MUSIC | From screaming to strumming, Ezra Sauter’s got serious chops

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Playing guitar in a soul band demands special chops. First and foremost, you’ve got to be tight. And tasty. And tight. And fluid. And tight. Also, did I mention you have to be tight? As in air-sealed. Ezra Sauter, with hip-hop/R&B juggernaut Soulacious, cleanly fills the bill.

Accordingly, he’s intrinsic to the sound on Soulacious’s successful debut CD Strange Love, breaking bad along side bandmates Jarrod Anderson (vocals), Kandii Matthews (vocals), Dan Knoflicek (bass), and Ryan Scribner (drums). By the way, they kill like cold-blooded murder.

On “Sittin’ on Top of the World” (a band original, not the blues standard), Sauter goes from screaming, rock-drenched lead to chicken-scratch economy and back, in his own style. For the title tune, he revisits the Steve Cropper school, strumming a little bit loose, still dead-on. “Lookin’ for a Better Place” gives an excellent idea of what Sauter does across the album. Mixing and matching styles and techniques, keeping your ear all the way. His playing brings to mind Wild Cherry’s old wise-cracking refrain, “Play that funky music, white boy.” It’s a plain fact: Ezra Sauter got serious chops.

Dwight Hobbes: What guitars do you have and why’d you pick them?
Ezra Sauter: My main guitar is a Gibson Les Paul Studio. My preference in guitars, for better or worse, has been greatly dictated by my amp rig. Every show, I lug around my Fender Super Reverb and Marshall JCM 800. Tonally, the Les Paul through a Marshall amp has the sound like the two were made to be played together. No question. There is something about the warm, sensual, and responsive tonality you get when the Les Paul is played through a Fender Super Reverb. My backup is an American Fender Stratocaster. I played only that guitar for years. Over time the single coil response became too tinny for my taste.

Your strongest influences?
John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has been my biggest influence. When I first started really getting into the electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix. Right now, my influences are all about neo-soul artists like D’Angelo, Musiq Soulchild, and Anthony Hamilton. The older I get, the more I’ve gotten into the blues as well. Styles from B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Albert King. Living in Minneapolis and playing R&B is pretty conducive to getting hooked on artists like Prince and the Time, but I’m completely obsessed with and influenced by the local scene and bands that I’m lucky enough to share the stage with. Local groups and artists like Just.Live, Dan Rodriguez, the New Congress, and Copasetic totally floor me.

How’d you get involved with Soulacious?
In 2006, I was in a rock band that broke up. I didn’t have a very wide social network at the time. I’d been living in the city for a little over a year. Long story short, I posted an ad [online] looking for a drummer. I met Ryan. After more ads, auditions, and jam sessions we met Jarrod. That was memorable. Ryan and I could immediately tell he had a great, bold personality. Jarrod and Kandii were friends since high school so he eventually brought her into the group a couple months later. Lastly, we finally found Dan.

How do you like working in the band?
Working with this band has been the most musically gratifying experience I’ve ever had. There is something valuable about a group of strangers coming together to pursue a common goal. Most bands that I know or that I’ve played with seem to spawn from a couple of friends with a strong personal connection already established. They decide to jam together. Many of these groups use this personal connection to derive a greater meaning for their music. That’s cool. I respect it—although in these situations, personal feelings can really get in the way of not only how you run your band as a business, but also what an individual truly wants to get out of the group on a musical level.

Any plans for a solo project?
Not at the moment. I prefer the group thing.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.

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