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Arlo Parks' new album 'My Soft Machine' doesn't shy away from life's hard times

Arlo Parks' sophomore album <em>My Soft Machine </em>is named after a line in the 2019 film <em>The Souvenir</em>. Parks explains, "It's very much a contrast between light and shade, numbness and hypersensitivity and the softness in the machine-like quality."
Alexis Waespi
Arlo Parks' sophomore album My Soft Machine is named after a line in the 2019 film The Souvenir. Parks explains, "It's very much a contrast between light and shade, numbness and hypersensitivity and the softness in the machine-like quality."

Updated May 30, 2023 at 11:53 AM ET

"I just wish I was 7 and blameless."

At one point or another, we've all wished we could turn back the clock and be a kid again.

Growing up has its perks, but it also comes with the downfall of navigating a world that can be pretty cruel. The singer-songwriter Arlo Parks, 22, already recognizes how challenging and exhausting life can be. Her lived experiences make up the lyrics behind her sophomore album My Soft Machine, out last Friday.

In September 2022, Parks canceled tour dates in the U.S. because her mental health "deteriorated to a debilitating place," the artist shared in an Instagram post. She's in a better place now.

"I definitely feel like there's a sense of balance that's been established since then," Parks said in an interview with NPR's Leila Fadel for Morning Edition. "That was a moment where I really realized that you have to invest in your happiness kind of regularly and in small little doses rather than working through to the point of burnout, and then having a big chunk of time where you tried to get back to yourself."

Her newfound happiness is most notable in her song "Pegasus," featuring Phoebe Bridgers. The song feels like being embraced by someone special while they serenade you with a lullaby on a carousel.

"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," Parks said about the song "Pegasus."

Arlo Parks spoke with NPR's Leila Fadel about the new album.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights

On why she's an ambassador for CALM

I started working with CALM(Campaign Against Living Miserably) during the pandemic, in that period of time where everyone felt very isolated and a lot of people were struggling. There was this sense of therapy still being quite inaccessible, and me wanting to really use my voice and my experiences and my time and energy to contribute towards dismantling that sense of shame [surrounding therapy]. I've always felt that if I were to ever have a platform, then I would use that for good, so I just wanted to let people know they were worthy of help and that someone cared about them.

On how music helps her

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 filter through a song. It's also almost putting that sense of pain, or being lost, to good use. It feels useful in a way. I think that's a big part of why I share the music that I make, why it's not just me in my bedroom doing it only for myself. It's that desire to provide relief for others.

On when she uses spoken word

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 speaking, it makes more sense to have a stream of consciousness. There's too much detail to finesse and pack into a line or two. I just feel there's a real bulk of truth that I want to tell.

On which song describes her life right now

Probably "Puppy." That song in particular is very much about moving into adulthood – 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. [It's] learning to see yourself as a whole; and learning to take care of yourself; and learning that you have to establish your place in the world. It surrounds the 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 bursting with emotion and excitement. And where you never feel embarrassed about showing that open-hearted side of yourself.

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Lilly Quiroz (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. She pitches and produces interviews for Morning Edition, and occasionally goes to the dark side to produce the podcast Up First on the overnights.