A Finger in Your Ear: A Conversation with Keller Williams

Anyone who has had the opportunity to listen to Keller Williams knows that he is truly the greatest one-man band. With what seems like no difficulty, Williams is able to be an entire band consisting of everything from guitars and basses to an array of percussion instruments. And I don’t mean where one stops, another begins. No, no. K-Dub, as he is known to his fans, is the undefeated Looping King. With genuine performances which include not only intricate originals, but mind-blowing arrangements of an array of covers, Williams is easily one of the best performers in music today. Williams has been building his fan base since the mid-nineties and has recorded eight albums, which include his newest release, “Home,” an album on which he plays every note and beat. And so, on a mellow Friday afternoon in October, at exactly 4:27, I was able to speak with the greatest one-man band in the world.

VC: Hey Keller, how is it going?

KW: Faaaaantabulous.

JS: This is such an honor to be able to talk to you, as a big fan.

KW: Those are my favorite interviews.

JS: Do you mind if we start?

KW: Go with it.

JS: I know you started out in Virginia, and I was wondering how you got out west and became good friends with the guys from the String Cheese Incident and the one and only Liza (formally of the band Zuba)?

KW: I got from Virginia to Colorado in a 93 Mazda and it got twenty miles to the gallon. You know, it wasn’t a four wheel drive. It was one of the small little econo-box kinda pick ups with a king cab and I had a camper shell on the back. [obviously a little joke by Mr. Williams seeing as how I asked him `how’ he got to Colorado] Um, I guess I saw String Cheese out there in 95 at telluride bluegrass festival at this little bar. I saw them that summer in a bunch of little ski towns and slipped them my disc. And um, started doing shows form them in 97.

JS: And was Liza was out the already?

KW: Yeh, I’m friends with Liza. She’s a great musician. You know, I never saw Zuba but I saw here recent acoustic stuff and it’s fantastic.

JS: Please tell us about the new album. Why did you decide to finally do a completely solo album like your shows?

KW: Well, you now I’ve been doing the solo acoustic thing for a while now. You know, just traveling around playing solo. So its seemed like the obvious next thing to do. To go in, and instead of looping, actually playing the instrument all the way through the song and be able to track each instrument separately with the use of technology being able to utilize the multi-tracking stuff. Its just something that I’ve always wanted to do. You know, do the whole production thing in which I play all the instruments. It’s a little tricky, and there is definitely some flashiness that its missing. You know, n records such as, “Breathe;” and “Laugh,”there are some monsters on those albums.

JS: I know its something that your fans have been wondering, when you would actually do a completely solo album.

KW: I’ll probably do it again in the future. The next record is going to be live. And the one after that, I’ll probably use a bunch of different bands.

JS: That’s very cool. What made you decide to d a live record next?

KW: Um, I guess it was my sound engineer Lou getting the portable Pro-Tools multi-tracking equipment for each show. So we have lots and lots of stuff to choose from. Usually, in the past, we’d pay a company to come out and record a show, and there would be a lot of pressure to perform really good. And now, I can lay back and not even think about. So, at the end of tour, you have some real honeygems.

JS: I like that, `Honeygems.’

KW: (gives off a little chuckle)

JS: Talking of being relaxed and confident on-stage, your whole persona on-stage is so out-going and refreshing to see. I mean, so many time you’ll see musicians get up there and try to be all `arts’ about the whole thing, when what they would benefit from is a god-damn smile. I don’t know what you could say about that. Actually, I don’t even think I asked a question.

KW: No, sure. First and foremost, I am a music lover. I just started going out to shows before I ever performed. Actually, I started performing at a very early age so that’s not really true. Before I really was able to do tours and have someone actually line up several shows in a row, I was going to several shows in a row. I was a fan. Kind of like the way a doctor or a lawyer goes to a seminar you know. That’s kind of how I was treating it. And even if I was paying taxes back then, I would have taken them out because those shows would have been business trips. Would have been able to write it off because I was learning about the craft I was interested in. I kind on have an idea of what the audience is expecting, or at least, what I would expect if I was in the audience. So, that’s what I am trying to go for. You know, what would I like to see going to a show?

JS: That’s so refreshing thing to hear. Case in point: High Sierra, 2002, you ended your set with a looping vocal jam and it was just surreal with the scenery and your music and demeanor.

KW: Ah right, thanks.

JS: Moving on. I noticed you have a radio show these days [the show is called `Keller’s Cellar’]. Can you tell us what that’s all about?

KW: Well, it started out as a hobby. It started out as a saving mechanism for the case-less CD’s that are around my house, in danger of being stepped on. I wanted to put together an hour-long mix-tape type of compilation, avoiding playing my own music, except as background music when I talk. And um, the next thing I knew, there were a couple of stations that were interested in doing it. I recorded eight shows so far and its been picked up in seven radio stations across the country. Everywhere from North Carolina, Wisconsin, Philadelphia.

JS: Now to some guitar questions. What are you favorite guitars? What do you play the most these days? Basically, tell us anything about your guitars.

KW: I am into baritone guitars these days. I am playing a Joe Villette baritone and a Rick Turner twelve-string baritone. I have another baritone coming form Tacoma guitars and that is coming soon. My main axe is the Martin HD-28.

JS: Right on. You were talking before about looping. How do you do what you do onstage so seamlessly.

KW: Well I use a thing called the Jam Man by Lexicon. They don’t make them any more but they are readily available through EBay.

JS: Ok, just a few more questions. I’d like to talk about your song arrangements. From your covers to your originals, each song is so intricate, how do you get to those points?

KW: I don’t know.

JS: (now, I chuckle a bit)

KW: With the covers happen when I just automatically see these songs and they are waling around in my head. The songs aren’t hard to learn because I already know them in my head. I pretty much try to have fun with it and try to play it the way I hear it. Instead of playing it note for note, I just put my own twist on it. AN sometimes I even comer other people doing covers. JS: For example?

KW: Like the Rolling Stones doing “No Expectations,” Michael Hedges did that. It’s like Phish doing “Loving Cup” I only really heard the original tunes after hearing the cover.

JS: Ok. Now a final few questions. What’s your favorite color?

KW: Purple

JS: Best looking female famous person?

KW: Lauren Hill

JS: How many fingers do you have?

KW: I have ten.

JS: Are you sure, because I have hear you have more?

KW: Well, I have one in my ear right now.

Keller Williams comes to town on October 18 at the Higher Ground. Check him out, and see if he has a finger in his ear.