After a long workday, there’s nothing like flipping your shoes off and letting your hair go wild. Brew a pot of coffee and light some candles, breathe out the day and find your guitar nearby. That’s the wind-down remedy for Elijah Berlow, a local musician and barista who has immersed himself in the music pulse of the neighborhood in the last four years.
Although Berlow lives in Humboldt Park, he is often in Logan Square, hanging and playing at the many music venues that are home to the Northwest Side’s music community. Berlow, originally from Massachusetts, moved to Chicago in 2015 to pursue music more actively and refine his Ragtime-eque blues and folk sound, though it’s practically in his DNA: he’s been playing guitar and piano since he was about 4 years old and grew up listening to Americana country—Bruce Springsteen, The Black Keys, Rosanne Cash and Patty Scofflaw were routine artists playing in his house. And later, Townes Van Zandt and more Townes Van Zandt, he said with a laugh.
Looking back on the year, he’s played abut 30 shows in Chicago and surrounding cities like Detroit and Indianapolis, released new music videos—one for his song “Digestion” one for “So Romantic,” and “Favorite Foliage,” both filmed in an open field in Wisconsin—put out his single “Roadkill” and recorded a few live shows with a compilation of his recent songs and demos. When he wasn’t busy playing shows at the Hideout, Crown Liquors, the Green Mill, Cafe Mustache and plenty of DIY house shows, he’s working with other musicians and writing and recording music for his new 8-song EP Surrounded, scheduled out in March 2020.
To close out the decade, Berlow is headlining a show at Cole’s (2338 N. Milwaukee Ave.) Dec. 13 with Daymaker and Cordoba, some of his favorite local groups in one of his favorite local venues—because who doesn’t love Cole’s, especially when there’s free music? LoganSquarist chatted with Berlow ahead of the show and to learn more about him, reflect on his 2019, the local music energy and also look ahead to what is in store for the musician in 2020.
LoganSquarist: How do you describe your music?
Elijah Berlow: At first I thought it was like Ragtime because I was very later on after Townes Van Zandt, [like] Mississippi John Hurt, which was Ragtime. But Ragtime doesn’t really translate into a lot of things that I sing or talk about or feel, in terms of background and history. So I think it’s a stemming of blues but it’s also a new focused kind of thing. Scott William [his friend and bassist player] called it baroque folk because I love classical arrangements… so I like that.
What more can you share about your upcoming EP Surrounded?
The 8-song EP will be released in three singles, and then the EP, and that’ll be like an extremely tied together, intentional project. This year has been working towards how to physically construct an idea like that. And now it’s happening. I’m like, way too excited to put it out but I have to constrain myself and just be like, “All right, this is how it’s going to go, step by step.”
With 2020 on the horizon, what growth have you experienced this past year or decade that make you look forward?
I think back to when I was like 14, and not understanding how to use so much of my energy and not having the space to understand my different capacities of self. And then moving to Chicago, and understanding so many aspects and strings of how to do performance and lead into writing and understand playing and dynamics and collaborating—[they are] the most important things in my life. [Music] is not just a very side thing, but the thing I am.
At this point, I’m just so happy that I can play a show and have people feel it. And it’s not like, so euphoric or high, it’s just this deep, deep grateful gratitude, which is nice to be seen. I feel like that’s just a start, a momentum that I want to keep running away with [on] this new project and collaborate with everybody.
How does your music reflect the current time or humanity?
Looking at life and thinking, “How can I change this? What am I in it? And what is my place within it? And like, what are my boundaries and how can I push those boundaries have enforced the people around me?” You can point to any moment in history in general and be like, “This is that moment of life.” I don’t want to be cliche but this is that moment on so many real levels [which is why] I want my songs to be very multi-themed. They’re not just about like, one person or a story; everyone’s just multi-dimensional. It’s like, “What is that song about?” Well, that song is about the world melting but it’s also about love melting or relationships melting or just yourself melting. All I can do is write so that’s what I need to do, I suppose.
What’s a song you really enjoy performing live?
Favorite Foliage because it’s my only song that has a tempo change. People really expect it to be one thing the entire time. And then it cuts off and I see people’s different reactions when it picks up and then it cuts off again. I’ve had people trying to dance to it. Just get ready because it’s kind of slower. But singing wise, I think I really like that song because it opens me up. And it’s also just one of my most challenging songs to play. It’s a relief to do it each time and hit it because I wrote that song as a challenge and now it feels really good to sing as hard as I can.