Interview: Singer/Songwriter Arlo Parks

The London-based artist on her tender new song and creating while in isolation

Out today, Arlo Park’s gossamer, emotional “Black Dog” is led by delicate guitar, chiming keys and the London-based singer/songwriter’s stirring vocals. The tune (whose title is also a metaphor for depression) tells a first-person account of witnessing a loved one struggling, and attempting to care for them through it all. Outlining seemingly small accomplishments, painful observations and hypothetical remedies, the song is a tender tale of empathy that begins viscerally: “I’d lick the grief right off your lips.” We spoke with the talented 19-year-old poet, singer and songwriter about making “Black Dog” (from the upcoming Eugene) and what has been fueling her creativity while in isolation.

Tell us a little about writing “Black Dog.” Was there a moment, a conversation, a book, an image—something that was the catalyst for it?

This song was inspired by three things: the graphic novel Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine, a quote from the book Bluets by Maggie Nelson that says “Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for the beauty in that,” and my friend Max passing away in 2018.

What do you hope listeners take away from the song?

I hope they feel moved and I hope they realize how important it is to have empathy and check up on their friends.

The lyrics for “Black Dog”—and many of your songs—create emotional scenes that are remarkably visceral, is that intentional?

The way that I write is very instinctual and based off raw feeling—I’m a very emotional person and I think that comes across in my writing. Also the songwriting that I enjoy, for example Elliott Smith, Leonard Cohen and Nico tend to be both photographic and visceral.

I mainly write to write

You also write poetry—is there a difference between your process for writing songs and poems? Is there a point you know your words are suited for music?

There isn’t a clear difference to me—the lines are very blurred. Most of my songs are based off poetry, but I mainly write to write. I never know which form the words are best suited to until I hear an instrumental.

What motivates you to make music—do you do it for your own self-exploration, to entertain, to create, to share?

It’s almost a compulsion. When I feel something, I write it down so I guess technically it’s a personal catharsis, but I would really like to help people as I figure myself out.

Do you feel more or less motivated right now in isolation?

It goes up and down. Some days I paint and write and meditate, but some days I just sit about with zero motivation. I think that’s natural though.

Have you been reading or watching anything recently that’s been inspiring or perhaps even a good distraction for you? Have you been discovering new talents or passions?

I’ve been reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin as well as a collection of Dylan Thomas poems a girl mailed me a few days ago. I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which really blew my mind, and I’ve been teaching myself to DJ which is a lot of fun.

Images courtesy of Charlie Cummings