Written By: Chad Berndtson
Listen closely to many of his projects from the past decade and you’ll understand why
Keller Williams’ full-fledged
embrace of funk music is hardly a surprise. As Keller himself tells you in the title of
the first track from new album
Funk, “I Told You I Was Freaky.” And yet, Funk isn’t an obvious move
for the offbeat
troubadour. It has his name on it, sure, but it also
finds Keller meeting a hand-picked band halfway and soaking up as much of their vibe –
funk, R&B, a little soul -- as
he is immersing them in his. They’re called More Than a Little, and they’re a happy,
pumped-up band: Toby Fairchild
on drums, E.J. Shaw on bass, Gerard Johnson on keyboards and Tonya Lazenby and Sugah
Davis on backing vocals.
The album is culled from two of More Than a Little’s inaugural 2012 gigs in Virginia – a
mix of new Keller originals
and choice covers of Talking Heads, Rick James and the Grateful Dead. We caught up with
Keller recently to talk
about the new album, taking More Than a Little on the road and what else he’s got in the
JAMBASE: The last time you and I spoke at length was about a year ago and you were
just getting the More
Than a Little band going. Is it where you hoped it’d be by now – have you scratched the
KELLER WILLIAMS: Yeah, I’ve started to scratch it, definitely. There are still
some itchy spots we need to get
to but it’s definitely on the right path. We’ve got a nice big chunk of shows coming up so
I’m looking forward to all of
that. It’s giving us a good reason to get together and rehearse. We’re doing the material
but what’s also shaping up
is some interesting versions of my older material. I’m going into the older catalog and
bringing up some songs,
funking them up.
JAMBASE: Can you give an example?
KW: Yeah, “A Day That Never Was.” That’s off of Freek – it’s the last track
my first record. I haven’t
played it much lately but we just worked it up yesterday, and we’ve got this new,
interesting vibe to it with gospel
JAMBASE: Seems like this project is going to have legs. Will you be touring a lot
with More Than a Little
KW: Well, there’s January and February and a whole slew of shows and that’s what
we’ve got planned so
far. It’s just going to kind of be up to the situation and whatever the show calls for.
But yeah I’m hoping this can be a
project that sticks around, at least whenever there’s a call for it. What’s really great
is that when you don’t do
something all the time and you do get around to doing it again, there’s just a joy there
in revisiting it.
JAMBASE: Funk isn’t exactly a stylistic departure for you but all the
same, what inspired you
to pursue a
funk-based project now?
KW: It’s always been with me a bit, but I’ve always been curious about kind of a
big-band funk set up, with
backup singers, and a big, funky in-the-pocket rhythm section. The connection with the
band is Toby Fairchild, the
drummer. He was playing an R&B night in a local bar – Tuesday nights – and I sat in with
the band that was there and
it felt really great.
At the time, I was doing shows with the Bass trio and starting to get in with the
McCourys, so it was an idea I kept in
my back pocket. That’s how the idea came about and as you know we put together five
specific shows on the East
Coast last year in between Christmas and New Year’s.
JAMBASE: And it’s been that same band?
KW: Minus [vocalist] Sugah Davis, it was the band that was on stage that night when
I first sat in. After the
first 45 minutes of rehearsal with this band I knew it was going to be a good one.