Whether it's the fact that he belts out a full-bodied, full band sound while standing alone on stage or that he's one of the best songwriters on the circuit, Keller Williams is becoming very relevant to the general public. This past year he took his solo show to Europe with Michael Franti & Spearhead, hit some dates in Australia, and is making his way over to Japan in the upcoming months. For some fans, it's about time he gets the recognition he so rightly deserves; others can't stand to share one of the best kept secrets in the scene. With a heavy arsenal of masterfully crafted albums under his belt and an ever-growing slew of toys that grace his performances, Keller Williams is turning heads and shaking asses. Songs like "Freaker by the Speaker" and "Love Handles" have started making their way onto the radio, and Keller himself has even managed to find the time to host his own radio show--and that's just scratching at the surface. His incredible wit and sense of humor overflows in his lyrics and his jaw-dropping talent at any instrument he picks up is nothing short of amazing.
Keller Williams by Adam George
With an extremely relaxed persona, Keller takes to his shows shoeless on an Oriental rug and with a guitar in hand. He blends his songs from instrumental licks and loops that have more layers of soul, funk, and musical prowess than you'll ever find on MTV. He's an artist on a completely different level: whether he's dropping a slap-happy bass line or shooting his fingers up and down the frets of his guitar, Keller is there to remind you that music is much more then meets the eye. Having expressed a huge influence from the guitar work of Jerry Garcia and the music of the Grateful Dead in general, it's no surprise that Keller is able to bring people from different walks of life together to rejoice in the music that makes this world a better, brighter place. Spreading smiles like wildfire and keeping the guts in check with contagiously danceable tunes, Keller is looking at his biggest year yet, and at a time where the big names are taking a step back, thank God we have someone so tuned-in to keep the good vibes rolling. I was able to catch up with Keller several times over the past few months and had a recent phone conversation with the man regarding his upcoming summer and his hot new double live album Stage. Enjoy.
Matt Layton: Before we even start, congratulations on making the cover of Relix. It was great to see you on the cover and read a nice hefty article on your progress over the past couple years.
Keller: Thank you very much, man. I am truly tickled about that honor.
Matt Layton: So I wanted to start off by talking about your new release Stage. I see that on Stage Left, you took most of the material from the show in San Louis Obispo. What made you decide on which shows you were going to use, and more specifically, why that show?
Keller: Well it's strange, you know. I would listen to that San Louis Obispo show, and I had an idea of what kind of songs I wanted on that part of the album. That show had several songs in a row that worked and that's really where I wanted to go with that. Rather then taking each song from different venues, with this show, I was able to stay true as possible to how they were performed in that way, especially how they segue into another song and out and so on. So the San Louis Obispo show really worked, without even realizing it at the time and we were multi-tracking the whole core, and I kind of had an idea every night that something could happen and I could use it, you know. But at the same time it was just me and one of the five shows in a row that I was doing that week, so when I went back and listened to that particular show there was just something about it... a lot of the shows I play are very social, people are up and about and chatting and smoking and what not, but this show was heated and silent, and for a 500-seat college theater it was really cool. The energy was intense in the sense that the people were honing in on my every word and note, whereas on Stage Right, it's a little more loose and dance vibe and everyone was standing up and partying.
Matt Layton: With the difference in vibes from venue to venue, which do you prefer? Do you like the quiet, clinging, sitting crowd, or do you prefer the rocking-out loud crowd that is on their feet?
Keller: You know I don't get really all that much of the quiet sit-down crowd anymore. But to answer your question, I thrive heavily off of the energy I receive from the crowd. When I walk onto the stage, I have this automatic adrenaline because I'm walking onto the stage (laughs). But after a half hour or so, I begin to rely on the audience to feed more energy to me and so it's a circular thing going.
Keller Williams :: Bonnaroo 03 by David Vann
Do you associate that at all with your background in theater back in college?
That probably doesn't hurt. I definitely had a lot of theater experience before I ever considered music to be my main gig. I actually went to Virginia Wesleyan College for three years and took drama as a major, but just getting through the regular academic stuff was such a bitch for me (laughs). The only thing in theatre that I truly learned was that I didn't want to be in that field, and that I wanted to go to theatres to play my music and not so much have a script to follow, and end up skipping three pages and totally ruining a scene and freak every one out and get an "F" (both laugh).
Do you find that the improv skills you learned pour out into your sets? Even as far as conjuring up your set lists... do you write out a set list prior to taking the stage or just take it as it comes?
You know, 99% of the time I'll figure out what I am playing first, second and third and maybe what I am going to close with, but then there are those lucky times that I am playing the same place I played the year before, and I can go online and dig up the set list from that particular show and not play any of the same songs from that set or at least make sure I open or close with different things.
Keller Williams by C Taylor Crothers
What about with your choice for covers? You've breathed new life into the cover song and I know I'm not alone in saying that you always seem to play the perfect cover at the perfect time. Is that all spur of the moment decisiveness or do you get an idea before you even take the stage?
Oh cool man, thank you. It can actually depend on specific towns or times. I'm always trying to incorporate different songs of the times, and songs that are appropriate with where I am and what's happening. I even sometimes like to change the words to make it appropriate with where I am at that night. I'm pretty much just an applause whore (both laugh). Well actually, it's not so much an applause whore, it's more like... Well, like you write for JamBase, right?