“Independent venues provided the foundations for my life journey” – Arlo Parks Exclusive

Ahead of the release of her debut album “Collapsed In Sunbeams”, 2021 IVW Arlo Parks explains how grassroots gigs have helped shape her creativity and ability.

“I was quite young and I hadn’t developed that sense of confidence in my work. It was nerve wracking, but it was also amazing to have that platform, to be able to hone your craft,” she says. It was nerve wracking, but it was also amazing to have that platform, to be able to hone your craft. It is something that is quite unnatural, you are standing up in front of people, everyone’s kind of looking at you and you’re just singing your songs, but something that I learned from that was how to win over an audience.

Parks spoke to writer, broadcaster and friend of Independent Venue Week Paul Stokes about her art, 2020 and her first gigs.

How was your 2020?

It’s definitely been a roller coaster. In terms of my career I’ve got to do amazing stuff and lots of amazing things have happened. But you know, as a human being, it’s been quite a disorientating and strange year. 

People assume songwriters would relish being locked away, but that isn’t the case is it?

Yeah. Especially as I am quite a social creature and somebody who takes a lot of inspiration from conversations and being out and about, going to parties and travelling. I’ve had to kind of make conscious effort to inspire myself, which has almost been like a new skill I developed. I know people who have kind of been getting along with it Ok, people who are quite introverted, but I definitely would say it wasn’t the funnest time.

What made you agree to be IVW’s ambassador for 2021?

As an emerging artist, my whole life journey has been made up of going to and playing these venues. I think in times like these, when so many independent venues are having  to close down, or are not being provided the support, it’s my duty to do all I can. I really want it to be a part  of supporting and celebrating these venues’ importance. 

How key were these venues to your development as an artist?

I did like a few smaller shows at this venue called the Basement Door in Richmond, where a lot of younger kids who were trying to form bands or just starting off in music would be allowed to play. So I played there for a bit. It was mainly open mics. I played at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney too. All these kind of little venues and little opportunities really built me up to the position where I could be playing at something like [Brighton multi-venue festival] The Great Escape. I hadn’t played loads and loads, but it definitely provided the foundations for my life journey.

What is the open mic night experience like for an artist?

It’s quite nerve wracking, especially because I was quite young and I hadn’t developed that sense of confidence in my work. It was nerve wracking, but it was also amazing to have that platform, to be able to hone your craft. It is something that is quite unnatural, you are standing up in front of people, everyone’s kind of looking at you and you’re just singing your songs, but something that I learned from that was how to win over an audience.  I often just got my friends along, who would kindly be my cheerleaders, essentially. But how to deal with audiences is something that I definitely learned. At that time I was making music just in my bedroom for myself, so taking it out into the wild was definitely a challenge, but it was something I enjoyed as well. 

Did you find playing venues like the Basement Door introduced you to a community of like minded people?

It definitely brought us together. I played with a band – friends of mine or people I knew who could played an instrument – so even preparing for those gigs brought us together. Then the people that I would meet afterwards were all kids who lived around West London who were young and trying to build something for themselves. It was a time when everyone could just come together and create, there was no judgement.

Did that environment make music seem like a real possibility to you?

Yeah, exactly. When you say you want to be an artist, when you’re younger, it comes with a little bit ‘well, that’s probably not going to happen’. You know, that that sense of cynicism. But I was surrounded by all these people who had big dreams, and those dreams felt within our grasp when we were all together.

You made your full live debut at The Great Escape in 2019, it was quite a setting…

I played on the beach. I came straight from my history class because I was still at school at the time. It just kind of highlighted how kind of powerful, amazing music can be. It really made me feel like I was I felt at home on stage. I grew up a little bit. I did find more and more people around me who wanted to be directors or painters or artists, and that gave me confidence in my art that I maybe hadn’t had as much before. That was kind of the beginning of my of my awakening in terms of live music. Because when I was playing when I was younger, I was a little bit nervous. On the beach I felt completely free and open.

For you, what qualities do the best venues have?

I think it’s that idea of feeling like a hub, a community hub. After that Great Escape show, I played The Lexington at a night put on by BBC Introducing. It was just amazing to see kind of everyone converging in this space. It sounds strange to say everyone was kind of discussing ideas and dreams after the gig, feeling open and comfortable. For many people, these venues do provide a safe space kind of away from the anxieties and stresses of everyday life, and it just feels like everyone can be kind of immersed in music together. Which is really beautiful.

Looking ahead January is going to be a big month for you, and not just because of IVW…

January is when my album [Collapsed In Sunbeams] comes out, which is exciting. We plan to tour – if it can happen – and I’m excited to be able to play these songs in the world. That’s like the best part of it. Making the songs is one thing, but then actually being able to sing them in front of people is what kind of makes me feel happy. It makes me feel like these songs have a place in people’s lives outside my own stories. 

Possibly a terrible question, but can you describe the record to us?

Actually, I quite like that question. I would say it’s quite introspective. It’s based around kind of nostalgia and healing, and the experiences that have shaped me as I grew up. I take influences from everything from indie music, to pop, to r&b, to trip hop. So it’s kind of almost like a melting pot of a lot of different influences and a lot of different sonic palettes. I wrote it mainly during during lockdown, but it’s not a lockdown record – and I hope people like it.

In terms of IVW are there any particular issues you hope to highlight over the week?

Something that I’d like to do is just talk about the kind of positive experiences and little idiosyncrasies of the venues I’ve visited, to talk about all the people that I’ve met. To celebrate how hard they’re working to provide a breadth of different  artists and to welcome artists who are finding their feet in the live world. Also, I want to  talk about how important the people behind the scenes are. The people who keep these venues running and who are struggling so much at this point. I want to encourage people to support – whether it’s financially or just like spreading the word – these venues, their situations, to just make sure that we can keep them afloat because they are so important – especially for an up and coming artist. Most of the venues that you play when you’re doing those first tours, when you’re playing those first shows, are independent. Without them, therefore, there isn’t really an opportunity for new artists to emerge and to build themselves up. So I’d encourage anyone who’s kind of interested in new music, who is interested in music at all, to understand how important they are and how important they have been in my journey personally. 

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