Dayton City Paper: Keller Williams

Solo, Acoustic, Jazzfunk, Reggae, Technograss
One-man band Keller Williams does it all

Reminiscent of the one-man bands of yesteryear who played cymbals between their knees, Keller Williams uses his multi-instrument talents to create a full spectrum of sound all on his own.  With his jazzy rhythms, and upbeat songs, Keller is often described as a mad scientist of sorts.  When set up on stage with his gadgets and gizmos, he makes extensive use of looping, allowing him to layer sounds on top of each other.  Creating the ability to harmonize with himself, he can record one layer of sound, and then use playback and delay to keep layering different sounds on top of each other to create an orchestra-like experience without the staff.

“Looping came out of hours and hours of being onstage as a solo act with just a guitar and a microphone.  And wanting to create more – more sound, more avenues to go down, more places to go for me,” said Keller.  With a grin he added, “And it’s really fun.  I think people know that there’s no net underneath the high-wire and things can go wrong at any time.  That’s probably what makes it exciting.”

Williams cited “the freedom” as his reason for going solo.  “It is being able to play what I want, when I want, as far as song selection goes.”  As a result, one of his goals is to play a completely different show every night.  “It takes a lot of research- checking the set lists from the last time I was at the venue and comparing them to the setlists that I played the night before, and to just kind of come up with something different,” he said.  “It takes a lot of material.”

After a beginning that’s similar to many other musicians: playing bars, restaurants, and “little coffee shops and stuff,” his big break came when he got the gig as the opening act for the Colorado jam-band, String Cheese Incident.  “I was on a tour actually playing music venues on a stage with a PA in front of an audience,” related Williams.  “So it was completely different from what I was used to.  I was used to bussing the tables and then setting up my little PA in the corner, playing kinda background music to people that aren’t really paying attention.  Whereas this, I’m actually part of a show where people were actually there to see the music.  So it was different all around.”

Throughout his original songs, the catchy danceable rhythms are often paired with offbeat story lines.  Williams uses a conversational style to deliver tongue-in cheek humor in songs like “Kidney in a Cooler,” “Love Handles,” or “Freeker by the Speaker.”  Keller noted that writing a song can’t be forced or planned.  “I can sit down, and more than likely that song will get scratched.  It has to come from a different source, when it’s unexpected.”

His newly released album, Grass, is a great mix of both original tunes and covers by Keller and his two bluegrass co-conspirators, Jenny and Larry Keel. With “Keller-versions” of the classics of Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, and Grateful Dead, we have some fresh takes on well-loved favorites.

Continuing his theme of monosyllabic album titles, Williams’s upcoming release, Youth, gave him the opportunity to work with a stellar cast including Bob Weir, Victor Wooten, Charlie Hunter, Martin Sexton, John Molo, and The String Cheese Incident.  Having traveled all across the country to record different tracks with different folks, making this album has been quite an experience.  “There wasn’t anyone that I did NOT enjoy working with.  Everyone’s been really, really cool.  And I’m super-excited about the feedback that I’ve gotten from my heroes (who) actually (took) the time to record with me on this record.”

While collaborating with so many different people on this project, Keller got a chance to explore a different avenue of technology.  “I’m now be recording in Fredericksburg, VA and sending the files out to Nashville, and then the files being sent back to me, and I send them out to different place,” he said. “Different people put different parts on in different parts of the country.  It’s really cool.”

In case you didn’t catch Keller Williams’ show at Bogart’s a few weeks ago, you’ve got another chance.  See him live on April 15th at Newport Music Hall. 1722 North High Street in
Columbus. 

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