Not many people can say they had a similar lockdown experience to Bobbi Arlo – a sold out show at Dublin’s Grand Social that saw people travel from Europe to attend, a slew of radio hits and a spot on GoldenPlec’s Plec Picks for 2022. So, how has life been for the singer-songwriter, in her own words?
“I think good?” she says, “I’m alive, I’m healthy, I’m still working in music which is always a good thing. So weird getting back into it though, I feel like I’ve started living a normal life again. It’s bizarre.”
Arlo’s experience over the last two years was markedly different to her peers, something which she openly acknowledges.
“I started my music career in lockdown, and everything that I have achieved has happened during lockdown while a lot of other people have fallen back and not done as much. It’s very weird. I don’t feel like much has changed for me in one sense.
“I’ve just been booked and busy because I decided to be an internet pop star during lockdown,” she laughs.
Arlo hit the ground running in 2019 with her debut single Berries, released without management or a label. After working on the song with producer Adam Shanahan, she began the tedious task of sending it out to the masses in the hopes of some pick-up.
“I emailed every radio DJ I could find an email for and did such dirty work,” she says, “The first person that picked it up was [RTÉ 2FM’s] Tara Stewart, which was actually quite lucky.
“Because she played it, it kind of kicked off, and I started growing and it was like ‘who’s this random person singing bubblegum pop that’s catchy?'” she laughs. “It’s been a bit of a weird one, for sure.”
Shortly after, her manager came on board and one successful hit followed another – from the pop-soul flecked groove Feel It to gargantuan electro banger Fever Thoughts. Citing everyone from SG Lewis to Kaytranada to Wolf Alice as influences, it’s understandable why Arlo shies away from assigning herself a genre.
“I feel like if you really want to label me, I’d come under pop, maybe electro-pop”, she says, “but I think the fun in it is not really knowing, just going out and making music that I want to hear on that particular day, releasing it and hoping it does well, that’s part of the fun for me.
“It keeps me non-stagnant. I keep moving and I keep pushing to do bigger and better things when I don’t sit into a genre. I think when you label yourself – all type of labels, sexuality, anything – if you label yourself as one specific thing, you tend to stay in that, so you put yourself in your own box. So that’s what I’m trying not to do.”
" I keep pushing to do bigger and better things..."
Collaboration is key to her creative process, crediting producers Shanahan and Alex O’Keeffe with inspiring her on the daily.
“They’ll send me a beat and I’ll do a topline over it,” she explains, “It could be R&B, it could be electro pop, it could be just piano keys and … It’s different every time. Sometimes I’ll immediately have a melody, so I’ll sing it into a voice note and send it on to them.
“Sometimes I hear a sound and I’ll record it and send it to them, like a flickering light switch, and they’ll build a whole song around it then. If we’re in the studio, I’ll press a weird bass sound and we’ll build a song around it, That’s what happened with Fever Thoughts.”
On Fever Thoughts, Arlo previously described the song as her “reminiscing about my first night in the big city and how mesmerising and fun the whole experience was”. If that’s what a good night sounds like, what’s the worst night out Arlo’s ever been on?
“I’ve been to so many bad parties”, she says, “I want to think that I’m a socialite that loves going to parties and getting hammered but I think the older I’m getting I’m realising that I just want to stay in and watch Grey’s Anatomy with a cup of tea. Maybe a glass of whiskey. That’s as wild as it gets.
“I do be exhausted socialising,” she laughs.
Interestingly, Arlo wants listeners to feel things more through the instrumentation than through her lyrics.
“Lyrics are a big part of everything and it is very important to me,” she says, “but what’s most important to me is, if I hear a song and it makes me want to dance or it makes me happy, that’s the most important thing. So if I hear a beat that I can see myself dancing in a club to, I’m absolutely going to try and write a topline over it.”
While bangers might be considered her bread and butter, Arlo has shown her versatility with past releases like Signs – a vulnerable, sprawling electro ballad about the end of a passionate fling.
“It’s so weird,” she says, “A lot of my earlier stuff was real sad, acoustic, Taylor Swift-esque vibes. But the last two years, I’ve been learning how to sing over pop songs. It was a very hard thing to navigate, figuring out what sounds good and what doesn’t. But what I’m doing now … It’s second nature to me.”
"If I hear a beat that I can see myself dancing in a club to, I'm absolutely going to try and write a topline over it."
Arlo was one of the lucky few who had the chance to perform amidst the ongoing global pandemic. Having sold out Upstairs at Whelan’s, the gig was moved to the Grand Social last November.
“It was incredible,” she says wistfully, “With Covid happening and the restrictions, I was like ‘no one’s going to show up’. But people travelled, people came from Scotland, Belfast … People came from all over just to see me live. It was so mad. It was the first time playing where people knew my songs. To see someone so close to me sing every word of my songs was so spooky!”
If the last two years weren’t big enough for Arlo, she’s teasing lots more coming down the tracks for herself and her fans. She names Jafaris and Roisin Murphy as artists she’d love to collaborate with (on the latter, she says “I was raised on her, I would levitate out of my body!”). When pushed on a release for something more long-form, however, her answer is matter-of-fact.
“I’m happy to keep doing singles because singles pay the bills”, she says, “I have this weird thing in my head, I could be completely wrong, but I just feel like people don’t have the attention span for albums anymore.
“So business-wise, my head is leaning towards releasing singles until there’s a demand for an EP or an album. I’d love to do it though, that’s the goal.”
Fans could be seeing her at festivals across the country in 2022 (she’s coy on where exactly), as well as a few other secret projects in the pipeline.
“It’s a big year,” Arlo smiles.