"Thinking Out Loud": Keller Williams on Bass
For the majority of his career Keller Williams’ only onstage companions were his instruments. Over the past couple of years, he’s expanded his musical range from the familiar solo concerts that feature looped elements that mimic a full band to collaborations with Larry and Jenny Keel, the Travelin’ McCourys and Rhythm Devils.
With his 17th album, Bass, Williams highlights his ongoing work as bassist and vocalist with Jay Starling (keyboards) and Mark D (drums), a.k.a. Kdubalicious. The album contains groove-laden reggae tracks with the trio adding funk, dub, psychedelia and pop flavors to Williams’ hyperactively creative world. The release focuses on Williams’ original compositions, such as “The Sun and Moon’s Vagenda,” “I Am Elvis” and “Thinking Out Loud,” along with covers of Beck’s “Hollywood Freaks” and Morphine’s “Buena.”
Onstage and in the studio, Williams makes a good argument that he’s the hardest working man in the jamband scene. Following a fall tour schedule that featured him in a variety of musical incarnations, he returned to the road shortly after the calendar changed to 2012. But today he’s relaxing at home. The interview took place shortly before Christmas with the conversation jumping from his annual benefit for the local SPCA to his participation at the New York Guitar Festival to “Bass” to playing solo versus group activities.
JPG: First off, Happy Holidays to you and yours.
KW: Thank you so much.
JPG: You’re welcome, and for anything and everything that you celebrate at the end of the year.
KW: Nice. I celebrate life. I celebrate winter.
JPG: I don’t know if your recent weather has been like mine, a seesaw of 20 degrees one day and then in the 40s another…
KW: It’s actually like 60 degrees right now. I’m on the back porch. Global warming’s being kind of awesome right now.
JPG: Since we’re talking during the holiday season, and I believe the last time we talked you had your first child, I’m wondering how busy it is around the Williams house during this time?
KW: Have two kids. Boy, three. Girl, seven.
JPG: Nice, busy loud household.
KW: Yeah. Lots going on. Very little downtime.
JPG: Speaking of the holidays, I think it’s really great that you’re, once again, doing a benefit for the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) of Fredericksburg.
KW: We’ve been doing that for many years now and I think there’s a wing named after me at the new SPCA. (laughs) It’s just becoming a constant that people know about the day after Christmas benefit, and I’m looking forward to it this year as well as I do every year. We’re at the Field House once again, which is really cool because the first thing you think of, or at least I thought of when I thought about the Field House, was horrible acoustics when it’s just the opposite. With the turf on the ground and the insulation on the ceiling it’s a really warm big room.
JPG: Did they actually name a wing after you or were you joking?
KW: No, they did. Yes.
JPG: Oh, wow!
KW: (laughs) I’ve been doing it 11 years now and send some money towards ‘em.
JPG: I thought you had to be some multi-millionaire who pays to get a name on a building.
KW: Nope. No. No. No. Doesn’t take that much.
JPG: Okay, on to the music! There have been so many thing you’ve been involved with over the past year or two — Kdubalicious, Keller and the Keels, kids shows, the Travelin’ McCourys, solo, Rhythm Devils and there’s probably something else that I’m missing. Are a man who can’t say, “No,” or wildly creative or has good timing to be involved with all these things or the just most ADD (attention deficit disorder) musician working today?
KW: I think it’s got a lot to do with ADD, not necessarily certified by a doctor. I’m not on any medication. But I think it’s the fact that I’m using the freedom that I have to be able to do all different kinds of music. As a solo act there’s just so much freedom. If I had my way I wouldn’t play by myself as much as I do. But, I have great people around me that kind of lean towards the solo act, and that’s what I’ve introduced myself into the world and that’s what a lot of people are used to.
But I just love playing all different kinds of music with all different kinds of people, not getting locked into any musical marriage where there has to be anything awkward. Just keeping it loose and playing less with more people makes it so…it’s exciting every time I come back to it. It’s not like something where it lasts so long you get over it and burnt out and the next thing you’re not talking to these people. It’s really cool to be able to go and do a weekend with these folks and then play a couple weekends solo, and then go do a weekend with these other…it just makes it so much fun for me.
And every aspect helps the other. The more I play solo the more I want to go play with other people and vice versa. It helps the creativity. The fact that I’m able to do it, I’m so grateful to be able to do what I do and for the people that allow me to be in their lives.