Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Arco lead

On the Rise

27 March 2024, 12:00

As AR/CO, artists Leo Stannard and Mali-Koa Hood have manifested success by following their own creative intuition.

“That day was crazy because that was actually the day we wrote down everything we wanted to achieve with AR/CO,” smiles Leo Stannard from the middle of an interrupted songwriting session. Recalling when he and bandmate Mali-Koa Hood wrote their recent single “Cherry Lips,” it wasn’t their only moment of inspiration. “We wrote down some crazy things, Grammy included. Wildly ambitious for people who had just started a brand new project.”

Joining forces during the pandemic, initially with the intention of writing for others, Stannard and Hood have released a steady string of bright and euphoric dance hits since their debut single in 2021. They’ve shared stages with the likes of Kygo and Five Seconds of Summer, collaborated with Sub Focus and 220 KID to name just a couple, and recently picked up a Grammy nomination. It’s been a wild ride, all manifested on a sunny day in Wandsworth.

Hood and Stannard grew up on different sides of the globe, she in Sydney, Australia, he in Leicester, UK. “You couldn't get two more opposite places,” Hood jokes. While neither of their parents were into music, the pair both cite similar formative influences in the likes of MGMT and Empire of the Sun - big, escapist, hedonistic dance-pop. “All of those bands that we reference in our music now. We didn't talk about it when we first met, but when we started making AR/CO a thing it became apparent that that's what we were doing when we were young,” says Stannard.


Stannard was signed as an acoustic-indie artist on Black Butter, releasing his debut album in 2018. Hood competed in the first season of The Voice Australia before signing to Island Records and releasing her debut album in the middle of the pandemic. “I think those years really informed what we make now because we've both been signed major, we’ve both done singer-songwriter records, and this was a massive departure from that, which felt kind of freeing I think, more than anything,” says Hood. “The music we make now is just so fun, and music should be fun.”

The pair met at a songwriting camp and vowed to get together again. It took about a year and a half until they finally reconvened, but once they began to collaborate things moved fast. As the pandemic kicked in, Hood saw an opportunity to continue their relationship. “We basically just got on Zoom every single day and wrote songs every day. The idea was never for it to be an artist project. It was always songs for other people,” says Stannard. “I finished my deal at Sony and, to be honest, didn't want to be an artist at all.”

“I guess we met at a really good time,” says Hood. “I was the same. I was thinking of not doing the artist thing anymore.”


Writing together, they tried to incorporate the styles of other contemporary artists, pushing the parameters of their sound. “Then we got really bored of the types of songs that we were writing and where the music industry was at that moment, so we decided to write some crazy stuff,” says Stannard. “We wanted to be more artistically fulfilled.”

The first track they wrote was “Hot Air Balloon,” a pulsing force of refined production and disco-fused melody. A collaboration with Dutch DJ Don Diablo, it feels contemporary and classic in one hit. “Everybody wanted that song, and we were really struggling to get rid of these other songs,” Stannard laughs. “We stopped giving all our songs away to these other people and we decided to keep them, and that's how AR/CO was formed, completely by accident. We were enjoying what we were doing.”


Despite best intentions to keep their own creations, AR/CO continued to collaborate with a vast array of artists and producers across a series of high profile releases. Tracks like “Tears in Ibiza” with The Stickmen Project and “Vibration” with Sub Focus widening their audience dramatically. “We did originally think, ‘Let's just give these to some massive DJs.’ Then we turned around and were like, ‘Why can't we be on the massive songs with the DJs?’” laughs Hood. “If they really love the song then they’ll keep us on the song. I was like, ‘We may as well ask.’”

Even as the pandemic restricted them from writing together in person and playing shows, it also allowed them the time to truly work out what direction their project should take. “It just allowed us the space to be like, ‘Why shouldn't we do that? There's no one telling us what to do.’ We were able to just create freely,” says Hood. “Musically, it was just a space for us to explore something that we'd never done before without any pressure.”

Since their debut single in 2021, AR/CO have built a steady, global fanbase with their otherworldly, hedonistic disco escape-pop. They were even nominated for a Grammy for their work with Kx5, featuring on and co-writing lead single “Bright Lights” from the super-duo’s self-titled album. “Sometimes we’re not good at appreciating what we've done because it's constant work,” says Stannard. “We’ve had a few moments, and the Grammys was one, where we looked at each other like, we know this is a good thing.”

Recent single “Cherry Lips” is another step towards a summer full of their addictive hooks and softly-indulgent synth lines. A warm rush of promise complete with skipping chorus, it opens with the imagery-rich line, “Someone to stay up late with, we'll lose our money out in Vegas.” They wrote the verse on a sunny day in Stannard’s Wandsworth back garden, the chorus having taken life in an earlier session. “I remember it was super hot and we didn’t really feel like working and after about fifteen-minutes you went, should we just nick one of the melodies that we didn't decide to use?” laughs Hood to Stannard. “That was the one that we used and it was a sick verse!”

With verse and chorus complete, the duo turned their attention to more important matters. Hood had been delving into the practice of manifesting, and pushed Stannard to try it out. “I said, if we just sit here, I've got a diary and we're gonna say all of these really crazy ambitions and goals and dreams that we have for this band,” she explains. “Take from it what you will, but I think ninety-percent of those things that we wrote started happening for us.”

Who knows what the next 10% will bring.

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