While the pandemic put most singers' careers on hold, it may have led to Arlo Parks being embraced even more passionately.
The 20-year-old West Londoner touched many people in the right way at exactly the right time. With her naturally soothing, earthy voice and refreshingly uncynical, poetic writing style, her mid-pandemic singles "Hope" and the depression-leashing "Black Dog" comforted listeners with messages of self-love and in-this-togetherness.
The success of those songs has made Parks' first U.S. itinerary not just one of the hottest tours by a pop music newcomer this fall. It also may be the warmest.
"People are telling me now how much the music has impacted their lives, and it's so beautiful to hear," said Parks, whose Minneapolis debut is Oct. 3 at 7th St. Entry — an intentional "underplay" in venue size and thus long ago sold out.
"Moments where my music offers someone a crutch like that very much makes me feel like what I'm doing is useful and purposeful."
Her favorite example may have been from a fan who told her about their seriously ill mother also becoming a fan: "She didn't actually speak English, but somehow my music soothed her and put her at ease," marveled the singer, speaking by phone from a festival earlier this month.
That story undersells the value of Parks' lyrics, though. She isn't just a poetic songwriter, she's a genuine poet. Several of her songs are instilled with moments of spoken-word prose.
"Poetry and songwriting are completely intermingled in my mind," she said. "I started out writing poetry and short stories, so I'll probably always be doing that. I usually write just to write and without any sort of melody in my head."
Her writing prowess shines when paired with melodies. In the somber electro-jazz-pop groover "Black Dog" — named for a Winston Churchill-coined term for depression — she sings, "I'd lick the grief right off your lips / You do your eyes like Robert Smith / Sometimes it seems like you won't survive this."
Or in "Hope," now in steady rotation locally at 89.3 the Current, the refrain goes, "You're not alone like / You think you are / We all have scars / I know it's hard."
While both songs were released during the pandemic, Parks believes she could have created them anytime.
"A song like 'Hope,' for example, was written while we were all stuck inside, but I wasn't writing so much about that or the life I was living," she said. "I was thinking more about moments before that when I felt alone or my friends felt alone. I wanted it to be a mantra for someone struggling in any kind of struggle, to let them know we all go through it."
Parks grew up in the Hammersmith area of London with a Nigerian dad and a Chadian-French mother.
"My parents weren't musicians but were lovers of music, so there was a lot of funk, soul and French music in the house," she said, "and a lot of freedom for me to be creative."
Arlo (real name: Anaïs Marinho) was crafting music in her bedroom by her mid-teens. Her 2019 EP "Sophie" generated viral traction, leading to her being named best breakthrough artist at last year's Brit Awards. And she just won the Mercury Prize for best British album for her full-length debut, "Collapsed in Sunbeams," released in January.
Much like her American peer Billie Eilish, Parks said she continues to do a lot of her writing and demoing in her bedroom, even though she now has access to studios.
"I feel completely comfortable there, and there's a natural intimacy to the space that makes you feel like you can be, say, do whatever you want," she explained.
"You're free to trust your space and experiment, and you often challenge yourself more there. People relate to that environment, I think, it's universal and it makes you sound more human and relatable."
The newcomer will be far from home this fall but said she is excited to see "the rest of America" after previous trips to Miami and Los Angeles. Minneapolis is high on her list because, of course, she counts Prince as a key influence, thanks to her French-speaking mom.
"He was her favorite artist and very popular in France because his melodies and instrumentation are so undeniably great, you didn't have to speak the language to join in," she said. "And then for me as an artist, his sense of groove and his adventurousness is very inspiring."
While she remains concerned about COVID-19 safety on tour — "We're taking all the scientists' recommendations seriously" — she feels committed to performing on stage after strongly connecting with fans on record.
"I think my music is meant to be heard in a communal space," she said.
- With: Michelle
- When: 8 p.m Sun., Oct. 3
- Where: 7th St. Entry, 701 1st Av. N.
- Tickets: Sold out.