goes into in her relationship with her father. I love it when it’s contrast. Because that’s what it’s like to be human.
Speaking of Phoebe Bridgers, the two of you finally got a decent collaboration with “Pegasus”. How did the song come together?
I wanted it to feel pretty minimal, like a “White Ferrari” moment, or [like] that pianist, Duval Timothy. I just wanted it to have room to breathe because I felt the instrumentation on the rest of the record felt rich and lush. I’ve been a fan of Phoebe for a very long time since I was 17. We sang a group of songs together, and when our voices come together, I really feel like they go together naturally. So I felt that to her and I was really honest about how important her music is to me and what the song means to me and she said yes.
Falling in love is a big theme in this record. What makes a good love song?
It should be specific – you should actually feel that someone is looking at a person lying there. This detail can come in any form, but it always strikes a chord for me because you can say you wrote it in the corner of the room while your person was cooking or on a phone call or whatever. I think there is something very beautiful about that. I just love a bittersweet song, like a little element – I’m not saying it has to be like “I love you but it’s almost over” – it doesn’t have to be depressing, but I like it when it’s not completely happy “Everybody Wants You Here” is the perfect example, it’s suffocating and this slowness and this sense of anxiety and sadness creeping in silently as if a storm were about to disturb the peace.
What excites you most when it comes to playing this new music on the road?
Playing “Devotion”. It’s like I’m playing the guitar, I feel like I’m going to have this newfound sense of energy towards music, now I feel completely represented by it. I’m also really excited to be playing with all my friends at the All Things Go festival in Washington at the end of the year, it’s going to be so much fun. Muna playing, Maggie [Rogers] it plays Ethel Cain, it plays Beabadoobee, it plays Lana Del Rey. I saw this staff and it made me very happy.
It was amazing to see so many women and queer people in this drama and to see it sell out so quickly – it’s like that’s what people want!
Absolutely, and I really feel like there are no excuses. It shouldn’t even be something I like, it just has to be what’s going on. But when you see a show like this it has so many queer artists and so much variety – you can’t tell that femme people and non-binaries, people of all genders make music that isn’t good enough. This is not true.
This interview was edited and summarized.