Keller Williams | By the Numbers

prof_keller_lg.jpg 

The usually one-man tour de force, famous for his digital looping techniques, is currently touring with the newly formed WMD’s, featuring Keith Moseley, Gibb Droll and Jeff Sipe.

 

 

 

Last May, I traveled with friends to Memphis for the Beale Street Music Festival. One of the acts I was most looking forward to seeing there was Keller Williams. His set was scheduled for 3 p.m. on a sunny, hot and muggy Memphis day. Many fans had gathered in front of the stage in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. Williams came out, started to play, began his signature looping process, and then, just as the audience was feeling the vibes—the power blew. All of the power to the enormous stage was out, just minutes into his set. Fans stood stunned as people in shorts with walkie talkies and headsets scurried around onstage trying to figure out the problem. But Williams literally didn’t miss a beat. He kept his cool, grabbed one of his bongo drums, stood at the very edge of the stage and played and sang at the top of his lungs, leading the audience through a sing-a-long, including a delightful rendition of Sublime’s "What I Got." After three or four songs like this, it became apparent that the power situation was serious and would not be rectified any time soon. Sadly, that was all we got of Keller Williams that day.

Fortunately, Williams will make his way to St. Louis Saturday night, January 19, playing at The Pageant with his new band. That’s right, you heard me—an actual band. This usually one-man tour de force, famous for his digital looping techniques, is currently touring with the newly formed WMD’s, featuring Keith Moseley (The String Cheese Incident) on bass, Gibb Droll (Marc Broussard) on guitar, and Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Trey Anastasio, Susan Tedeschi, Phil Lesh) on drums.

On the heels of last year’s incredible collaborative album, Dream (on which Williams plays with some of his greatest inspirations, including Bob Weir, Charlie Hunter, Michael Franti and Bela Fleck) he has recently released 12, an album he dubs his "hitless greatest hits," consisting of 12 songs spanning his 12-year career as his 12th release. With fan favorites such as "Freeker by the Speaker," the haunting "Anyhow, Anyway" and "People Watchin’" featuring Bela Fleck, 12 is quintessential Keller.

I caught up with the laidback and lighthearted musician by phone for a nice conversation about his new band and his signature sound.

prof_keller.jpg

Keller Williams photo by C. Taylor Crowell ; top photo of WMD’s by Danny Clinch

 

Tell me about making Dream. What was it like going in the studio with some of your idols, and what were some of your favorite moments in recording?

The Bob Weir session was really special. I got to go to California to his house and record in his home studio, which was surreal, to say the least. The Charlie Hunter session was really special too, being in a New York City studio and playing the songs at the same time with that master; it was just something I didn’t think would ever have happened, so that was extremely cool. The Steve Kimmock/John Molo session where I was playing bass was very special, too. The ones where we actually played together were the most memorable. The other ones were fantastic too in the sense that I could lay down my track, pop the file in the mail overnight and kind of see how it sounded when it came back—that was exciting all in itself.

How did you get all these incredible musicians to participate? Did you just ask?

Yes, that’s basically what happened. I just told them I was doing this project and I’d love them to be a part of it; and the reason why it took so long was that all these wonderful people said "yes," they just didn’t say "when." So I waited and just kept hitting them up once a month with a friendly reminder, "No rush, any idea when you might be able to do this?" And since they never said "no," I never gave up on them. It took three years from start to release.

How has your music evolved over the years, and how has technology played a role in its evolution?

Technology has definitely come leaps and bounds in such a short amount of time in the music industry, especially on the recording side. I mean, that’s how Dream got made. You couldn’t do that 20 years ago. It happens all the time that people want a certain session player on, and instead of flying that person to L.A. or Nashville or New York, they just pop it in the mail—or they don’t even have to mail it; you can just put your tracks up on the Internet in a super secret location and they can pull it down.

The looping techniques I started using in about 1997 and I didn’t really know the right kind of tools at the time. When I started, I was using something entirely wrong for the job, but in a way it tightened me up to be able to do it right once I got my hands on the right tools. They’re made now to where they’re just an exact replica of what you just played. You can make it sound exactly the same as opposed to older units where it could be a little fuzzy or grainy, so it’s been working in my favor because I’m able to put out a really quality sound.

You’ve said that Victor Wooten [Bela Fleck and the Flecktones] was your influence on looping. Did he actually teach you directly, or did you just learn from his style?

I got to open for him around 1998 and I had just had gotten into looping, and he was using the correct tools and plugging it in the correct way, so I definitely learned so much from him in the kind of equipment he was using, and also the different styles in which he was looping and different techniques. Like you lay down a loop, and then the next time you go to loop, maybe you don’t play as hard to where that layer fits in a little bit nicer, things like that. In more ways than one did I get inspiration from Victor Wooten.

How many instruments do you play?

I play a lot of stringed instruments, whether it be the four-stringed bass or six-string guitar or 12-string, or eight-string like Charlie Hunter-style. Percussion, drums. With this band, I’m really focusing on electric guitar, which is a different world for me, because I’ve mostly done acoustic.

Tell me about your band, the WMD’s. We’re not used to seeing you with a band onstage.

I’ve always wanted to take a band out. In the beginning, there just weren’t any funds; I wasn’t making enough money to afford humans. And then I was making enough money that I could afford humans, but it was like, why try to fix the situation if it isn’t broken? It was working as a solo act. Now, this band just appeared to be forming from timing. Everyone was available. The band is something that I treat very special because I’m so grateful to be able to do it with these particular individuals. When I’m on tour I just wake up excited to play music with these guys and think about the possibilities of the day.

You’ve become a regular on the festival circuit. What are some of your favorite festival to play?

I really enjoy playing the summer camp in Chillicothe, Ill., with the moe. guys. I’ve done that seven years in a row and that’s a lot of fun. The jam cruise and the recent Jamaica thing was a blast. High Sierra Music Festival is something I haven’t been back to in a long time and I really miss playing there. I’d love to go back and do that one again. The Schwagstock [at Camp Zoe in Salem, Mo.]—I think is a beautiful thing that happens at this new venue—that’s a real special vibe that goes on down here. It’s a perfect spot. | Amy Burger

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply