For only twenty-four hours in a day, Chicago native Sam Kelarakis seemingly has made it his life’s effort to not waste a single second creatively. For starters, Kelarakis follows his instincts and desires in being an actor and filmmaker. The other part of him stretches out into the Chicago music scene in being part of the alt-pop band Cloudtone as the frontman and guitarist for the antifolk outfit Boo Baby.
Kelarakis is now going on another path with his musicianship-this time solo. His debut release Chick Peas! Featured on the album is the single “Jackrabbit,” which was dropped today. “‘Jackrabbit’ is an ode to running away — and to our inevitable surrender when we learn that we can’t,” says Kelarakis. Shimmering with guitar and guitars, ”Jackrabbit” encompasses a stellar indie pop sound that is astounding.
We caught up with Kelarakis to chat more.
So much has been made about the impeccable music scene in Chicago. What would you say has impacted you musically being in town?
The people for sure! The Music scene in Chicago is waaaaymore accessible than I anticipated. I’ve been here on and off for almost ten years, and at first I always kind of considered myself to be on the “outside, looking in”. When I was in college, I was an NRP intern and was pretty obsessed with the local scene. I knew I wanted to be artist, but seeing people who had been here for their entire lives, making music at such a young age was pretty daunting. I was like “Wow I just got here, and I’m already behind! This is going to take forever.” And in some ways it’s still taking forever. BUT once I started getting out and playing in bands, the scene kind of shrunk. There’s so much talent and new people are popping up all the time, and there’s something to be learned from them all.
You also have spent some time touring for an improv troupe. What led you to going into this venture?
Hmm, I’ve never toured with an improv troupe BUT I have done/still sometimes do comedy in Chicago. I’ve been composing music since I was 5 or 6, so I kind of think of this venture as having begun a looong time ago, and this is just another chapter/step. I’ve been performing/writing comedically since I was teenager as well. I think I just have a problem with giving up activities lol. But I also really enjoy the game of craft-honing and watching the evolution of my abilities across different artforms.
Performing improv means allowing yourself to not think and just react. Have you incorporated that practice into writing music?
I definitely think the improv mindset is transferable across domains. Regardless the artform, you need to be able to make decisions in the moment confidently. I think it’s Philip Glass who has this quote about “a river of music” flowing beneath him all the time, and rather than engaging in an active process of writing, it’s more about turning your attention towards that wellspring and allowing yourself to funnel what’s already there all the time. More like being a conduit with a unique shape than a creator. That’s how I’ve been trying to conceptualize the writing process recently.
Your album Chick Peas! Is comprised of a few songs you wrote between 2018 and 2021. Having sat on some of the songs for a period of time, was there any changes made to them?
Absolutely. I wrote the first draft of Jackrabbit in 2018, and the arrangement/lyrics/overall groove have definitely seen some changes. During that period, a lot of my creative energy was directed towards my other band. So when I would write songs for myself, occasionally I would pitch them to the group or just tuck them away in voice memo somewhere with a “I’ll get to you later” hanging over my head. It’s kind of wild to me, because I write a lot of songs and I have what feels like hundreds that I should get to work on. But at some point you just kind of have to pick a few and embark on the process of actualizing!
Could you talk about how difficult it was for you to do essentially all of the instruments on the album?
Luckily, on this EP I had my good friend Hank Grier on drums, and he can make just about anything sound good. For everything else, the multi-tracking in studio wasn’t too difficult. I’ve always found that hearing the different potential voices in an arrangement comes pretty easily to me. I also find I sometimes lack the patience necessary to chart out all of those voices for other musicians, so it’s actually easier for me to just lay down the tracks myself. Of course, that does limit the instrumentation I can live track for the project. Moving forward, I think I’m going to have to force myself to get used to drawing up charts, because I’d love to tackle some more ambitious arrangements with a wider array of instrumentation.
What’s next for you?
There are few more tracks from this EP that I’ll be releasing later this fall, and I’m excited for those to drop. Maybe there’ll be a few shows around the same time. I have unfinished songs running out of my ears, so I hope I continue to record and release them! But the timeline is definitely uncertain. I also have some other creative projects in the pipeline (some short films and other writing projects), and I find that I tend to direct my creative attention to whatever itch needs to be scratched. But this definitely won’t be my last release.