Why stick with one genre when you can try them all? That’s Keller Williams’s approach to music.
He has been performing since the mid-1980s and plays a variety of folk, bluegrass, jazz and funk songs as a solo artist or with his band when he’s not collaborating with other artists on a project. Williams is known for using different devices to create loops while he’s onstage allowing him to perform without pre-recording elements of the concert, which ensures none of his performances sound exactly the same.
Most recently Williams toured with his band KWahtro and released his SYNC album with them. He will be releasing a groovy new album in the spring.
Williams sat down with our editor to talk about his music.
TinaMarie Craven: How would you describe your sound?
Keller Williams: My sound is steeped in solo acoustic songwriting and lyrics and then it goes in a little deeper into a dance world, at least for me and my right hand. Even as a solo act I try to create a back beat, something that moves and grooves, and later on I picked up some technology that I can create live samples onstage without anything pre-recorded and so it goes on from there and kind of evolves.
TC: What can audiences expect at your upcoming concert?
KW: Well, on Dec. 9 in Fairfield I will be with my good friend and amazing bass player Danton Boller, [and he’s] an incredible acoustic upright bass player. We have a whole lot of songs in our back pocket from KWahtro and he’s also been on a whole lot of my Grateful Grass gigs, which is loose interpretations of Grateful Dead songs turned bluegrass. I love, love that intimate little room [at StageOne]. It’s almost like a theater in the round. It’s small and intimate and to be there with Danton Boller is really, really exciting to me because we’re really going to focus on that acoustic groove without any electronics and really dive into acoustic dance music — which is just acoustic guitar and bass — and I’m really, really looking forward to that.
TC: How did you get into music?
KW: As a kid I would pretend to play [guitar on] a tennis racket or a hockey stick. It wasn’t until a show called Hee Haw with Buck Owens and Roy Clark sitting up there picking and grinning and [later] I got my parents to get me a guitar. Skip ahead a bunch of years and I’m getting paid a hundred bucks to sit on a stool and play some covers. Right around that same time I was doing temporary construction jobs making $3.50 an hour and then sitting on a stool making a $100 playing covers in 1986. That was when I realized that I was going to go into the music world and try to avoid getting a job.
TC: You don’t see performing as a job?
KW: No, I play music for free. I get paid to travel and be away from my family and deal with the airports and traffic. All the music is free. All my recorded music is simple documentation of where I am and it’s available if you want it and if not then I get to listen to it when I get old. My entire career is a relentless pursuit of entertaining myself.
TC: How would you say your sound has evolved over the years?
KW: Absolutely. I definitely think it has evolved. I have a lot of love for different genres like bluegrass, jazz, reggae, funk and of course folk music. Over the years being able to have different projects — I’m able to have different projects because the people that buy tickets allow that to happen. It’s because of them that I’m able to do that. To be able to play with so many different musicians and projects it’s hard for me not to be influenced by that and I think my music has evolved with the help of a whole lot of amazing musicians.
TC: Any standout collaborations?
KW: Well, the most recent one, KWahtro, was a four piece — Danton Boller, Rodney Holmes on drums and Gibb Droll on guitar. That record is a little more of an extension of myself, than some of the bluegrass or funk projects. It’s still super fun to those things but it’s a little more of a character while the KWahtro project was more of an extension of myself.
TC: What is your favorite part of performing?
KW: I would say the connection with the audience is my favorite. When I play solo and even with the band it’s fun to bring the audience in on the joke and make them part of the band. There’s often times where if we’re on the same page, the audience and myself, we can really feel like we’re getting away with something.
TC: What kind of advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
KW: Don’t put music up on a pedestal to be your only source of income because you need to love it. If you depend on it as an income and it doesn’t work out, then you’re going to hate it. You need to worry about the bills some other way and have music as an escape and something you really can enjoy. Once you’re ready to go live with it maybe create your own scene, create your own gathering and don’t rely on auditioning for somebody. Create your own thing and go from there. If it works out, then you’ll be able to get into the clubs and the festivals.
TC: What do you think is the most important thing for your audience to know about you?
KW: I’m not political and I take having fun very, very seriously. I’m hoping that the audience can escape the outside world for two hours. I’m one of them — I’m an audience member on stage.
Keller Williams will be performing at StageOne in Fairfield on Dec. 9 at 8 p.m.; tickets are $58. For more information about the concert, visit fairfieldtheatre.org.