A Chat with Keller Williams
As Keller and Kdubalicious head into their final shows of 2011 (see the full slate of dates here), we scored a few minutes with Williams to discuss getting his low-end on, this current trio, The Keels and more.
Keller: [Laughs] Well, it was exciting. It seems like there’s so much more power leading a band with a bass than with a guitar, and my playing style is very based around basslines. I often play the basslines first and let the other strings fill in the parts not covered by the bass part. So, it’s not that much of a stretch. Some people have a hard time singing and playing bass at the same time after playing guitar and singing, but it’s not a problem for me because my guitar style is so focused on basslines anyway.
JamBase: Rhythm is one of the first things the ear picks up on in your playing. You’re very interested in providing a groove.
Keller: That’s correct, and that stays the same either way.
The voice of the bass is a little different. Did that shift things for you as a composer?
No, I think all the songs were made up on guitar. Some are done differently solo than with this three-piece. For example, “Thinking Out Loud” is done really reggae style with the trio and on YouTube you can find a goofy solo acoustic version that’s not reggae. I took some songs and adapted them to this trio. I don’t think anything was specifically written for this album. These are songs that have been waiting to be put to sleep, so to speak.
As usual, your taste in covers is impeccable. The Beck tune is inspired, and it points out a side of your personality you don’t always get credit for, i.e. you’re kinda raunchy. You swear, you talk about sex and drugs, and I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of your music.
It also plays to the party people that come to see you, many of whom are probably getting loose.
That’s very true.
Do you sometimes feel it’d be nice to not be so immersed in the party/festival scene? Are there times you’d perhaps like a recital type atmosphere?
It’s funny you mention that because I’m fresh off a weekend where three out of four venues were sit-down listening rooms. Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT has beautiful wooden beams and wood on the ceiling from the 20s, the sort of place George Winston plays without amplification. Then, there was the The Historic Blairstown Theater in Blairstown, NJ, and that’s about 200 seated and a little open space with room for about 250. That place became a theater in 1913. And then, the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. All three of those venues had pin-drop moments where it definitely wasn’t about the party. It was about silence and people breathing with me, and that’s a whole other kind of energy.
I’ve been thinking a bit about where you fit into the larger musical scheme of things. You’ve had a lot of recognition in the jam world. Serious players in the jazz, folk and rock scenes know about you because your technique and skill. You’ve made a kid’s record. Where do you see yourself fitting in?
I’ve kinda nestled into a certain kind group of folks. Every show there might a few younger folks and a few of the NPR crowd but basically, there are a couple hundred folks that are very supportive and have been with me for a long time. I like to think I fit into a performance art situation where it can be the best of both worlds, where someone can sit in a seat and be entertained for an evening of music AND someone could dance and get down. I’m hoping that both can exist in the same show.
He’s a huge influence. At the Historic Blairstown Theater this weekend someone showed up with a soundboard-monitor patch from Michael Hedges at The Bottom Line in 1988. It is just pristine, and he played songs that I’ve never heard him play before. So many people know about my love for Michael Hedges, and they’re happy to share their recordings with me. Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a few.
Your mixture of humor and serious musicianship, instrumental and vocal music, echoes Hedges’ approach.
I’m very passionate about what I took from him, including the way he wasn’t afraid to play covers and do them his way. It’s ballsy. Playing solo, if you play something that everyone knows it can bring people together and then you can lay some heavy mental on them [laughs].
How does it change for you playing with the trio versus playing solo?
On Jam Cruise in January you’ll be playing with The Keels [described by Keller as simply “a bluegrass thing’]. Do you enjoy these huge swings of style and mood with the two trios?
It takes getting into the right mindset, which isn’t usually a problem for me. And New Year’s Eve [at the Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington, NC] it will be a mixture of my two favorite trios, Kdubalicious and The Keels, and combined it’ll be a spacey mix of bluegrass and reggae with a lot of fun involved – suitable music for buzzes of all kinds.
It’s easy to be cynical, and I appreciate how you resist that in your work.
It is easy, especially after many years of ups and downs and whatnot. It’s easy in this business to go there, but I think a nice little mix of optimism and cynicism works well.
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