MUSIC | Ezra Sauter on the history of Soulacious

Twin Cities-based hip-hop/R&B outfit Soulacious firmly established themselves in a short time. Their first gig was in February 2007 at the 7th Street Entry. Since then, they've released the full-length debut Strange Love and an EP, For the Love of Music. They're now a crowd-drawing hit at the clubs. Not too shabby. At all. Soulacious are fronted by Jarrod Anderson and Kandii Matthews on vocals with Ezra Sauter (guitar), Dan Knoflicek (keyboards), Ryan Scribner (bass) and Karl Dehkes (drums). They show every sign that they'll be around for quite a while.

Strange Love really had nothing strange about it at all. The disc was an eye-brow raising debut for the band, introducing them as a source of soul music par excellence. "Sitting On Top of the World" was a strong highlight, with Anderson and Matthews working well off one another in a tight, 80s type groove. As was "Strange Love." The band shifted gears between recordings, with For the Love of Music leaning heavily on hip-hop. A continuing thread, though, is Ezra Sauter's guitar work. He's always showed an impressive range of fresh ideas, interesting textures and—bottom line—chops to burn. Sauter treated me to coffee, swung by the crib and gave an off-the-cuff-interview.

Your playing roots are in jam bands.
When I was really young, I was going through kind of a hippie phase. A lot of what I played revolved around bands like the Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident. A lot of these improvisational groups. That was my world at the time. Me and my musician buddies would get together [for] impromptu jam sessions. Ultimately, that's what taught me how to play guitar.

It's a far cry from there to Soulacious. What happened?
It's definitely been an evolution. I mean, the more people I hung out with and the more music I was exposed to, my tastes just changed over time. Especially [in] a place like Minneapolis where the R&B roots are so strong. And you've got incredible bands. You grow to fall in love with that scene. When you're immersed in it. They've got a hot little scene in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, too.

How'd you get hooked up with Soulacious?
I was playing in another band that just kind of dissipated. It was this R&B rock group. It just wasn't working. I wanted to play in an R&B/hip-hop group. I always liked rap music, that was where my tastes were kind of going. It was kind of challenging as a guitar player to get involved in the hip-hop scene. I put an ad up on [the Internet], saying I wanted to be in an R&B, soul, hip-op type of group. A little modern, something poppy. Over the course of about nine months I got various responses. From different types of people. Man, I tell you. You weed through a lot of crazy people. I had guys show up who didn't even know what key their instruments were in. You find the people you click with. It took between nine and twelve months to actually get the band formed. Initially, it was Ryan who responded, our current bass player. He was responding as a drummer and wanted to do neo-soul. So we got together and played. Now, we needed a singer. That's when Jarrod responded. He showed up to practice with this toothy grin and bigger-than-life personality and started freestyling. We were blown away, a couple of skinny white boys who weren't used to this guy who could just show up and let it all hang out. So we said, "What the hell, let's take a chance." He brought in Kandii. They've been close friends since they were probably 14, 15, something like that. Then, something happened where our bass player at the time quit. That's when Dan, who currently is our keyboard player, auditioned as a bass player. That's essentially how the band formed. About two years later, Karl joined.

Do you contribute to the songwriting?
Absolutely. I think when we first started playing, a lot of the writing was me or Dan or Jarrod. Or maybe Kandii. Or anybody in the band, but primarily us. We'd come up with, like, a riff. An idea for a riff. And then bring it to practice. Let's say it was me. I'd play the riff. The drummer would play a beat, the bass player, all the members, just kind of come in. It could anywhere from ten to sixty minutes to a couple rehearsals to kind of groove in. After a while, a song would evolve. It would be a pretty democratic process. Right now, it's changing. I'm doing a lot of recording independently and emailing them back and forth. [With] Dan primarily. He's really good at tweaking song ideas. And Gerard, ‘cause, he's good at coming up with vocal melodies.

What's the biggest difference between the first album and For the Love of Music?
When we recorded the first album, we brought on a good friend of mine who used to be production director at [radio station] B96, what today is 96.3 NOW. We'd lay down the tracks and he'd play a major role in the production. That album is a lot more raw. We didn't have a lot of the added production values For the Love of Music has. [We've added] extra bells and whistles. Things that we wanted for a little more depth. We had a lot more freedom to experiment, really make it more theatrical. We had a lot of fun with it.

Who's the producer?
Same as the first one, John Bailey. He's got a lot of that pop sensibility. You know, when he steps into the studio.

What's next for Soulacious?
Right now, our focus is on our live show. Everybody in the band is working their ass off to step up our game when we play. We're tightening up our sound.

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Dwight Hobbes's picture
Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes (dwight [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.