Arlo Parks: Records that changed my life

Rowan Faife

Singer-songwriter Arlo Parks takes us through five records that have shaped her sound. 

Channel Orange by Frank Ocean

the solid orange artwork of Channel Orange

When I heard this record for the first time, I was maybe 14. I was struck by how unique and idiosyncratic his sound was. The lyrics to tracks like "Thinkin Bout You" are surreal, but the album is so varied it really takes you through a journey. 

It was the first time where I heard a record and thought, it really feels like this person is doing exactly what they want to do, and not thinking about was has come in the past. 

Frank Ocean's voice is beautiful and he has a way with words that I can’t really fault.

Read more: 25 Greatest opening lines in music

 

In Rainbows by Radiohead

In Rainbows multicoloured album cover

In Rainbows is probably the album you can hear the most in my music. I first heard it in 2007, which was around the same time that I started writing songs myself. One of my favourite songs in the whole world is on there, it’s called “Nude”.

I think the record influenced me sonically but also lyrically, with how vulnerable and emotional some of those songs are. I’ve always been attracted to albums that have a sense of cohesion but also have variety, where an artist can create a mood through lots of different kinds of songs. Radiohead is probably my favourite band because of the variety of [their output].

"In Rainbows is probably the album you can hear the most in my music"

In Rainbows is a very vulnerable record and it kind of strips away all of that experimentation and dissonance into something that is very melodic and warm and inviting. It strips songs down to really simple arrangements—sometimes it’s just bass, drums and voice, which I really like.

My song “Eugene” was really inspired by “Weird Fishes” with the bass guitar that kind of loops round. My producer is really into Radiohead as well, so that kind of seeped into the songs we made in that period.

 

Voodoo by D'Angelo

Voodoo by D'Angelo record sleeve

The story behind this one is strange… I discovered the Soulquarians with Erykah [Badu] and Talib [Kweli]. They were making music in Electric Lady Studios, that Jimi Hendrix had [used] in the same time period.

In that period, Mama's Gun by Erykah Badu came out and Voodoo came out and then The Roots' album came out. But Voodoo for me was an exercise in building a mood in minimalism.

Songs like "The Line" and even "Untitled", led me to experiment with my own vocal style. It really got me into R&B and soul and I think I based a lot of how I sing on it—not on the high vocal runs and all of that, but using my voice as something that’s a little bit more understated and folds into the instruments and isn’t that ostentatious.

It helped me understand how you can build a mood and an atmosphere in a record. I talk about minimalism a lot, but that’s not to say I don’t also like big pop songs. But [I love] the fact that it’s minimal and the fact that it’s hypnotic. It incorporates so many different elements, it’s got some funk in there, it’s got some soul, even some ambient bits as well.

 

Madvillainy by Madvillain, aka MF Doom and Madlib

Madvillainy by Madvillain album artwork

Madvillainy was my first foray into more experimental hip hop. The lyrics and the way they use language is so playful. You don’t really know what the songs are about, [MF Doom] is just rhyming and weaving. I’ve always been really into poetry and [MadVillainy] felt really close to some of the poetry I liked when I was a little bit younger, which was kind of just attacking your senses with a thousand different strange images.

I found out that Earl Sweatshirt was heavily influenced by MF Doom, which makes a lot of sense because I enjoy hip hop [like Earl Sweatshirt's] that plays around with words. They’re just doing these crazy rhymes that maybe don’t mean that much, but it’s just for the sake of it. And the beats and the samples are out of this world.

"I appreciate storytelling, but I also [appreciate] people who push language to its limits, just because they can"

When you listen to tracks like “Accordion” or even “Bistro” which has that weird little interlude thing—it's those kinds of crunchy analogue beats mixed with obscure eccentric lyrics that just makes it one of my favourites.

I can appreciate storytelling—that’s something that I try to do personally—but then I can also [appreciate] people who push the English language to its limits, just because they can.

 

Blue by Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell blue album held up against the sky
Image via TAZ Records

I like this album because it really developed my storytelling. There's the lyric:

"I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had"

where [Mitchell mixes] honesty with self-deprecation, mingled with just being very down to earth.

Joni Mitchell's songs feel very personal, and that’s something I aspire to do with my music. I’m always telling stories about people and situations that are very close to my heart, people that I know quite intimately, and I try to convey that sense of intimacy to the listener. 

"Blue makes me feel more comfortable about admitting my vulnerabilities"

Blue makes me feel more comfortable about admitting my vulnerabilities and admitting my weaknesses, and I think there’s something empowering in saying "sometimes I’m not OK" or "sometimes I make mistakes". That’s something everyone can relate to because everyone has their weakness and flaws, and I want to be as open as possible. When I’m touched by those songs it makes me hopeful that other people are touched by mine.

 

Arlo Parks' cover of Radiohead's "Creep", which features in Tom Dream's Shy Radicals film, is out now on Transgressive Records.

About the interviewer: Rowan Faife is a rapper, YouTuber and events promoter. He worked as a consultant and lyric writer for the BBC-backed film, VS. He tweets at @twitteurgh