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Published: 2006/02/24

Haunted By The Wiggles: The Readers Question Keller Williams

The latest installment of our reader interview is here. We sorted through your questions and offered them up to Keller Williams. He is currently out on the road doing his thing, following the recent release of a new disc (Keller and The Keels’ Grass) even as he completes his next studio effort, Youth. The topics that follow range from hypothetical bandmates, to hair scrunchies to a jolly band of Aussie children’s performers (and the damage they do).

With all of the instruments you play, are there any that you would like to learn that you haven’t already? (Question submitted by Jake)

KW- The violin.

What was the last concert you went to as a fan? (Joseph E)

KW- Leo Kottke/Mike Gordon at the 9:30 Club.

What song took the longest for you to write, and how long did it take? (Gavin K)

KW- I guess one of my recent songs called “Lost.” I’ve wanted to write a song about my daughter and I guess it took about thirteen months to write.

How has being a daddy affected life on the road? Has having a little one changed the number of shows you play, where you play them, anything in particular? Does Ella have a favorite song and if so what is it? (Vanessa H)

KW- “Do The Twist” by The Wiggles is probably her favorite song. I don’t think it’s really affected the amount of shows or where I play. She got to go on four separate tours last year. I do a lot of weekend trips too and that’s still happened. So it hasn’t really affected where I play, she just kind of comes along.

You mentioned the Wiggles, “Fruit Salad,” do you know that song

KW- Yeah, “yummy, yummy.”

That’s the one. Well the moe. guys started hearing it one quite a bit after they had kids and at one point they performed an acappella version. Do you think there’s any chance that Wiggles music will slide into your show?

KW- I hope not. I’m haunted by Wiggles music in my dreams and I can’t imagine actually doing one to bring it out of the dreamworld into reality. I can handle it in the dreamworld but on stage through a sound system I think would be bad.

I’m currently on my second go-round with the Wiggles

KW- Yeah, good, feel the pain.

What is your favorite Keller Williams song? (Question submitted by many)

KW- I guess “Best Feeling.”

What guest artists will appear on your new album Youth, and when will it be released? (Pmann)

KW- Bob Weir, Steve Kimock, John Molo, String Cheese Incident, Martin Sexton, Victor Wooten, Sanjay Mishra, Samir Chatterjee, Jeff Covert, Charlie Hunter, Derrek Phillips.

Are these mostly new compositions or songs you’ve played out a bit on the road?

KW- These are all songs that have been heavily road tested. If you’ve been listening to my shows or going to my shows, it’s more than likely you’ll recognize all of them. I don’t have the patience to keep a song from the live show just to make it new on the record

And do you have a release date?

KW- There’s not one yet. It’s still not finished. It’s about 80% done and we’re hoping to have it out in the fall.

If you could form a super group, who would be in the band and what would you call it? (Noah)

KW- How about Steve Kimock on guitar, Victor Wooten on bass, Jeff Sipe on drums, myself on guitar. I guess Jeff Sipe would rotate in and out with John Molo because they both are busy and Victor could probably rotate in and out with Rob Wasserman because they both are extremely busy. And I guess Steve Kimock could probably rotate in and out with Jerry Garcia (laughs). I guess we’d call it something like Supermodel Photo Shoot.

Speaking of Jerry Garcia, someone askedKeller, I understand you’re pretty sour about the gate-crashing that occurred at the Grateful Dead’s last stand at Deer Creek which ultimately led to a cancelled show [on 7/3/95]. What did you end up doing that night since the show was cancelled? (Eric L)

KW- I drove home which was a good fifteen hour drive.

You didn’t try to make up for the lost show by tacking on another night?

KW- Those were the only shows I could go to. They played St. Louis and then on to Chicago but I saved up all my dough just to go to those shows and that’s why I was so fucking pissed

Well then on lighter note, someone wanted to know, if you ever had the opportunity to serve Jerry Garcia an appetizer, what would it be?

KW- Probably bacon cheeseburger bites.

Will we ever see another full Keller Williams Incident show?(Question submitted by many)

KW- God I hope so. That’s really up to them. I’m always ready for one but they pretty much call the shots on a Keller Williams Incident. It’s pretty much the call of the band. Ask them and then call me back and tell me if anything’s going to happen or not [Editor’s note: As it turns out it will, on July 21 at the 10,000 Lakes Festival]

Will you try to form a band with other musicians in the future? (Brian G)
KW- Well I have a little band now called Keller and the Keels, it is strictly a non-traditional bluegrass outfit. We did a handful of shows last year and recently played at the Birchmere in DC which was a real treat for us, and one set a night for three shows in the northeast.

How and when did you first meet Larry Keel?

KW- It was the early 90’s and we were doing an open mike night at this place called the Irish Brigade in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Larry was with this group called Fizzlewah and it was kind of like a side project to their bluegrass band Magraw Gap. And we got Fizzlewah to open for my band at the time, called All Natural Band.

I got to meet Larry and the mandolin player Danny Knicely who were both in Magraw Gap. I got acquainted with Magraw Gap, opened some shows for them and I actually played some shows with them. I kept in touch and at different festivals and shows we sat in with each other. I’ve always wanted to do a bluegrass record or some kind of bluegrass project. I wanted to change it up and take out a little acoustic three piece, so we did some festivals like that. I’ve been working on this studio record for a long time and it seemed kind of obvious to have Larry and Jenny on the studio record but I couldn’t quite narrow it down to one or two songs. So we just did a whole record completely separate from the studio record I’ve been working on.

Grass features three of your originals and seven covers. Is there any one of the covers that really stands out for you?

KW- I think the Tom Petty one is my favorite on the record. That’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Breakdown” and together they’re called “Mary Jane’s Last Breakdown.”

Keller, how has your playing evolved over the years? I know you started out playing small gigs, then moved onto larger venues, so your playing must have changed and adapted as your crowds got bigger or did it? (Jim G)

KW- Once people started listening, I started to rehearse more. At that point I wasn’t playing in places you’d call venues, it was just restaurants and coffeehouses and things like that. Once I got on stage with an actual p.a. system that I didn’t have to bring in a little Ronco-on-a stick type of p.a., and people started listening and paying attention and maybe coming back to see me again, I started to rehearse more and take it more seriously and not want to get caught in some kind of same song every night type of rut. So I branched out and started learning more songs, tried to write more songs, checking setlists from the last time I was there or the night before or wherever I was an hour away six months earlier, just caring more about the setlists.

Nowadays there are certainly more sounds coming off the stage. Is that related to venue size as well?

KW- I think the more money I make, the more instruments I’m going to add to the show. The only reason I didn’t do it before was because I was concentrating on the gas-food-lodging aspect of life. But once the gas-food-lodging is taken care of I can go more into the toy purchases.

I’ve been listening to you for about six years now, and have been up front at your shows countless times. I have seen and heard a lot of change. One thing in particular is the switch from the Guild ten-string (I know the oldie is retired, and you got a new one) which defined your style for so long to your new Martin. And though I love the Martin the sound of the Guild was so dynamic. The sound of that ten-string is what initially caught my attention with you and your unique sound, and it seems now you only use it to play open chord songs, (i.e. “Blazeabago” and “Bounty Hunter” etc.) Simply, what’s up with this? (Blake T)

KW- I guess the older I get, the more decrepit my life hand and wrist get. The first weekend in December I did three shows in the northeast and for the second two shows my equipment did not arrive due to a snowstorm. We were flying and the cancellation of flights and the quick switch of flights forced all my gear to remain in LaGuardia and I actually did two whole shows with the Guild. It worked out good and it was cool to reconnect with that guitar again but I really felt the pain of playing twelve-string the entire show. That’s mainly the reason. It’s difficult to do a whole show on twelve-string. In my younger days that’s all I had and I made it work and that was well and good but I find I can play pain-free on my Martin, so sorry. Sorry, dude.

On your earlier album entitled Loop, the liner notes read, “This compilation of songs is an attempt to capture a phase that I am in. Yes, it’s the loop phase." My question is, will this phase ever end? And by asking that, I wonder if you will ever just go back to you and your trusty ten (or six or twelve) string and sing songs the old fashioned way? I think some of your songs are so beautiful that they get lost in all the craziness onstage. (I’m not bagging on ya either..I love it all!) (Hoopinman)

KW- Yeah, it was definitely a phase and things really started to take off once that phase began and it’s become a monster. I’ve definitely done shows without the looping technology and they are billed as such. For instance, the last couple of days over Memorial Day there’s Summer Camp and that’s the same time as the North Carolina Boogie which is a big kind of reunion of sorts in North Carolina. My stage crew and my front of house engineer Lou have gone to that festival. So instead of not taking these gigs I bill them as loopless solo acoustic shows. Some people seem to like it but there are other people who weren’t involved in my pre-loop stage who complain and feel like they’ve been cheated.

So it’s kind of a double-edged sword. I definitely enjoy the organicness of just playing guitar but after being on stage with one guitar and vocals for hours and hours and years and years, that’s what led me to the path of making it more interesting to myself. So will I ever go back to that? Sure. Will I just do that and only that? Probably not. Right now the looping thing is what appears to me working for me and you know the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

How come you won’t ever play “Land” anymore? Is it just one of those songs that has fallen by the wayside? (Jason M)

KW- “Land” was written by a drunken snowboarder poet in Breckenridge. What I did was take the middle verse and recited it word for word backwards which was very difficult to learn. Then I took the music and infused it into my song “Blazeabago.” So I kind of stole the music from that tune and put it into another tune and once you stop doing a tune, especially one with all the words done backwards, then you forget it. So I would have to find a copy of the cassette tape Live From Peasants and relearn it in order to do that one again.

How common is it for you to drop an original song out of rotation?

KW- Being the music lover that I am, I put a lot of pressure on myself and my own songs. So if there’s a song I’ve written that I don’t feel is strong or I’m incredibly sick of playing it, then I just won’t play it. If I don’t like a song anymore I can’t seem to fake it and continue to play it just because it’s something I’ve written and it’s on a record.

Can you explain your process for picking the covers that you do? How much do you re-write/rehearse them? (Robert P)

KW- I don’t really pick them, they pick me. I’m walking around and I start singing this tune and I’m like, “Damn I should do that one,” and I get to learning it. More than likely I’ll just pull the lyrics off the internet and not even go to the song. I’ll just play it how it came out in my brain. So they just kind of creep up on me. I don’t go out and look for songs to cover, they just find me.

Are the days of shaggy hair and a scruffy face beyond you as you are a much more mature musician as well as individual now? Or am I just so baked that I am actually thinking of something so insignificant to ask you that you most likely won’t even see this question? Only time will tell…(Jim from New York)

KW- It happened not because of society but because of comfort level. I found that I was constantly pulling my hair back out of my face. Hair was still getting caught in my eyes and my mouth and I would have to find a good break in the song to get the hair out of my mouth and it was becoming a problem and a distraction and I was constantly having to have little scrunchy rubber bands. Those little rubber bands were just more accessories to carry around, so I got rid of it.

I don’t think it was anything to do with society or not trying to be a stereotypical hippie, although I did get stopped about a dozen times down in the southern states just for looking the way I did in a beat-up motor home. I think if I did have short hair and I was in a beat-up motor home I might not have got stopped so many times but I don’t really think that’s why I did it. I had long hair for a long time and it was just pissing me off and my mom’s birthday was right around the corner so it all worked out. She always had been begging me to get rid of it. I didn’t do it for her but I made sure it was around the same time as her birthday.

What are some of the differences between playing larger festivals like Bonnaroo versus medium and smaller sized fests like Wakarusa and Langerado. (Joel G)

KW- Bonnaroo is broken up into different stages and it’s so exciting because of the energy that’s there and the world fame it has gained. It started out possibly with the idea of being a jamband festival but now it’s morphing into much more than that. Or these acts that are playing it want to be involved with the jam situation. Or they’re getting paid a million dollars. Or it could possibly be both.

But Langerado, Wakarusa they both have the same excitement and intensity as Bonnaroo. I’m definitely excited about playing all the festivals I play, especially Langerado and Wakarusa. I have great memories from both those festivals and I’m excited to go back.

The Bonnaroo festival there’s some kind of anticipation and major excitement about that one. Maybe it’s the 80,000 tickets sold in three minutes. The world fame of Bonnaroo is certainly very exciting but to be on the Langerado stage last year and to see a large sea of people, quite possibly more than were actually under my tent at Bonnaroo, that in itself was an incredible excitement.

I’d like to know which festival you are most looking forward to this summer and which cities/venues/fests do you look forward to the most every year. Where do you have the most fun? (Angie L)

KW- I guess my most anticipated festival is Telluride Bluegrass. I’m proud to say I’ve been part of that festival a couple times. Once as just a tweener act and then I was actually on the bill. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is one of those festivals that I hold very highly in my heart and it’s very difficult for me to get back on it because they really want to change it up as much a possible but I hope day I can get back on it, Craig Ferguson [Editor’s note: Ferguson is the festival director].

As far as cities and venues, St. Louis has always been really special for crowd reaction and attendance. We’ve kind of been blown away by that. A lot of the major markets are cool but San Francisco has to be my favorite. That was my first pacific time zone gig in 97 when I opened for String Cheese at the Great American Music Hall. Just going there with my love of the Grateful Dead and the recordings I had acquired of the Grateful Dead from the Great American Music Hall made it even more special. And that energy has followed me every time I go to San Francisco and play the different places there.

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