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New Groove

Published: 2006/01/11
by Randy Ray

DJ Williams Projekt

“DJ Williams Projekt”: is definitely a trip worth taking. They play funked-up rock that delivers several elastically fresh themes. DJ Williams bangs out wicked guitar leads and handles vocals, while the rest of the band moves with precise tight focus. Williams ran through several variations of Theme from The Simpsons while heading inevitably into the subliminal message: More Phish, Please. A brief stroll through the Stash melody that enters before the famous two-beat handclap, had us dancing with melancholic grins. The closing Flajenko bubbled over into the nearby pond with some of the hottest guitar playing of the weekend as Williams cooked on his gold Les Paul. – Notes from the Road,, mid-2005
The Richmond, Virginia jazz, rhythm and funk rock band rose to a prominent level after just a few years with their second release in 2005. Titled, appropriately enough, Projekt Management, and released on Harmonized Records, the new album delivered a fine mixture of measured and unpredictable tone poems. The portrait is a mixture of savvy instrumentals and lyrical songsgrounded by adventurous guitar and horn-driven grooves as the tapestry develops with confidence and restraint. The bands namesake is a young guitarist with gifted skills as his playing is both open, subtle and unique without frantic chord bashing that cripples other young guitar heroes. As far as the rest of the band is concerned, after a short Tuesday night residency at Cafiem in the competitive Richmond market, Williams was able to solidify a quality unit that is both complementary and exploratory. Williams handles guitars and vocals, Todd Herrington, bass, Dusty Simmons, drums, Brian Mahne, keys and Gordon Jones supplies tenor saxophone with Mark Ingraham on trumpet rounding out a solid brass section. They played several remarkable dates in 2005, not the least of which was an appearance at North Carolinas Smilefest where the above mentioned quote from the road detailed an energetic funk rock beast of a set on the stage near the pond. They were also one of several highlights at the Home Grown Music Networks 10th Anniversary show in October, rounding out a stellar lineup of varied improvisational music gems. DJ Williams sat down with to go over the brief history of his music career, shed light on his band members and the Projekts inner dynamics and future developments. *RR: What got you into music? *
DJ: Both of my parents are musicians. My mom plays keyboards and my dad plays piano and guitar. I was started on piano when I was four years old. Everybody in my family had to play an instrumentit was just a matter of what you were going to play. I played classical piano and started at four and played for about twelve years. I dont know if its a genetic thing. It could be but everything in my housethere was always music going on somewhere in some form. *RR: What did you listen to when you were growing up? *
DJ: My parents always played old school Motown and old school funk like James Brown records. Both of my parents are from West Africa so I heard a lot of Fela Kuti and stuff like that, too. Most of it was just really rhythm-based music. That really kind of bonded what I listen to today. *RR: What did you get into on your own? *
DJ: Like everybody else I listened to rock and hip hop. I listened to LL Cool J and all through high school when the alternative scene was going on I listened to Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and 311. Around that time, a buddy of mine got me into listening to Phish and it kind of spread from there. I was already starting to collect old 60s and 70s records like old Ray Charles, Miles Davis and Coltrane but I didnt really get too much into the jazz scene until I was in college. *RR: How did your interest in jazz develop? *
DJ: I went to Middle Tennessee State which is right outside of Nashville in 1999 and the people are started hanging out with were music fanatics. They got me into listening to a lot of jazzpeople I had never even heard of like Weather Report, Pat Metheny and I started listening to Bela Fleck and went out on my own to find out where all of these unheard of musicians to me were coming from. Im not just interested in the music. I like to see where these people came fromhow its connected and how certain genres came from other genres. *RR: What bands were you in when you were in school? *
DJ: I was in a couple of bands in high school. I was in a rock band and I was also a drummer in a hard core band, too, called Def Con 1. (laughter) There was an alternative band called Cardboard Box. I was the bass player in that band and the drummer in the other. I didnt really pick up the guitar until I was 16. *RR: When did you start singing? *
DJ: Like singing singing? Two years ago. (laughter) I hated it. I never was a singer. *RR: What were you doing before then? *
DJ: Trying to learn as many different instruments as I possibly could. (laughs) *RR: The fact that you avoided singing is surprising to me because you sound pretty confident in your vocals. *
DJ: That just started, literally, recently feeling a little more comfortable singing in front of people. I never was before. When I first started, I was in this band called Dirty Old Soul. It was this dirty funk instrumental band between 2000 and 2002 and people kept egging me on to write songs with vocalspushing me but I never wanted to do it. The Projekt started and I finally just said: Fuck it. (laughter) Started writing some stuff with lyrics. Im really not too comfortable writing lyrics yet, but Im working at it. Hopefully, by the time we start our next album, well have a lot more songs with lyrics. *RR: How did the Projekt start? Was it a bridge from school to the band? *
DJ: Naw, I moved back to Richmond, Virginia in 2001 and didnt know what I was going to do. I was studying the recording industry and I wasnt really feeling the whole college scene so I kind of did nothing for a couple of months. A friend of mine and I knew this guitar player that was in this band called Southside Future Squad. That started Dirty Old Soul and that went on until 2002 and then I just started playing solo. I went into this place called Cafiem and did a show there and they offered me a residency. This was the summer of 2003. It started out with me playing solo and then I had friends of mine who were musicians come up and play. Every week there would be different musicians and over a period of about six months, the Projekt kind of formed on its own. *RR: Arent you still doing that residency? I have a friend that says that they often go down there to check you out. *
DJ: Yep. Its a free show and it started out as this dirty dive bar with a stage that no one really went to and it kind of exploded into the Tuesday night spot in Richmond. We figured if we could do it in our town, we could take it on the road and try to blow it up. *RR: Describe the evolution of how these musicians would sit in with you. *
DJ: When it first started, it was just me and Gordon [Jones], our sax player, for a long time. There were drummers, bass players, keyboard players and other guitarists that we were friends with and, eventually, Dusty [Simmons, drums] and Todd [Herrington, bass] came along. We liked them a lot because there were always there. We started to find out who meshed with the band well, the Projekt happened and we weeded out different people. We have guest musicians but the six of us have been the six of us. [Brian Mahne on keys and Mark Ingrahama Dirty Old Soulmateon trumpet round out the sextet]. *RR: How long have you known Gordon Jones? *
DJ: Ummmits hard for me to even tell. I have an older sister and she was good friends with Gordon and she kept telling him that you have to play with my brother and she kept telling me that I have to play with this sax player. (laughter) That went on for about six months before we finally ran into each other. We played, we meshed really well and we started things from there. That was in the beginning of 2003.
RR: What did you do in the two years leading up to Projekt Management?
DJ: We recorded an album with just me, Gordon and Dusty called Wrong Notes Write. Home Grown Music had it and it sold out the first pressing. They have more copies now. Dusty took care of drums and percussion, Gordon did the horns and I played guitar, bass and keys. A lot of the songs we already had written as a trio but it sounds like a five or six piece band because we played around with instruments in the studio. *RR: Where else were you playing at that time? *
DJ: I was doing all of our booking until this past summer. I started booking us into festivalswe did Haymaker and Floydfest and tried to hit every market in Virginia: Charlottesville, around U of V, some North Carolina shows, but mostly in this state like Virginia Beach and any kind of small bars or venues we could find. *RR: What are some of the memorable gigs for the band? *
DJ: With the festivals, I would say, it was the second Haymaker in 2004. We were playing on the second day and on the first day a huge storm had come throughIm talking a huge storm. There was a tornado, actually, about five miles from the festival site. Tents were blowing in the air and all of the sound equipment power boards had gotten wiped out and the light equipment had crashed on the Little Feats keyboard organit was a fiasco. The festival went on that night and the next day the power boards were still out and we were one of the first bands to play that afternoon. People were kind of pissed off and there really wasnt a very good vibe going. We were told that we might not get to play because they couldnt get the equipment to dry and get the speakers in time and I started to freak out. We literally sat there with my girlfriends hair dryer and got it to dry, they shipped in new speakers and people were just excited to hear any type of music. Everybody came over to watch us on the second stage because they were still working on the main stage and that was probably one of the best sets we ever had.
The response weve had at Cafiem has been pretty surprising because its not a big venue and Richmond is a hard town to hold onto any type of loyal following. I dont know what it is; just the way Richmond is but since weve been therethe past two and a half yearsit has been sold out every single Tuesday. And not just the same people; we get new faces and it surprises us all the time. *RR: How did you get Harmonized Records to take interest in the band? *
DJ: I think it was my fascination with the Internet. Id look at other bands and see how they got to where they are nownot so much the old bands but new bands. Especially when Id get into the festival scene, I would look at bands like Soulive and SeepeopleS and Keller Williams and people that have been doing it for a while, and researched their path of growth. Most of the time when I was doing my researching, I would see this name pop up: the Home Grown Music Network. I went to their site and read about them and I thought that these people had a cool thing going on. I think I forgot about it and then months later I ran into Brian [Asplin, Harmonized co-founder along with Home Growns Lee Crumpton] at a Perpetual Groove show here in Richmond. We were one of the opening acts and he said if you are interested in getting your music out on a label, give me a call. I gave him a call about three months later.
RR: How long did it take you to work up the material for Projekt Management?
DJ: Some of the songs are from the first album. C.A.K.E. and Heavy Hands, for example, are from that albumI think we had three or four, but I cant rememberand everything else had been written over time because we dont get ever practice. I wish we did but our Cafiem shows are our practice. Someone will start a riff and it will eventually make its way into being a song. A lot of the songs were actually written in the studio or over time. *RR: Thats interesting because Projekt Management segues from song to song quite well so I assumed that the material was worked out quite a bit beforehand. Day Breaks and For Her capture the true soul of the band: melodic exploration while every band member seasons the pot with their own ingredients. Does the band communicate ideas quickly? *
DJ: We have our hand gestures. Every band has their little quirks they do on stage to communicate but, also, a big part of it is feeling it outwe do a lot of listening exercises. Depending on how much the band has been drinkingwell, that will determine how well (laughter) the listening aspect goes. Definitelywere all listening to what is going on. We kind of have our own way of gelling into a groove and gelling into a completely different song. Im always talking about listening and keeping the ears open to not what youre doing but what everybody is doing at the same time. *RR: Are you directing most of the improvisation on stage? *
DJ: Yeah, Im pretty much the one who directs where it goes. I really dont want to be one of those bands that are jamming with itself. I try to keep the crowd in mind, as well. Personally for me, Im really not into jams that go on and on and on because I kind of get tired of it. I use the vibe of the crowd to direct where the band is going to go. *RR: How do you structure your songs? Do you have a certain open part of the song where you play off of the crowd and play more rhythm-based jam sections? *
DJ: Theres definitely certain sections where its made for alright, this is where youre going to blow because every time youve done it, it has been absolutely amazing. *RR: You never have to turn around and give The Look to someone? *
DJ: (laughter) No, but I know what you mean, though. *RR: How important are horns to the future development of the bands sound? *
DJ: I think the horns are an equal part of the whole. I think everyone is an equal part of the wholeat least that is what I would like it to sound like. Were going to take a lot more time on the next album. The first two albums were done in two daysmainly out of not having enough money. Weve got our own studio now so that well definitely give us an opportunity to take more time. I dont really notice it but I do see where you are coming fromthe horns are not really as present as they could be. Everybody hears things differently. I pretty excited to start on the next record. Everyone is excited about what we want to incorporate and I really want it to represent all of our influences more than anything else. *RR: What I noticed about Projekt Management was that you went on all of these different textural trips but the band has a distinct sounda complete album sound. How important to you is it to have a consistent theme throughout the whole album? *
DJ: The best way I can explain that is to not think about it too much. You think about it too much and you kind of mess it up. *RR: Serve each song one at a time? *
DJ: Exactly. Like when we recorded, we dont record the album in the order it will be mastered. Afterwards, you sit down and most people already know what the first song on an album is going to bethe first song is a no-brainer. After that, I just dont think you should think about it too muchhowever you feel or how you feel when it is played throughthe first thing that pops into your head: this should be the next song, this should be the next song and just leave it at that. Dont touch it; leave it alone. Usually, the best formula is the first thing that pops into your head. *RR: Did you write most of the melodies and the music on the past two albums? *
DJ: Yeah. *RR: What about the new album? *
DJ: The next one will be more collaboration. Everybody has great ideas and everyone is a great songwriter and the people that I play with are an inspiration to me more than they actually know. Todd is one of my favorite bass players that Ive ever heard. Dusty is the most creative drummer that Ive ever had the pleasure of playing with or hearing out of all of the music that I listen to so Im actually more excited about having the next album be more of a collaboration whether they want to or not. (laughs) *RR: Do you have a two or three year plan? More festivals? *
DJ: I definitely like the festival scene but I dont know. I have a plan but, basically, I want to keep on building a grassroots following. We want to see how far we can push our bandhow long we can go and still keep the sound changing and have people accept it as much as we do.

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