In a collection of essays written during the height of the pandemic, the English writer Zadie smith describes the misery of the confinements as “designed with great precision and different for each person.” Often times, it is art that rescues us from isolation and reminds us of our connection to others.

Arlo Parks’ debut album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” which takes its title from a line in a 2005 Smith novel, does just that. Released in January, it is a perfect companion for these challenging times. Navigating weighty themes such as loneliness, mental health and sexuality, the album is an exercise in vulnerability and introspection. It’s sad, but affirmative, like a heart-to-heart night with a close friend.

“It’s so cruel / What your mind can do for no reason,” he sings in “Black Dog,” a devastating and heartwarming song about living with depression.

“Those months (during the lockdown) were some of the hardest many people have ever experienced,” Parks says in an interview with The Star. “It comforts me to know that my record was a kind of relaxing balm for people.”

Since Parks’ breakup in 2018, the 21-year-old artist has attracted an intensely loyal fan base and has become one of the defining voices of contemporary indie pop. Earlier this month, “Collapsed in Sunbeams” received the 2021 Mercury Award for Best British Album.

Now, after months of delays caused by the pandemic, he has finally embarked on a tour, which includes a stop at the Axis Club in Toronto on Tuesday, his first Canadian show.

“There was definitely a sense of frustration,” says Parks. “But the way I chose to look, because it’s always about perspective, is that when I finally got to play these songs live, they would have taken deep roots in people’s lives. People would know all the words and feel even more special because it was something we had waited so long for. “

Parks, born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho in West London, grew up surrounded by music, from Prince to Miles Davis to Charles Mingus, “the music was infused into the home,” he says.

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As a teenager, after discovering independent bands and hip hop groups like Odd Future, Parks began playing guitar and writing his own music. At first, his ambitions were limited.

“It wasn’t cool enough to be in any scene,” he explains. “I was in my own room a lot doing my own thing. Music is something very personal, internal and insular. It was something I did for myself, for myself. The idea of ​​sharing didn’t really occur to me until a little later. “

Eventually, he started uploading demos to BBC Music Introducing, a platform that supports unknown UK talents. This caught the eye of the folks at Beatnik Records, who released his smash hit “Cola” in 2018.

After releasing two EPs in 2019, Parks partnered with songwriter and record producer Gianluca Buccellati in early 2020 to record her debut album.

Recorded on various Airbnbs across East London during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Collapsed in Sunbeams” is a reflection of Parks’ increasingly eclectic taste in music. Over 40 minutes, the album borrows sounds from indie rock, alternative rock, trip hop and neo-soul.

“There is definitely some Radiohead and Portishead (on the album). But many of the influences on this album came from across the pond, “he explains. “D’Angelo and Elliott Smith, I Have It, Joan Armatrading. I guess I just picked up tidbits from all over the place. I try to have … a kaleidoscope or a collage of all the things that interest me. “

Lyrically, Parks described the album as “a series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding my adolescence and the people who shaped it.”

Parks, an avid reader, approaches her songs with literary sensitivity and a focus on storytelling. Specifically, he cites James Baldwin’s classic 1956 novel “Giovanni’s Room,” a historical exploration of queer sexuality, as inspiration for his debut album.

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“There is something about the way (Baldwin) writes, I can’t even describe it, but there is a sense of humanity and patience. I feel like his eyes are wide when he writes, and there is an attention to detail. “

Parks taps into Baldwin’s spirit in “Eugene,” a delicately interpreted story about the narrator’s unrequited love for a heterosexual girl. “I had a dream, we kissed / And it was all amethyst,” he sings over a bass line that would sound like home on Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” album.

In “Hope”, more optimistic, Parks drops the details in favor of a more universal statement: “You are not alone, as you think you are.”

Speaking backstage before a sold-out show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York, Arlo Parks sounds extremely laid-back. Performing in front of a live audience, he says, “it feels like coming home.”

“Every performance has had this sense of security. People are excited to see me, sing and dance. There is simply a purity to the feeling. “

Parks keeps tight-lipped about her plans for the future. “I usually try to keep it a secret,” he says. “For the next two years, I’m just touring and writing and reading my books.”

As a winner of the Mercury Award, Parks joins the ranks of UK royalty – James Blake, Skepta, Portishead, PJ Harvey and Anohni are among the previous winners. But that doesn’t seem to affect her.

“I feel like with most of the awards and outside things, I see them as wonderful and special, but I try not to think too much about them.” she explains. “You can never control what people get out of work, you can only control what you put in. So keep making the music you like.”

“That’s all I can do. So I guess that’s what I’ll do.”

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