On his new solo album “Marigold,” released this weekend, Chicago pop singer-songwriter and ZORILA frontman Stewart Arp eases open a door to air out his psyche — both letting listeners in and letting his demons slip out. With songs that tap joy and connection but also drift through moments of regret, he deftly conjures the past that shaped him through experiences he’s had and in mistakes he wishes he hadn’t made.
“It’s kind of a chapter in my life that I want to close,” he said. “I’m excited that it’s out and I can put a ribbon on it and move forward.”
The new album presents ten tracks of soul-searching by Arp, taking listeners on a trek through specific pockets of time detailed enough to come to life but still misty enough to welcome listeners to make them our own. We are all guests as he flips through pages of nostalgia, some cherished memories and some poignant breakdowns. And surprisingly, he doesn’t always paint himself in a positive light.
“When I play SoFar shows, whenever they say, ‘Oh, it’s sad boy hour,’ I’m like, ‘God damnit … but yeah,’” he joked.
“I write a lot of sad music,” he added. “I think (the album) will allow people to just kind of reflect on their own lives and their past relationships and current relationships, whether it be with friends, family or somebody you love, and kind of just think about it in a healthy way. Because a lot of those songs talk about toxic relationships that I’ve experienced, or somebody close to me has experienced.”
One song in particular — “Old Friend” — reflects on a childhood friendship from his hometown, Paris, in downstate Illinois. Arp said he and his siblings (including ZORILA bandmate Henry) had a solid family life with supportive parents, but not everybody in their circles were so lucky.
“It hits on drug addiction and hits on poor home life. It’s about wishing you could do more. And if you could go back what you would maybe do to help,” he explained. “It’s a song of regret and remorse. And I guess adulthood maturity. You think back on these moments that happened when you were a kid that you didn’t fully understand, but now that you’re an adult, you think about it and your heart goes out. It’s an emotion I don’t think a lot of people touch on. People touch on love. They touch on romance and touch on heartbreak, but they don’t touch on regret as much.”
On the flip side, Arp balances that with “Twin Flames,” an upbeat song about connecting with others that includes guest vocals from Anna-Sophia Henry, a Kansas singer now living in the UK, who is also featured in the song’s video out now. Arp said that the benefit to spending the last few years cultivating his online presence was being exposed to so many people from around the globe and discovering the bonds he could form with them.
“It’s such an interesting concept, meeting somebody that you’ve never met in person before but who you feel a strong connection to from across the world. And it spawned this idea of what if you were in love with somebody from miles away, and they were your twin flame,” he said. “It is just this interesting, trendy concept that from a writer’s standpoint I became enamored with.”
Arp’s strongest gift is the heartfelt emotion with which he imbues his lyrics and delivery, putting listeners at ease as they immerse themselves in the worlds built by his music — the questioning and doubt, the gut punch of regret, the glimmers of joy, the musings about the future.
Between the new songs on “Marigold” and the chance to revisit previously released singles (which take on a new life now within the greater context of Arp’s story), he also includes a series of live demos. The raw acoustic tracks pull listeners even closer in, sometimes standing alone and sometimes accentuating the songs around them. One, “Flowers,” seems to serve as a makeshift intro to “Old Friend,” adding a retroactive counterpoint — “Imagine if everyone made everybody feel like somebody” — before diving into the story of a friend left behind.
Contrary to the introspective bent of a lot of his music, Arp relishes his goofier side. His band ZORILA has some big shows coming up for the summer, but his solo project is focused on SoFar Sounds sets and a lot of livestreaming and fun TikTok videos.
“I’ve just kind of accepted the fact that I’m just a dude that’s in a band that also writes his own music, that also has a job and has geckos and does internet content creator stuff. I kind of accepted that I’m just weird,” he said, laughing.
“I get such great messages from a lot of people on TikTok and Instagram about listening to the songs. ‘This really feels like a relationship I was in, and I just want you to know it really means a lot to me to have this song and to know that I’m not alone in this struggle.’ And I think that’s what I really want people to get out of the album.”