Keller Williams: Goes Back Home (INTERVIEW)

Sit down, kick up your feet, and make yourself comfortable. The whole family is here. This is home!

Once again, Keller Williams’ innovative, joyous energy shines through on his new album, Home, as he continues to spice up the thriving jamband scene with a solid fan base which seemingly grows exponentially at each of his eclectic one-man shows. His recent two-night stand at the Mishawaka Amphitheater in Bellevue, CO, just days after the album release, were some of the most hyped performances of his career, and the road ahead looks even brighter. “It’s hard to focus on the dark side” Williams explains. “Personally, I write and perform songs the way I want to hear them as an audience member.” Though commonly linked to Colorado, non-stop touring inspired him to return to his true hometown roots of Fredricksburg, VA to record his first original solo studio album – just fifteen minutes away from his residence. If home is where the heart is, Williams came from the heart when he created his latest masterpiece of musical expression.

Continuing his one-word album title theme, Home is Williams’ artistic endeavor stripped naked to a perfectionist purity of combined electronic soundscapes and Jamgrass also present in his improvisational shows. “I’m definitely locking into that style of music, and the whole range of electronic music,” says Williams. “Except, I want to be the musician that plays it all acoustic. I love that type of pulsating drumbeat, and the way people get motivated to dance to that type of music. I would like to be a pioneer in that work. In the end, it is all about doing what you love, not stopping, and not giving up.”

Likewise, in the Techno and Electronica culture, DJ’s are constantly attempting to spin or compose, whether on the turntables or the laptop, for the love of it. Though, despite people’s love for the genre, it’s difficult to keep the crowds coming back for the love, when most techno-trance involves staying up all night at a rave or dealing with unlicensed venues. Here, Williams may have an advantage, as he rarely performs late into the morning, and the venues are almost always guaranteed. His determination to pioneer Electronica in a varied direction has developed itself into a sort of entirely new music genre, Electro-Jam-Orchestration. Resembling ambient music, Williams’ adds his signature sound of 8,10,16, and even 18 string guitars to regulate it. Skilled in the evolution of percussive acoustic guitar, combined with his authentic tonalities, he is a One-Electro-Jam-Orchestra that appeals to all listeners.

The introduction to Home is a simple version of “Love Handles,” subtly hinting toward the theme of his back to basics, tweaked wizardry through Williams’ distinct mouth-flugel placed within the background vocals. The upbeat “Apparition,” reflects Williams’ curiosity about other worldly beings and willingness to reach out to them. His lyrics offer insight into how he views making music such as, “it’s a telepathic message and it needs to be decoded.” In a roll of his tongue, the song flies away, carried on waves of computer enhancements. In “Tubeular,” a melodic acoustic guitar flows into Hawaiian tropics, beneath harmonica and flute notes that mingle with a sporadic whistle. From this instrumental quicksand rises a piano.

Amid an abundance of ethereal sounds, his reference to the idea of looking at the bigger picture in the topic of man vs. man and the realm of alien vs. man, is a refreshing dip into the deep end of the social pool of conceptual norms in “Victory Song.” Coming down to Earth in the brief “Butt Ass Nipple,” Williams makes exceptional use of the mouth harp, reminiscent of a howling Snoopy, while several other non-traditional interments collide into a sample-based hybrid free for all.

The prelude to “Moving Sidewalk” is a smooth and tranquil escape into acoustic bliss. Williams’ progressive strumming becomes fierce at the climax, until a sonic helicopter merges with his lyrics that ride antsy digital beats. His skatting voice gives way to a syncopated beat and astral tones mix with his digitally altered voice, making for an intelligent, yet, compelling groove. “Sheebs” is a slightly phonic track that overlaps gentle acoustic tones to climb upward, only to cannonball back down in an admirable intensity. “Art” is 1970s funkadelic emanating from a Celtic atmosphere, and the Spanish “Casa Quetzal,” begins with a playful questioning of audience mood.

“Bitch Monkey” is a beat box, followed by piano lines that eventually dissolves into digitally filtered echoes. Then, resembling a DJ managing the turntables of technical extremes, Williams slows the pace in the manner of the fader that shifts in and out of the main groove. “You are What you Eat” is a vocal concoction of fluid sound with sarcastic undertones of cannibalism. In this humorous track, his voice is distorted into a mechanical loop, where he conveys how he becomes one with the machine used to create music.

Earth tones with subtle phonics transitioned into a hefty beat box are regulated with the electric guitar in “Sorry From the Shower.” Suddenly, massive layers of loops are abound and Williams chimes in with a noise that sounds like the beating of a heart through a stethoscope before closing the album win a Celtic fairytale mode, tugging at the soul’s deepest cord.

So now that we’re comfortable at home, lets get to know our gracious host…

Tell me about the vocals in the background on Home, specifically the little boy who sings.

The little boy is me. The first time the little boy sounds appear I am age three. The second time they appear, I was age seven soliciting requests from my grandparents, because they were taping on their recorder that they used to record family events on. Since there was a microphone, I grabbed it and pretended to be Shawn Cassidy. The other voices you hear are my father and grandparents egging me on.

How would you describe your relationship with sound engineer Lou [Gosain]? Although you’re a solo artist, would you say that you and Lou are a musical duo?

Sure…Lou has a lot of musical background. He’s run the sound for many bands and is highly trained on the trumpet. Not only was he in a barber shop quartet, but he also sported a mullet and sang lead vocals in his own band. I’m very lucky to have such a mental musical genius traveling with me. Plus, he can fix stuff, and he has a bitchin’ GPS system, so we never get lost. Thus, yes, we are a dynamic duo, and when we put our fists together we activate our creative powers!

Which computer programs are you currently using?

I don’t know anything about computers. I don’t even do the e-mail thing. Personally, I don’t use any computers, period. Lou, however, uses the computer to analyze and tweak the sound system. He also uses the same computer to multi-track each show. I use a digital looping machine on stage, it’s essentially a delay unit. I’m hitting the button, playing something, hitting the button again at the right time, and it repeats what I just played. Then, I can place a layer overtop of that and create the sound of more than one person, which is where the fun begins.

And Victor Wooten introduced you to the Lexicon JamMan?

Actually, I might have given him the wrong cell phone number! After he asked me for my cell phone number, I was freaking out inside. As I was saying the numbers, and I was thinking to myself, “Holy shit, holy shit!” Victor, if you are reading this, call your management and have them call my management to get my number!

At the 30th Anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival this year, you performed a song in memory of musical revolutionist Michael Hedges. Like mentor philosopher to student philosopher, you seem to absorb his ideas and take them further into your own music.

His music intrigues me ever so much. I have always been envious of Michael Hedges’ use of alternative tunings and technology to make his guitar sound large and unique. The way this one man filled the room musically, with just a guitar and vocals is my main inspiration as a solo act. The one time I met him was a fun situation. I saw him walk through the lobby of a hotel, so I grabbed one of my CDs and followed him. In the middle of the summer he was wearing black tights, combat boots, a vest with no shirt, and a spiked dog collar around his neck. I overheard him ask his road crew guy if he found any music, so I chipped in and said, “Well, it just so happens I have some music right here.” I handed him my CD, told him what a huge inspiration he was to me, and that I could hardly wait for his set that day. He replied, “Thanks,” and handed the CD to his road guy.

Your recent distribution deal with SCI Fidelity Records/Ryko Distribution Partners has stepped up your tour schedule. Where do you see yourself going in the next twelve months?

The continental US. Hopefully different parts of Europe, Japan, and Australia. Europe is still unchartered territory for us. We plan on groveling our way through as opening acts, playing crappy little bars, and paying our own way as we go. In 1996, playing in California was a distant dream for me. Now, Europe is my California.

Any memorable tour stories come to mind?

We were at a stop light in the motor home when a BMW with four, baseball capped, short hair, fraternity types, wearing polo shirts pulled up next to us. The driver signaled us to roll down the window and in a white boy prep school tone said, “hey brother, great show. I have the headies. Are you down?” I kindly replied, “No thanks,” and we sped off. To understand the jest of the situation, imagine Niles or Frasier Crane saying this quote. It was a memory that will last forever.

On your days off, besides watching cartoons, what other things do you enjoy doing?

I spend a lot of time experimenting with instruments. For example, I recently got a Mallet Kat, which is a Midi-vibraphone…the Midi pads are set up as if it were a vibraphone and I can get hundreds of sounds out of it. I listen to a lot of music, and learn other peoples’ songs. I also like to mountain bike, eat…and watch TiVo.

This winter you’ll take part in the first four day Jamband music festival at sea, the maiden voyage of Jam Cruise. What’s your plan for this getaway event?

I’m going to get on the boat the first day, play my show, and the second day I am going to “getaway” to an undisclosed location somewhere deep in the Bahamas!

Home combines musical aspects of both Techno/Electronica and Jamband styles. Ravers have a motto termed P.L.U.R., which stands for peace, love, unity, and respect. If you were to create a motto for the Jamband movement you’re a part of, what would you call it?

I think the ravers are on the right track with their universal motto. I would say, the worst day on tour is better than the best day at work.

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide