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Arlo Parks' new album reflects on the pain and joy of live and love


Arlo Parks has a new album out. It's called "My Soft Machine," and it reflects on the pain and the joy of life and love.


ARLO PARKS: (Singing) I don't want to wait for you. I don't want to wait for you. I don't want to wait for you. But I need you, so I won't go.

FADEL: On the side, she's also an ambassador in the U.K. for a group really anyone can get behind. It's called the Campaign Against Living Miserably. I was like, oh, I want that. That's a great campaign.

PARKS: I guess I just wanted to be a voice that was contributing to that and let people know that they were worthy of help and that someone cared about them.

FADEL: Which is obvious when you listen to this album, the lyrics, the music. When we spoke, she started with how she chose the title. It was inspired by a line in the 2019 film "The Souvenir."

PARKS: There's this moment when one of the characters talks about why people consume art, and it's about experiencing reality through the soft machine, through someone's body, through someone's eyes. And I felt like that really encapsulated the energy of this record. It's very much a contrast between light and shade, you know, numbness and hypersensitivity and the softness and the machinelike quality, I feel.

FADEL: Yeah, it's interesting 'cause the music does have this very entrancing, soft quality to it, but your songs are so raw and explore really tough issues.


PARKS: (Singing) Promising to rise above the thoughts, try to flush her pills and get support.

FADEL: If you could talk about what writing that through music does for you and how you use music.

PARKS: Sometimes I feel like being able to distill a really difficult problem that feels really impossible to digest in one go is actually a lot easier to kind of filter through a song. And I think it's also almost putting that sense of, like, pain or being lost to good use. It feels useful in a way. And I think that that's, you know, a big part of why I share the music that I make, why it's not just kind of me in my bedroom doing it only for myself. It's that desire to kind of provide relief for others.

FADEL: Purple phase - I looked up that phrase when I saw it in the song, and I read that it's typically used to describe that time when a newborn just won't stop crying. And I'm just curious what it means in this song.

PARKS: I didn't know that. No.

FADEL: I was like, is this a thing? So I Googled it.

PARKS: I didn't know that at all. And I think I just wanted to have a nebulous, like, ambiguous term for that space of limbo where you feel quite adrift and you feel lost and unmoored, but there is this sense of kind of moving towards land. And I used that phrase as a comfort because the sense of it being a phase is that...

FADEL: It'll pass.

PARKS: ...It will end. But it also is just telling the character in the song that they are valid to feel this way.


PARKS: (Singing) It's just a purple phase.

The moment just before you decide to recover and make steps towards healing whatever it is that you want to escape from - thinking about that helpless feeling of having someone close to you really in the pit of things and realizing the piece of the puzzle that's preventing them from feeling better is themselves, and they maybe haven't got to the place internally where they want to change.


PARKS: I wish I was bruiseless. Almost everyone that I love has been abused, and I am included. I feel so much guilt that I couldn't guard more people from harm.

FADEL: You use spoken word throughout the album in moments, and I know that you have an intense love for poetry. I'm just curious how that inspires the way you put your music together and the moments that you decide to go into spoken word.

PARKS: For me, the moments in my songs that are spoken word are the ones that I don't really want to distill or hone because in the moments where I'm kind of speaking, it just makes more sense to have a stream of consciousness. I just feel like there's a real bulk of truth that I want to tell.

FADEL: You write about love in good and terrible ways on this album, and I was thinking about "Pegasus," which I find to be joyful, but it also is very honest.


ARLO PARKS AND PHOEBE BRIDGERS: (Singing) I'll tell you the truth. Being with someone always made me feel used. Then it would make me angry 'cause I need love like a body needs sugar. I need love.

FADEL: You don't write about love in this bubblegum way, right? You actually write about how terrifying and electrifying and scary it all can be. Can you tell us what inspired this song?

PARKS: It surrounds that sense of feeling really safe with somebody - like, safe enough to share when you're really struggling and safe enough to say when you're just, like, bursting with emotion and excitement and where you never feel embarrassed about showing that open-hearted side of yourself.


PARKS AND BRIDGERS: (Singing) I spun around and screamed, I feel elated when you hold me. Then you got shy and beamed, I think it's special that you told me.

PARKS: It's very rare to feel completely seen by somebody and to feel that you can reveal all facets of your soul and your dreams and who you are. And you don't have that fear of someone turning away from you when you do show them everything.

FADEL: Yeah. Was there any one song on this album that you listen to and think, this is me right now and what I've learned in the 22 years I've been - you know, this is the essence of this album and who I am today?

PARKS: I think probably "Puppy."


PARKS: (Singing) I know some things don't get easier.

That song in particular is very much about moving into adulthood, you know, getting used to the fact that things don't go to plan and the universe deals you blows that you would never expect and gives you beautiful moments that you would never expect and learning to kind of see yourself as a whole and learning to take care of yourself and learning that you have to kind of establish your place in the world.

FADEL: Yeah.


PARKS: I'm a star. I don't care what your roommate says. Wonder if the world might make sense when we got three kids and our 30s end. But we're all scared kids, and it don't make sense. We're all scared kids.

FADEL: You have a line. We're all scared kids, and it don't make sense. You know, I'm 41, and I'm still waiting to be an adult. I'm like, when does it feel like I figured it out? And I don't know. I guess it doesn't.

Arlo Parks, thank you so much.

PARKS: Thank you.


PARKS: (Singing) Hurt forever. Hurt forever. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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