Sam Kelarakis embraces vulnerability as a solo artist


As a solo artist, it took Sam Kelarakis a few years to know what he wanted to say. Having made a name for himself as a musician in other bands, Kelarakis said embracing art as a solo artist required a little bit of vulnerability and a lot of time. But audiences now have the chance to hear the fruits of that labor in Kelarakis’s two newest singles, “New York Eats My Friends” and “Jackrabbit.” The tracks are part of a new EP he plans to release next year.

Kelarakis grew up in a musical household, citing his grandparents (who played the piano and violin) as early influences. Like many musicians, he began playing at a young age. Once he got older, he joined a number of bands. Most recently, he has been a part of Boo Baby and Cloudtone.

His journey toward becoming a solo artist developed through a natural desire to share more of himself with the world. Becoming a solo artist, Kelarakis said, was a way to develop a foundation for sharing himself and his creations. “It’s definitely been, I think, tiny little expeditions of sharing or of making a tiny little step into the artist’s world,” he said. “I think every time you collaborate with a new person, or share your music with someone, you’re kind of taking your step in that direction.”

With fewer voices in the fray, it is easier to articulate the emotions and storytelling inherent in one’s music. That’s what makes the solo route, at least for now, so appealing for him.

Chicago-based solo artist Sam Kelarakis has two new singles, "New York Eats My Friends" and "Jackrabbit."

“I wear a lot of different hats, for sure,” began Kelarakis. “I am a musician, but I also am a writer, an actor and a performer. All of these things are these experiments in being an artist. How do you make that transition? I don’t know, it feels like it’s this constant identity. How are you putting your identity forward? How are you introducing yourself to people? How are you sharing your work? And each one of those is a negotiation, for sure.”

Every artist has a unique creative process, and Kelarakis’ is no exception. His tracks begin as compositions first, focusing on the melody, harmonies and bass, with the lyrics filling in at a later point in time. “Once I get a feeling emotionally, I feel like the words just kind of blast themselves out of that, if that makes sense,” he added.

That is why so many may take months to complete. Some tracks may have even been in the works for years. “I found that for things that I’m writing, it’s much, much better for the end product if you just let it sit, and then come back to it when the time is right,” he said. As an artist, he’s not a perfectionist so much as an excavator. The ultimate find is an emotion, a lyric and a song that evokes a grander sentiment ruminating in the back of his mind.

Kelarakis’s music captures something unique, but rarely talked about in the life of a young creative: losing your community. It’s an odd feeling, one that has only gotten worse with the proliferation of social media and technology. A big move, like the one detailed in his newest song “New York Eats My Friends,” could quickly alter the course of one’s friendship in the pre-internet days.

But now, the ability to stay connected-yet-not-connected through TikTok videos and Instagram streams means we are both closer than ever, yet still physically distant from the people in our lives. It makes those big moves stranger, more confusing, and more visible. It’s no wonder then that Kelarakis took time to explore those feelings through song.

“We were raised by our parents with this emotional framework, but then we’re experiencing these relationships differently that we have to adjust to,” he explained. Originally written as more of a downbeat country song, Kelarakis transformed the track with a longtime contributor into something more soulful, almost R&B in emotion. “The emotional side is definitely trying to make sense of how you relate to someone who’s moved away, but you still are in contact with it. Weirdly, kind of like a parasocial way,” he added.

That potential loss of physical friendship, the lingering question that settles within artists like Kelarakis who choose to stay here, in Chicago, rather than go someplace else. Can’t this city be one’s final creative destination?

“There’s this question hanging over everyone: when are you going to leave? Right? And quietly, I want to answer, “Never. Is that OK if I just stay here? Why? Why? Why must we leave?,” he offered with passion. “But then I look back to when I grew up because I’m from this very small [town]. I left, and I have friends there who are still there. So it’s kind of like, looking back and being like, I’ve been the person who’s left. And now I’m the person who has been left. It’s a weird kind of perspective.”

Those types of questions and a desire to question the push and pull of creative life are what make Kelarakis such an interesting artist. And, ultimately, it’s what he wants to keep pursuing in his music moving forward. “I think that’s the hope,” he said. “If you can offer something as an artist that other people are experiencing too and I can get close to talking about it, I think that that’s cool. Yeah, it’s really cool.”

“New York Eats My Friends” and “Jackrabbit” are available on streaming platforms.

Britt Julious is a freelance critic.

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