Interview: Keller Williams
Keller’s musical career is on fire. His recent Kdubalicious album titled simply, “Bass” kicked off last December, and as we write this he’s doing his best to keep the Travelin’ McCourys from fishing off the boat during Jam Cruise. Â I’ve seen Keller play with everyone from The String Cheese Incident to the Rhythm Devils, and caught up with him recently at his show in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the Blind Pig. Â Based on the track he shared with us (scroll all the way down), I can’t wait to see him with the Travelin’ McCourys next summer.
Bands That Jam: Â Welcome to Michigan Keller. Â Thanks for sitting down to talk with Bands That Jam. Â What were you up to this summer? Â
Keller Williams: Â So many experiences – my memory is so bad. Â The beginning of the summer was really cool because I was able to play with my band. Â When I say my band I mean Gibb Droll on Guitar, Keith Moseley on Bass and Jeff Sipe on drums. Â We got to play three shows – two in a row. Â One was in Fredericksburg, Virginia on a Riverboat, the other was in a field house. Â They were both to benefit the Explore It! Childrenâ€™s Museum that weâ€™re trying to bring to Fredericksburg. Â
Then another festival was in Harmony Park out in Minnesota – a really cool festival out there. Â I got to play a few times with Kdubalicious which is my kinda regga-funk-dub trio with me on bass. Â
BTJ: Â I got to see that at Summer Camp this year – you had two of the guys from moe. sit in for that? Â
KW: Â Yea, Chuck Garvey played on â€œTell Me Something Goodâ€ and Al Schneir played on â€œFeel Like a Stranger.â€ Â Summer Camp is really an amazing festival – itâ€™s really grown into something quite beautiful.Â
BTJ: Â Looping, sampling, and funny voices. Â Do you see these things happening a lot more in music these days?
KW: Â Yea, itâ€™s so easy and the technology is there, itâ€™s also so incredibly fun for people who play by themselves to create more. Â More and more bands are doing it on a â€œbandâ€ level (air hand quotes his) as well, not just solos. Â Iâ€™ve seen a lot more bands looping everybody, and then people taking solos at different parts – itâ€™s really interesting. Â There is a beauty of humans playing music without repeaters – and thatâ€™s coming from somebody whoâ€™s been doing it for so long – so I see the other side of it too. Â Especially when I do a lot of solo gigs, it makes me want to go out and play with humans.
BTJ: Â Youâ€™re a huge Grateful Dead lover. Â Who would be your dream team of people youâ€™d like to play Dead tunes with? Â
KW: Â We got to do a one-off this summer at Gathering of the Vibes. Â Totally different lineup than last summerâ€™s [Rythm Devils]. Â It was Bill and Mickey, Reed Mathis on bass – an incredible bass player and singer, an amazing harmony vocalist that was kinda the MVP, and Steve Kimock. The three of us in front with Bill and Mickey behind us – that was kind of a surreal, dream-like type setting. I put together the setlist a month or two out and passed it around to Steve and to Reed and they had no problems. Â We met the day before and ran through it and it was really, really cool and Iâ€™d love to do that five-piece again, I thought that was really exciting.
There was a really interesting four-piece that I did at a small festival called Steel Jam, a small festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where the Kimocks are indigenous. Â This is in front of a giant steel factory in Bethlehem. Â The Casino came in and…
BTJ: Â Lit the steel factory! Â Yeah, I saw your blog post about that – how incredible.
KW: Â It was really cool! Â At the end of the set I had the Kimocks – I had John Kimock on drums, Steve on guitar, me on bass, and then the last song had Fareed Haque on guitar – so I was playing bass (makes air bass gesture) in between Fareed Haque (gestures right) and Steve Kimock (looks left) and I was just (shakes head). Â
BTJ: Â You had said that you were messing up words.
KW: Â I was – I wasnâ€™t really focusing on the lyrics. Â When you play a GD song you probably should focus more on the lyrics, but I focused on the jam – (furrows brow) – I think it was ok. Â
BTJ: Â I think that would probably be alright concerning the circumstances!
KW: Â (Bursts into laughter) Â That human side of word forgetting is OK by me! Itâ€™s because Iâ€™ve been there. Â
BTJ: Â You recently got to play at Carnegie Hall – an amazing house – what did it feel like to walk out on that stage?
KW: It was surreal. Â I know I keep using that word, but thereâ€™s no real other way to describe it. Â We showed up in time for our scheduled soundcheck and they were ahead of schedule – so I walked right in, grabbed my guitar, walked up on stage and played a song as soon as I walked in there, so that was pretty unbelievable. Â
BTJ: Â Youâ€™ve talked about experiencing all different types of music. Could you talk about the growth of electronic music?
KW: Â Sure. Â You know, itâ€™s a shift. Â I think the whole computer generated, computer beats – â€œproducersâ€ (air quotes again his) – and â€œprepared tracksâ€ is I guess how they call it – a lot of folks â€œpress playâ€ – (air fingers a button) – and people LOVE THAT. Â I think itâ€™s a shift thatâ€™s the kind of thing where the people that are supporting the music in the places that we hang out are between the ages of 17 and 25 or thereabouts. Â And those types of folks are being brought up with computers – and theyâ€™re into that computerized beat where everythingâ€™s perfect. Â And I canâ€™t say anything bad about it – anything that creates kind of a group thinking type of atmosphere (puts hands up around head) – a type of cerebral atmosphere – moving and breathing at the same time – however that can happen I think is positive whether itâ€™s someone standing on a milk crate with a fiddle, or [has] a computer.
BTJ: One of the posts that generated a lot of interest on your blog recently was your experiencing an EOTO show. Â Could you relate what that was like?
KW: Theyâ€™re definitely crossing the lines in the electronica world, I think, by doing live what these â€œproducersâ€ are creating in their little home studios and bringing it out. Nothing is pre-recorded with them – theyâ€™re doing it all live. Â You put the EOTO against some of the top â€œproducersâ€ – I donâ€™t think youâ€™re supposed to say DJ anymore – and itâ€™s a lot of similar sounds, similar delays, and the â€œDJâ€ formula thatâ€™s happening – EOTO playing it live is just a fantastic mix that I love. Â
BTJ: Â Would you ever play dubstep? Â
KW: Â Well I dabble, ya know, maybe once or twice a show, kinda drop the beat down half-time, I can get some really low, super low (dubstep voice, he wobbles it out) Â WA WA WA WA WA WA, but I canâ€™t go more than a couple of minutes, or else people will start throwing shit at me (laughs).
I recently saw a Fatboy Slim set in New Orleans, and I kept wanting him to drop it to half-time, and I kept wanting that so I guess, Iâ€™m pro-dubstep.
BTJ: Â Youâ€™ve also dabbled in the kids music. Â Weâ€™re approximately the same age as me and all of us – weâ€™re starting to have kids that listen to music, it seems a natural extension. Â Is it sometimes more fun to play for kids?
KW: Â No, definitely not (serious face)
BTJ: Â (hysterics)
KW: Â The thing I love most about it, about the kids show, is doing the signing afterwards, and meeting folks that I may have met at one of my shows, and now they have a kid, and thatâ€™s the whole beautiful thing about the little matinee thing weâ€™ve been doing, and itâ€™s a different monster. Â The whole kids world is a whole different monster and one of the few remaining genres it seems like that still possibly buys CDâ€™s. Â
You know whatâ€™s big now in the kids world is DVDâ€™s – with the cars, and the DVD players in the cars – so weâ€™ve been tossing that idea around, but weâ€™re still letting the kids record sink in. Â
BTJ: Â Youâ€™ll be on Jam Cruise again this year?
KW: Â Yeah, Iâ€™ll be doing two sets with the Keels. Iâ€™m in Keels bluegrass mode. Gonna be hanging out with them and trying to discourage them from fishing off the side of the deck. Â Iâ€™m worried about them dropping lines off the balcony. Â (Lowers voice) Iâ€™m doing some real trolling out here. Â Been trying to catch a big one. Â
BTJ: Â Youâ€™ve got to do a lot of RV Travelin’ with your family, would you encourage others to try this experience?
KW: Â Yeah, summertime is a perfect time to do that, there are all kinds of ideas you can do, 100-mile trips a day, really cool campgrounds if you donâ€™t want to rough it, some amazing resort campgrounds with playgrounds, rides, swimming pools, lakes, paddle boats, all kinds of stuff. Â When you have two kids – mine are three and seven – all that stuff really comes in handy. They get really rambunctious after a couple hundred miles and you want to let them run around and do stuff. Â Iâ€™d say RVing is definitely cool – my wife and I have owned probably five from 1998 to 2004 – counting the Blazabago, which was a 1974 Chevy Blazer with a slide-in pop-up that me and her lived in with two dogs and put 100,000 miles on that thing. Â
BTJ: Â You mentioned the Explore It! Foundation you were doing work with in Fredericksburg, do you have any other charities that you work with that youâ€™d like people to know about?
KW: Â The Rex Foundation, which was started by the Grateful Dead in the early 80â€™s, I donated something called â€œGrateful Grassâ€ with Keith Moseley on Bass, Jeff Austin on Mandolin, that was all GD songs done bluegrass. Â That is up and for sale digital-only, with all proceeds going to the Rex Foundation. Â Iâ€™m putting a follow-up out to that in the next couple months called â€œKeysâ€ thatâ€™s solo piano and acoustic guitar. Â
BTJ: Â You mentioned your work this summer with K-Dubalicious. Â Youâ€™ve got a new album coming out?
KW: Itâ€™s called â€œBassâ€ and itâ€™s kind of a reggae-dub-funk keyboard trio with me on bass, Jay Starling on keys, and Mark Dee on drums and itâ€™s very open, airy, kind of reggae dub funk, weâ€™re doing about 4-5 shows at the end of the year to promote it.
BTJ: Â What would you like to say about our technology the way it shapes music?
KW: Itâ€™s a great time right now for a music lover. Â Not necessarily a music producer (laughs).
I have Rhapsody on my phone. Â Say weâ€™re just talking like we are now and someone says something like, â€œThat place is cool as the crow flies itâ€™s right over there.â€ Â And Iâ€™m like â€œAs the crow fliesâ€ (furrows brow) – thatâ€™s a cool name for a band – (air types into his imaginary phone) – Oh, hereâ€™s the track by As The Crow Flies, and Iâ€™m listening to something that I just thought of. Â Itâ€™s endless. Â
BTJ: weâ€™re obviously consuming music differently. Â Do you see there being an end point where weâ€™re all in the cloud? Â Are we in the middle of that shift, have we started to see that shift?
KW: I know that there are pockets of folks that like the actual physical thing – and there are even smaller pockets of folks who like vinyl. Â As a music lover, I get off on music that comes out of my phone speakers – (points over to his phone and some portable speakers) – so that kinda amplifies a bit of the low end, but not much, but itâ€™s always been about the beat and everything about music for me, not necessarily the analog sound and the tone. Â I think there are always going to be pockets of folks that want the physical product. Â But with the streaming revolution – thereâ€™s no need to own anything, as long as you have Internet. Â Iâ€™m thinking that as time goes on the internet is going to get stronger – the digital revolution is going to get bigger – I donâ€™t see an end point or a change that much going backwards – itâ€™s definitely going forwards.
BTJ: Â Whatâ€™s touring like? Â What works? Â What doesnâ€™t?
KW: Â Well I never really looked at it any other way than what I wanted to do. Â When I was doing 200 shows a year, and driving everywhere myself, I was happy. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. And it never really was a bummer to me. It never really got me down, I was always really grateful. Â And once it started picking up, it was just like some sort of total added bonus that was happening. Â And now that I have kids, and seeing how they change so much so fast, itâ€™s great to be able to be part of the routine from Sunday night to Thursday morning. Â And Iâ€™m just so grateful. Â Iâ€™ve been doing it now for a couple of years, the â€œfestival mentalityâ€ do a couple tours in the spring, a couple tours in the fall, and in the summer you sort of just fly out to festivals on the weekends – and we totally adapted that as year-round, and weâ€™ve gotten into that routine and I absolutely love it, itâ€™s really working for me.
BTJ: A lot of festivals seem to be getting more kid-friendly. Iâ€™ve seen a ton of artist kids out on the road, Mickey Hartâ€™s son plays a mean drum set. Â At what age is it appropriate to start taking your kids out to see music? Â
KW: Â Wow, thatâ€™s a hard one. Donâ€™t want to go to young – and you donâ€™t want to go to old. I would say between 6 and 11, maybe depending on how the kid is, maybe 5 to 12. Â Thatâ€™s my opinion with my kids. Â Too young and they can wander off and be a drag – too old and theyâ€™re off getting into bad things.
BTJ: Youâ€™re going to be playing at Jam in the Dam. Â Could you tell us a bit about that?
KW: This is in an epic venue called the Melkweg. Â Itâ€™s got two big rooms. Iâ€™ve played it a couple of times. There are these two big rooms, and each artist sets up and goes kinda back and forth, I think Dark Star Orchestra sets up first, Iâ€™m not completely sure. Great location, right in the square, I think Amsterdamâ€™s changing from what Iâ€™ve heard, but weâ€™ve always had good times staying on like a boat in the canals, lots of really interesting alternatives to hotels. Iâ€™m really looking forward to seeing the music – Lotus, Mike Gordon, Dark Star. Â It really works, everybody gets really long sets, I love Dark star and Lotus is really amazing and Gordon is always interesting.
BTJ: Â You said you might want to play something?
KW: Â Iâ€™ve been hanging out with The Travelin’ McCourys so theyâ€™re pretty fresh in my mind. Iâ€™m hoping weâ€™re gonna do a record together – thatâ€™s not really in the talks yet, but next summer weâ€™re kinda pushing the whole combination of the Travelin’ McCourys featuring me. Â This is one that weâ€™ve recorded called â€œBroken Convertible.â€
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