Soho Rising: Arlo Parks

woman sat on cushioned bench on patio with hands clasped

London singer/ songwriter Arlo Parks talks taking the stage for the second tour of Soho Rising

By Chante Joseph

In July 2019 we introduced Soho Rising, a new platform that champions emerging talent in music by inviting members and guests to performances around the Houses. For its second tour, we welcomed 19-year-old Londoner Arlo Parks to the stage in London, Amsterdam and Berlin. 

The poignant voice of Gen Z, wise beyond her years, Parks uses poetry and melancholic beats to amplify the conflicted experience of today’s youth. Through a fusion of soft rock, hip-hop and R&B, she is humanising a generation of teens over-exposed to the world's harsh realities. She doesn’t hold back, her guileless lyrics are explicit, and she is becoming an immovable icon for what she coins her ‘Super Sad Generation.’

It’s not only an infectious sound, but relatable lyrics and swagger have also boosted her profile. In the last year alone, since releasing her first single ‘Cola’, she has performed at Glastonbury and been gushed over by the likes of Gurls Talk founder Adwoa  Aboah and Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer.

‘For me, Arlo Parks perfectly encapsulates where we want to be with Soho Rising,’ explains Soho House’s UK and Europe head of music. ‘She was the standout act at The Great Escape and is set to have a break out year in 2020. Being able to bring acts like this to our Houses and showcase them to members just before they blow up is what Soho Rising is all about.’ 

Just after her 19th birthday, we caught up with Parks ahead of her sets at the Houses to discuss her style, influences and what's next.
black and white image of woman singing on stage with guitarist and drummer
Was there a moment when you just knew that music was for you? 
I think it was actually when I came out of Loyle Carner’s show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – it was my first show and I remember sitting on the bus home thinking it was the best shit I’d ever seen - I knew I wanted to move people as he moved me and that’s where it began

Other than Loyle Carner, who are you enjoying listening to?
When it comes to music I’m enjoying, I sit in quite a few different genres. I love Erykah Badu, The Internet, Steve Lacey and I recently discovered a lot of funk, like Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone. 

Do you place your sound in a singular genre? 
I don’t know, I feel like the idea of a genre has dissolved recently, which I really like. Everyone is always like, ‘What kind of music do you make?’ and I always reply, ‘I literally don’t know!’

How are you managing studying and music? 
This past year I’ve felt like Hannah Montana, it was like I was living this double life. I’d be at school and then I’d suddenly remember I’ve got rehearsals, I can’t lie, it was really stressful. I felt like I wasn’t giving my all to music or studying so while I’m on this European tour, I deferred my offer to study English Literature at UCL to next year. I kind of just wanted to take this time to throw myself into [music] 100 per cent. 

What was your Glastonbury experience like as a performer? 
It was sick. I did three performances and got to go on BBC Two which was so stressful but also a lot of fun. Right before going live, I spilt coffee all over myself and was crying in the portaloo trying to scrub it all off! Other than that, it was incredible. 
black and white image of woman singing on stage
How would you describe the Super Sad Generation? 
I feel like a lot of what characterises my generation is this new kind of openness. We overshare a lot and, because of social media, we will talk about anything and everything. While that can sometimes be too much, I feel that having uncomfortable conversations is so important. 

You speak about being one of only three black people in your school, how did this impact your approach to identity?
Fitting into a box is often impossible and the process of trying to be like everyone else is painful. It never ever works. It made me look inwards a lot more – I spent a lot of time thinking about how different I was and dissecting my identity. In the end, I think it just made me more determined to make art that was true to my own personal vision.

What can we expect from your Soho Rising shows at the Houses?
In terms of tracks, I'm going to be playing some old ones and some new ones. When I perform, I feel like I have a lot of energy, I kind of get too into it and then I just lose control of my limbs! Overall, I want it to be an intimate performance and, hopefully, I'll play in front of people who have never seen me before. It's going to be a lot of fun. I want people to enjoy themselves. 

What’s next for you and what should we be looking out for?
I'm going to be putting out new music in September and I’ve got a few festivals coming up all over Europe, then I’m going on tour with Jordan Rakei in the autumn, which is going to be sick – it finishes at the Roundhouse so that’s really special to me. I screamed down the street when I found out I was touring with him, I’m really excited. Touring is something I love, I just love travelling, plus my band are my mates so it’s always really fun.

Images by Jack O'Brien