Arlo Parks Meets Girl in Red

Arlo Parks Meets Girl in Red

by Margaret Farrell

Only a couple days after Arlo Parks and girl in red's Marie Ulven hop on our Zoom call, chatting about achieving their shared goals of becoming full-time musicians and envisioning each other making pizza while sipping on orange wine, both artists make Europe's Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Although joining these legendary ranks might be considered external validation, it's clear that neither of them need it.

Parks, who released her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams at the beginning of this year, and Ulven, whose much-anticipated record if i could make it go quiet comes at the end of this month, are at the forefront of a songwriting generation that's unapologetically observant and candid. Both use their music to detail turbulent queer relationships, pop cultural artifacts (from Jai Paul to Twin Peaks) and poignant moments of self-realization.

Although the two have enjoyed each other's work for a while, they've never met in person. "I'm actually really confused," Ulven brightly confesses. "I wouldn't say that I know you. Obviously I don't know you, like I don't know your favorite food. Like, [if] you can ride a bike —" "Ya, I can. I can ride a bike," Parks clarifies.

Although the two have only texted before, their conversation-interview takes on more of the former. It's a vibrant friendship in the making.

How did you guys first hear of each other?

Arlo: What's that SoundCloud, you don't have it out on anything else, but I think it's like "Dramatic Lil Bitch"? And I just bumped that. I loved it so much. And then I've just been keeping up with everything that you're doing. And obviously, watched you fucking shine throughout 2020. And this girl that I was seeing a few years ago was obsessed with you. And so now got that little association.

Marie: That's a full circle moment. Well, okay, she's not here. But um, I mean, it could have been. But I mean, that's a pretty OG way of finding me though. "Dramatic Lil Bitch," that's a long time ago. But, I remember I found your song "Black Dog" in a playlist sometime last year. It was really early, because I was like, "Who is this person? This is so beautiful." And I checked out your Insta, and you had like 27k followers I was like, "Oh my god. Yeah, this girl is gonna whoop!" I was so blown away by how beautiful it was.

Arlo: That's probably the song that I'm most proud of making. So I'm glad that it was that one that you found. I had SoundCloud demos as well, but thankfully, those have all been erased. Because if you followed me from those, I don't think you'd be having this chat with me right now.

Marie: But, I mean, you had to be there to be here, you know? You had to do those things. I always try to tell myself like, I have a lot of bad music out on Spotify, under my real name. Now I'm embracing the bad shit because I'm not there right now. And you're not there. So like we made it. [Laughs]

Arlo: You're right though. Because everyone builds from the ground up. No one's first song is excellent. That doesn't exist.

Marie: Yeah, and normalize that shit. No one's ever gonna get good at anything if everyone's like, "Oh, like I wasn't really good at this thing that I've never done before." Of course! I just started painting. I'm probably going to make some really bad paintings. And I'm just going to show them to my friends.

Arlo: I want to see I want to see your paintings, dude. I really, really want to see them.

Marie: I will definitely post about my paintings as soon as I'm happy with them.

Arlo: I've always wanted to try painting. But I definitely think that I have that little bit of a fear — it's like when I started DJing in lockdown and I was a bit like, "This is so hard. I'm so bad at this." But I'm like, of course you are, you've literally watched one YouTube tutorial and you expect to be like fucking Peggy Gou. Let's normalize that: Being bad at stuff and getting better.

Marie: I mean, it's all about the journey. And also let's normalize getting better and not everyone being like, "Oh, I wish you made more stuff like you used to make." UGHHH. Oh, my God!

Arlo: Yes. I agree.

Marie: I remember three years ago, I put out a song and then someone commented, "Oh my God, this sounds so much more pop." Imagine you start drawing and then you never get better. And then you do get better and everyone's like, "Oh, I wish you sucked."

Arlo: Yeah, you're so right. You can't be expected to make the same song a million times. Because that's not what it is to be an artist. People always have something to say about the growth. You gotta just focus on whatever you want to do, I guess.

Both of you have released or are going to release music during lockdown — I am really curious how it's like impacted your relationship with your own music now.

Arlo: For me, actually my process didn't really change that much because I've always made music in apartments and in bedrooms. I didn't really go to the studio that much. So it was pretty much doing exactly that. But you know, having less distractions in between. And I guess marketing it in terms of you know, it was a lot of like promo like this, rather than in person stuff. But when it came to the writing process, it was literally exactly the same just like poems and listening to a lot of tunes, watching a lot of films. And just trying not to think about it too much. So it didn't change things that much, maybe gave me a bit more time.

Marie: I second that thing about time, so much more time now. You're not scheduling a release next to any shows or anything. So if something goes to shit, then you're gonna actually need another week or whatever. But yes, I also feel like time has been really good. Because I was actually going to tour pretty much the entirety of 2020 and also make records.

Arlo: Same man, we're both in the same boat, and I don't think I would have been able to do it. Interestingly, for me, I still knew that I had to make an album, like that deadline didn't really evaporate. But the fact that I had more space to make one made the difference. And actually, at the beginning of quarantine, I was my most productive, which I don't really know why — I think it was just like shock. But I think, when it came to writing and quarantine, it became my only focus, like I literally had nothing else to do. So a lot of music came from that boredom, I think.

Marie: I second this, too. [Laughs] I don't feel like my creativity was heavily affected up until maybe later, like very late 2020 when I was like, I'm not really experiencing anything new and exciting. I'm not getting any impulses. And I'm not meeting friends who tell me things about their lives.

Arlo: You need those little— you need to be out there making mistakes and having weird conversations at parties and running around then. You're so right. When quarantine started, I still had some stuff leftover from normal life to talk about. Then the further we got through I was like, "Oh my god, we've literally just been inside for a whole year." Like I'm not gonna talk about my mom being like, "Dinner's ready." There's nothing to talk about.

Marie: That would have been a great song. You know? Dinner's ready,

Arlo: You could sample though, that could be cool.

Marie: I mean, really though, sampling is some fun shit that I've been getting into. I've been getting a few new friends lately, which I love. I love getting new friends. Yeah. And I feel like this is really inspiring to me because I've been like the last four days I've just been hunched back, like sitting like this just like making music, which I haven't done in a while, which is also like, let's normalize not making music when you're an artist.

Arlo: Oh man. That constant productivity and searching for the single or whatever, we need to get away from that and make music when it feels good rather than feel you have to.

Marie: Exactly. That's a weird realization I've gotten to as this career has progressed, sort of like, "Fuck, I need to make music when I don't want to," and I need to deliver when I have nothing to say. That is something that I'm like — oh, man, this shit is hard.

Arlo: It shouldn't be that way though, because you go into making music because it was fun and it made you happy and you had stuff to say. When it becomes your career and your job then you may feel pause to always be churning stuff out. But I don't think that's how it should be. A lot of artists who are super cool release things super sporadically and when they it's really cool. Like Frank Ocean —

Marie: Legend. His focus on output isn't like, "I need to put things out. I haven't had a single in like seven months." He's like, "I'm gonna take the time, I need to make a really fucking good album that people still talk about five years later."

Arlo: That's perfect. That's the way! But I often have this fear that if I don't churn things out then at some point you get left behind and your wave is finished.

Something I definitely picked up on both of your music is, there's a lot of vulnerability in it. Whether you're observing your own life, your love life or your mental health. I mean, that's one thing I insanely respect out of musicians, just recognizing that it's okay to not be okay and then making something beautiful out of it. Why do you think that that vulnerability is something people are drawn to?

Marie: I just think we need it. I grew up listening to music that's not very heartfelt and it doesn't really feel real. So I think I'm just making the shit that I kind of missed while growing up. Obviously I listened to a lot of great music while growing up, especially in my early teens and late teens. I'm just making stuff that I feel like I need to say. Everything that's on my mind is stuff that happens to be perceived as vulnerable, but to me, it's kind of like, why aren't more people talking about this?

Arlo: I think with a lot of music, especially with younger people, feeling understood and seen by an artist is really important. When artists are vulnerable about what they're going through, then people can relate. And it's nice to have, that you feel seen by and that represents things that maybe you have never had the courage to talk about.

Marie: It's also nice to get some help to understand what you feel. Definitely, when someone is able to word what you've been feeling, but for you it's been this unresolved thing in your chest that you just don't know what it is. And then someone says it out loud, that feels so good.

Arlo: It's so powerful man. Like when someone finds the words that you've been trying to find all this time. Yeah, it's so good.

Marie: It's weird. I don't think about these things that much. Even though I'm asked about stuff like this in interviews, it's hard to think about what it's like to be on the other side sometimes, when you're so sucked into this making or creating bubble.

Arlo: I was thinking about the fact that when you're working on a track and you probably listen to it a million times before it actually comes out and then it's weird, like people listening to it for the first time. Like you'll never experience that ever. Because you always listen to it having gone through all the layers, the mix, just listening to it on repeat, but someone's just heard it fresh for the first time.

Marie: And where are those people with other people's music?

Arlo: Yeah, exactly. That's the thing. Oh my God.

Marie: I actually never thought of it like that, you'll never be able to hear your own song. You've never heard it before. Even though that makes full sense. But what is weird is that people think that people think it's weird if you listen to your own music. Like, wait, how's that weird? How do you think I made this song? It just popped out? [Laughs] I had to listen to the song maybe 700 times before? I always find that kind of weird. I'm my top listened to artist, are you?

Arlo: The thing is I only listen to my music when I must. I only listen to it when I'm mixing it. And then I just have this thing with my voice. My voice irritates me after a while, and then I have to turn away.

Marie: I did an interview a while ago and she was like, "Do you also hate your voice?" and I was like no, I love my voice. I fell in love with my voice the first time I heard it.

Arlo: How did you do that? I want to have that.

Marie: The first time I ever heard my song in a recording, speaking of first time hearing something, I had never recorded something in my life and then someone sent it back to me and I listened to it and I was like, "Oh my god, I sound amazing. I sound so good." That was very special to me.

Arlo: I need that feeling. Obviously when you put something out into the world, you know that it is good, that you like it, because otherwise you wouldn't put it out. I really have trouble just listening back to stuff. I don't know why. I wish I could just bump my tunes in the car. I feel like that'd be cool. But I just haven't got —

Marie: That's all I'm all I did today. With my friends in the car. You'll get there. Definitely. You know, maybe that's a goal. Get some guests over and be like, "Hey, do you guys wanna listen to some music?" Then put your record on.

Arlo: Oh my god, I can picture those scenes. That's me. That's me in 10 years, whenever people ask me, that's me in 10 years by bumping my tunes by myself.

Marie: That's the vibe. I wanna be there as well. I really wonder where I'm gonna be in ten years. Do you ever think about that? You're gonna be 30.

Arlo: Yeah, I want a dog. And I want to be like, really good at making pizzas. And I want to also be good at painting.

Marie: Oh, so that's three milestones right there, especially the pizza part — that's kind of surprising.

Arlo: It's my favorite food. But it's so hard to make like 'cuz I can just never make it taste as good as it could. So that's what I got. What about you, Marie?

Marie: Hopefully I have a really nice house with a garden. And then I just want to have all my friends over. And I want to be like, "Y'all, I hope y'all never get babies because I just want to hang out with you guys and drink orange wine." Which is something I've gotten into lately. Orange wine. Oh my god.

I'm surprised when you guys are talking about what you want to be doing in 10 years that neither of you mentioned working in film.

Arlo: Of course, I mean, I've been really dabbling in acting and watching a lot of films as well. When I think about the future, I want to be like a Donald Glover, doing a million things at once. I want to be making music and, you know, soundtracks and acting and I don't know, curating and writing books. I want to do a lot of things at once. `

Marie: I second all of that, I want to be an actor as well. Or, I don't want to be an actor, but I want to do some acting, you know. I also want to do all those things, because I have something to say in all those areas and I feel like I could contribute with something. I don't know what it is yet, but I just feel it. It's like churning. Like it's in here somewhere.

Arlo: And it's just fun as well. We've got so much time, we're so young. We've got so much time to explore these things and even not necessarily for work, just for fun. Like, I want to see your paintings.

Marie: I mean, honestly I'm so happy to be alive. I'm so excited to be alive. Just to be like, don't know what is happening in my life right now. Life is the most exciting movie ever. What the fuck?

Arlo: No, you're so right. And especially because we get to do something that we actually really love intensely and people are actually liking what we're doing. That's a rare combination.

Marie: Yes! I don't take that shit for granted at all. Are you a full time musician? Like, that's all you do now?

Arlo: Yeah, that's all I do. Yeah, man.

Marie: Yeah man! [Laughs] That's big.

Arlo: It's crazy isn't it?

Marie: I used to sell jeans and make music and now I'm not selling jeans anymore, I'm just making music. And painting.

Do you ever think about what your conversation would be like with your tween self? Or like a 13-year-old-you?

Arlo: It's interesting that you bring it up, because I was cleaning out my room today and I found all these little journals from when I was young, like, 13, 14. There were moments in there where, "Okay my aim for this year is to get 100 followers on SoundCloud" or little moments where I really want music to work and I'm still at school and I don't think that it is going to work out. Now I'm here. It's that sense that everything that's gonna happen, not all of it will be fun but it will all lead up to this amazing thing. It's not going to be an easy ride. I think nobody really has an easy ride of it. There's a lot of doubt and things not working out and things falling through and things being hard. But, you know, eventually you just end up here. And that's pretty cool. So that's, that's what I would say.

Marie: Anything creative is so hard to do. That you have to have a plan B. Obviously, I'm really privileged, living in Norway is one of the safest countries. It's really safe here to fuck up. The welfare system here is amazing. But we've been told that it's going to be so hard and that it's not gonna work. And I would just tell myself, just keep going. It'll work because this is all you care about, kind of. But it's not a given. People are also like, oh, when are you going to get a real job?

Arlo: That's such a thing as well. I feel like it wasn't even seen as an actual legitimate option for a job. When I was growing up, there was actually nobody, there were no like classes on how to go into a creative career. It was seen as like, okay, yeah, you want to sing but what are you really gonna do? What uni are you going to? The path was seen as so tough. It was a one in a million chance, so it's basically never gonna happen. And of course it is hard and not everybody gets to the point that they can do it full-time, but it is possible and we're living that.

Marie: We're living proof.