Keller Wiliams: He’s Got The Funk
JPG: Speaking of things related to Furthur, when you were on “Weir Here,” you seemed very, very reserved than one would have expected. I don’t know if you were on your best behavior or nervous or what during that.
KW: You know what it was, you’re sitting there in between Bobby and Steve Parish — if you can imagine — it’s not something I do every day. I wanted to be cool and I didn’t want to loosen up and have a bunch of drinks or anything like that. I guess I was reserved. Trying to be cool.
JPG: I thought it was so nice that the microphone caught you saying something like “Thanks for inviting me Bobby.”
KW: Well, it’s definitely an invite type of scenario there and it’s pretty cool to be able to go and hang out in Bobby’s funhouse. His little fort.
JPG: Have you considered doing a session from TRI Studios after getting a taste of it?
KW: No, no I haven’t really thought about it but I do like Terrapin Crossroads though and I’m hoping that could be a place where I could play more often.
JPG: Moving from concerts to your new album, Funk, the last time we talked was when you released Bass. Is this release the natural progression from that one – a move from the reggae and groove-oriented tracks to these soul and groove-oriented tracks?
KW: The whole funk thing is definitely something that I feel like I don’t think about. It’s just something that naturally happens. It’s a natural progression. To answer your question, it would be a definite “Yes.”
I feel it’s a definite progression not necessarily from the Bass record but just in general as far as me making records. It’s kind of like a document of the live project that is More Than A Little, which is pretty much what the record Funk is about. It’s pretty much a documentation of that couple weeks that we spent together. We’re actually doing some tours where we will be on a bus coming up in the beginning of the next year.
JPG: What made you go with a whole new band rather than just use Jay Starling and Mark D who played on Bass and expand the lineup?
KW: It was pretty much surrounding myself with new people that are in a whole different world than I am. I’m taking about the gospel, R&B scene in Richmond, Virginia. They’re gonna have a different formula that they operate under as far as the arrangements and the feel and the groove and the vibe of how they approach music. That was completely different from anything else that I’ve done. It was really inspiring. It still is inspiring. We’re gonna start back up some rehearsals next week for the month of November.
JPG: Did you know anyone beforehand or was it just cold and hoping that you’d develop chemistry?
KW: The connection was the drummer, Toby Fairchild. He and I played in a group called The Added Bonus, which was a couple years ago. It was a live project I put together between Christmas and New Year’s. And he was doing an R&B night on Tuesday nights in this local bar, and I went and sat in with him and we pretty much took that exact band from that night and added one more show-stealing, up-front singer, Sugar Davis. And that was the band. As soon as we started to rehearse, it really started to click and really got good quick.
JPG: As far as the funk sound itself, it’s not the hard James Brown/Parliament Funkadelic style. It’s more the disco, sensual style with jazzy keyboard…
KW: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely a soulful R &B kind of funk. It’s different. It’s not like a normal stereotypical type of funk. It comes from within. I think you can hear that we’re feeling it.
JPG: Was that something because of the people around you or was that purposeful, as in “Let’s not do something to let people think of “Atomic Dog?””
KW: It was just what was happening and how this music was being played. It just happened naturally. Something like “Mary Jane” by Rick James, that was like a one-timer in rehearsal and then we left that to the stage. That was like something that everyone connected with. I think it’s a real soulful feeling kind of music.
JPG: Then, there’s the way you interpreted “I Feel Love,” where it has more of a jazzy feel then what I would expect if you did it solo where it would have been really fast.
KW: That song, the original from Donna Summers is so trippy, so psychedelic for that time frame. I added elements of today’s dance music, the halftime. That was just how we were feeling it. It turned out to be real fun. It was a real fun thing to do live, too.
JPG: That sounds like the type of number you do solo, and I feel as if I’ve seen you do it. So, have you played it or is it just my imagination?
KW: No. I have done it solo. I’ve done it in like an alternate tuning, like a DADGAD type of tuning, except it’s a whole step low.
JPG: Since we’re discussing that. The choice of material on funk, going from originals and covers, was it things that you were thinking about or was it “Okay, everybody knows this. Let’s give this a shot. Oh, it works.”
KW: Out of the set that we had put together for these five shows that we recorded from, the ones that made it were the best ones, the ones I felt best about pretty much. We didn’t learn anything for any specific reason. You don’t want to do this one just because we want to put it on the record. We’d do a song that we were playing, and this is the best version out of the ones that we do.
JPG: I’m seeing scattered dates at the end of 2013 of you and More Than A Little. Do you have an idea of how many shows you’ve played with this band?
KW: Let’s see…I’m gonna say about 12, maybe 13, and then there’s two tours coming up with 15 shows each or something like that.
JPG: I’m looking at the tour schedule and see that you’re going to be play a solo set and then a set with More Than A Little. Is it a matter of satisfying the old school Keller fans with a looping show and then having company onstage for the second set?
KW: There’s a little something to that. There’s folks that expect certain things, and I appreciate that. The solo acoustic thing is what I call my day job. That’s what I do the most. That’s what I’m most comfortable at. It’s kind of fun to do two totally different sets and, sometimes, we combine it all into one.
If there’s an opening act then I’ll come out and play solo and then bring everyone up, one at a time, and morph into the band set from the solo set. It wouldn’t be a set break. It would morph one into the other.
JPG: With all the different collaborations you’ve done in the past several years since the last time we talked, for you creatively, is it becoming more interesting and fun to have company onstage?
KW: Oh my God! Oh yeah! There was always the idea from the beginning to have the camaraderie and be in bands and play music and make something bigger than what you can create by yourself. In the beginning I couldn’t really afford other people, and then it started to work as a solo. So, there was no reason to bring other people in. But now, as time goes on it’s over-the-top rewarding and fun for me.