Monday, April 24, 2023

Music, Movement and Mayhem: Roger Ebner Stays Dangerous

Roger Ebner performing with Bile, April 2023. Photo by Danesh Kothari

One would say that I’m busy.”

Although Chicago-based saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Roger Ebner followed this statement with a chuckle, his many musical projects perpetually unfolding in recording studios and on stages are no joke. Endorsed by Sax Dakota and best known as a saxophonist for the Industrial Rock supergroup Pigface since 2016, he has “been all over the map” with a long list of recordings and collaborations since first starting his sonic journey more than 50 years ago.

Ebner’s lengthy and diverse discography includes albums with his projects Yeti Rain, Snarling Adjective Convention and Ebner/Kopecky/Walkner/Blake. Under the tutelage of mentor and fellow multi-instrumentalist Tim Price (RIP), he has built a reputation for aural eclecticism by constantly seeking new ways to expand his musical vocabulary.

“It’s in my nature to improvise and compose with like-minded, accomplished musicians. Throwing myself into working with different people in as many intersected networks as possible drives me to continuously raise the bar.”

After suffering from a mysterious physical ailment that robbed him of his ability to play music for several years, he was finally diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2010. After a few months of proper medication and therapy, he regained his ability to play saxophone. This led him to create Music for Movement, an entity founded to raise awareness and funding for Parkinson’s research.

Ebner’s efforts to foster interest in Music for Movement soon led him to cross paths with Pigface bandleader and noted music industry educator/speaker Martin Atkins, who drafted him to play sax for the group’s two 25th anniversary shows in Chicago in November 2016. The gigs marked Ebner’s first time on stage since his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Unsurprisingly, Pigface’s freewheeling nature provided the perfect avenue for Ebner’s improvisational spirit.

“You have to keep your eyes and ears open; when you go on stage, you just go. You can’t get locked into any one way of thinking about how to approach the music.”

Ebner’s Pigface debut was the catalyst for a slew of ongoing friendships and projects with fellow participants. These include Ebner Hunt and Friends (with percussionist Jesse Hunt) and Mike Reidy’s Industrial band W.O.R.M, of which he’s now a consistent member. He also performed at two highly significant dates on Pigface’s 2019 tour: The group’s show in his hometown of Kansas City and its homecoming show in Chicago. The latter is chronicled on the double live album from the tour that was released by Atkins’ Invisible Records in late 2020.

Ebner worked with DogTablet, a project featuring Pigface’s Martin King (Test Dept), on its release Pearldrop Blue. He also appeared on Pigface member/My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult singer Franke “Groovie Mann” Nardiello’s Darling Kandie release Nu Age Depression. The first single from Bitter Elixir, Ebner’s duo project with guitarist Krztoff (Pigface/Bile), was released in April 2021. Ebner also worked with Krztoff on the May 2021 Bile release Sharks and Covid, Vol. 1 and served as a frequent contributor to the Arinova Rhythm Collective (ARC), the creative community he co-founded with Chicago musicians Chrys Anthem-Wozniak (RIP) and Vessy Mink in 2018. The union resulted in dozens of released tracks with a host of
collaborators ranging from Pigface’s Dirk Flanigan to Landmarks Live in Concert (PBS) producer Peter Bowers.

Other collaborators in recent years include the Chicago-based groups Modiviccan and Machines with Human Skin and New York singer Sapphira Vee. All told, Ebner participated in a staggering 20 musical projects in 2021 alone. While some musicians consider dollar signs when determining work, Ebner instead follows his primal instincts.

“If I’m listening to the song, I’ve got to be able to hear how I can add the saxophone or whatever I do in a way that is going to enhance that song. It’s kind of a gut feeling; it’s not really a measurable criterion. The song itself has to have legs. Complexity is sometimes a motivator, but not always – Rock in general is not always complex. Sometimes, a song is deceivingly complex and seems so simple at first until you get in there and try to play against the chord changes the composer came up with. The most important thing with determining whether or not I’m going to be able to get – or start out with being – comfortable with working on a particular piece of music is the rhythm. If it grabs me, I’m in immediately; I don’t even think about it.”

Ebner has grown particularly fond of his prolific creative relationship with the Brooklyn-based Krztoff.

“Working with him has made me a better player. Brooklyn is an abrasive, intense environment. To an outsider who’s not used to the culture, it seems like everyone’s walking around with a chip on their shoulder. Krztoff is classic New York. I think we get along so well together because he’ll bust my balls and I’ll just dish it right back to him!”

Ebner is featured heavily on Bile’s August 2022 album, Pot Farmer, Vol. 2. His favorite appearance on the release, “Sugar (Where We’re Going),” was spurred on by Krztoff encouraging him to listen to Raphael Ravenscroft’s playing on “The Gunner’s Dream” off Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut for inspiration. The end result is one of the most emotional performances of Ebner’s career.

“I can listen to it over and over again and not get tired – or overly critical – of it.”

On February 24, 2023 – the first anniversary of Russia’s military invasion into Ukraine – Ebner released the single “Blue In Yellow” with the Roger Ebner Band. An evocative self-produced instrumental piece, the song was released as a humanitarian aid effort to raise funds for the Ukrainian charity Razom For Ukraine. In addition to featuring mastering/supplemental production by Krztoff, the track boasts percussion by Dan Milligan of The Joy Thieves.

Of course, there’s always a lot more going on in Ebner’s world of music than any biography could hope to track.

“I think the most exciting stuff is still on the horizon. It’s important to never really have the feeling that you’ve ‘arrived.’ There’s always another step; there’s always the search for another melody. The more you do the work, the more you understand that the work is never done.”