“I played The Great Escape a week before my first exam.”
Jessie Atkinson
11:15 16th September 2019

True genius emanates, and a besuited Arlo Parks is radiating it. Meeting before dinner is served at the AIM Independent Music Awards, Gigwise spoke to the young musician and poet about her ardently-emotional bedroom pop, and her nomination for ‘One To Watch.’

Tonight is her first rodeo on the red carpet, and Parks is relaxed, eloquent and glowing with promise despite the furore - “I’ve never been to anything like this…it seems like a bigger deal.”

Indeed it is. In attendance tonight: Debbie Harry, Ray Davies, Johnny Marr, AJ Tracey, Dave. And Arlo Parks, whose releases so far give her true belonging here among such brilliance. Her lo-fi alternative pop jams show off a deftness with imagery, an ear for groove, and an easy fit for Generation Z’s poet laureate. And that all from someone who’s just out of Sixth Form.

“I’ve been double lifing it,” she laughs.

“I was writing; I was rehearsing; I played The Great Escape like a week before my first exam,” she says of balancing writing her post-modern tunes alongside studying for A Levels in Biology, History and English.

“I felt like Hannah Montana,” she adds with a grin.

And if you’re wondering how the double-life has been going for Parks, then just know that not only has she been nominated at one of the year’s most star-studded awards, but that if she chose to go to university this month, then it would be to study English Literature at UCL - top 5 in the UK for her subject.

Clearly destined for brilliance wherever she makes it, Parks combined her love for music and poetry as a young teenager: she wrote her first song at “about thirteen or fourteen.”

“It was this acoustic track…I don’t even remember what it was about, but it was quite dodgy at the beginning!” she jokes, with the confident nonchalance of someone secure in her brilliant current output. Besides, the ‘dodginess’ seems to have served her well.

“It sounds so cheesy but when you make mistakes, that’s how you figure out the direction you want to go in. It’s never going to be Grammy standard from the get go. It’s a process.”

From that first “dodgy” song to the AIM Awards red carpet, Parks is currently at the Sign A Record Deal stage in her process. In June, Parks signed to Transgressive Records, with whom she is here tonight.

“When I met them for the first time I was like: ‘that’s where I want to sign,’” she says of the label: “I could tell immediately!”

Joining signees Marika Hackman, Let’s Eat Grandma, Foals and SOPHIE, Parks adds to an impressive roster: “it’s a bunch of amazing weirdos in the same place, making stuff” she smiles.

Crucially for Parks, Transgressive is an independent label, a pro that she says is crucial in allowing artists to truly transgress: “I feel like [to be transgressive] is about the ability to stay true to your vision and what you want to accomplish,” she says, adding that in the relationship between an artist and their independent label, “the relationship is more personal…they sign people they really believe in and are going to invest time and emotion into. That was the main difference for me.”

As a fan of Phoebe Bridgers, Christine and the Queens and current label mates Julia Jacklin and Two Door Cinema Club, Parks said that she could “picture” her trajectory, and that, like these artists, it included finding a home at an indie label: “most of the artists I admire are on independent labels so that’s what I want to do,” she says simply.

“I really respect people who have reached a very high level of success while staying independent,” she continues, “and when you look at Stormzy starting from an independent point and now he’s playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonmbury…it’s incredible.”

Tonight at the AIM Awards, she’s surrounded by some of music’s oldest and newest big names, and yet the young person sitting with Transgressive Records as their newest signee already seems at home. And with such a preternatural talent for quietly bold, exquisitely-emotional, searing songwriting, Arlo Parks has every reason to. 

Photo: Chris Almeida