Interview | Keller Williams Brings The Funk

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 pipeline.

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 itch?

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 off of 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 harmonies.

JAMBASE: Seems like this project is going to have legs. Will you be touring a lot with More Than a Little next year?

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.

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