On The Road With… Keller Williams

10:11 pm by

 Keller Williams @ the Granada


On the afternoon before his February 5th gig in Dallas, Eggs and I were fortunate enough to spend a telephonic half hour talking to one of our favorite artists – Keller freakin’ Williams. The conversation touched on his upcoming releases (new Keels record AND a kids’ album!!), the String Cheese reunion, and his thoughts on Furthur… among MANY other topics of interest to Keller fans like us. It was quite a thrill to say the least, and was made even better due to a helluva performance that night in Dallas. We hope you enjoy the interview, and you should sound off in the comments section to assure Keller that he’ll pull big crowds at future Houston shows. Read on after the jump, and stay tuned for a full review of the show.

BOT: Am I right that yesterday was your birthday? [KW: Yes] Happy birthday! Was it a festive occasion up in Little Rock?

KW: It was festive, indeed. Usually I have many hours at the venue to really get a feel, but yesterday we just had some all-around problems with US Air flights. Two broken planes in 2 days; we were supposed to get to Little Rock Wednesday night, but we ended up getting there an hour before doors last night [Thursday, the night of the show] – so we rushed to setup without the couple hours of getting-ready-for-show mode. It made the show very exciting; it’s was kind of a festival situation where we just got there, set up everything quickly. We’re used to many hours of procrastinating, rehearsing a little bit, and doing all kinds of stuff to prepare – whereas last night was very run-and gun.. . which made it very, very exciting. And the fact that it was my birthday, I could not hold back from celebrating. I definitely am feeling my age this morning – a lot moreso than like ten years ago.

BOT: We’re really excited about the show in Dallas tonight, we’re driving up from Houston – I know you referenced the venue in “Kidney in a Cooler” – you hear about the Gypsy Tea Room closing down?

KW: Yes I did, yeah – it seems like the whole Deep Ellum area is going through some changes.

BOT: It’s a bummer, they’re actually starting to pick it back up a little bit – there’s one or two venues that are opening back up. They’re actually re-opening Trees – I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one? It’s your first time at the Granada, right?

KW: No, it’s my second. I played there this time last year with the Guitar Store tour – where you know we setup the stage like a guitar store. And I think I’ve played Trees twice – I think the first time was opening for String Cheese, and then I wanna say that played the Gypsy Tea Room next – like the small room [the Tea Room]? And then I think I played Trees and that was my first real headlining gig in Dallas. And that was know like ‘99 or 2000. So it’s good to hear that they’ve opened that back up, ‘cause that’s got a tree inside of it right? Or a couple of trees inside?

BOT: Ha that’s right, It’s pretty unique – I don’t know if the trees are still there or not. That’s cool to hear. Yeah, it seems like every time we see you, the instruments you play have multiplied more and more – is there anything new you’ve been playing lately or anything new that maybe we haven’t seen yet.

KW: Well, yeah I am doing more of a flying situation this time around – I think this whole year’s gonna be weekend fly trips. So we are traveling with the bare minimum. Last time through Dallas and Austin, you know, like I said it was the Guitar Store tour – we had twenty/twenty-five guitars onstage as well as these walls that we brought in and we had a big stage with us. This time it’s around it’s more directed towards the music and not towards the stage show. It’s definitely still a stage show, but it’s using the bare minimum – and that would be an acoustic guitar, and my bass, and guitars on stands and a backup guitar and then just kind of anything that we can all travel with on planes.

BOT: This last album you came out with, Odd was mostly material that you had been playing live for a while, do you think the next record will come about in the same kinda way or do you anticipate getting back into the studio and putting some stuff down before debuting it live?

KW: No, I can’t NOT play a new song live; when I have it I’ll play it prematurely. I’ll play it live before it’s even ready, because I’m so anxious to have new material. I have probably 7 songs for the next record so far. And I’ve got 2 records recorded right now that haven’t been released yet – there’s a kids’ record recorded, mastered, and done – and also a follow up to the Keels records that’s not mixed yet but we’re working on it. So those are next to be released. But the next one that’s a studio record, I have probably 7 songs for that record, and I’m hoping there‘ll be at least 3 or 4 more to be written before I release that. All those songs [on the new record] won’t be anything that’s never been played live before – from my lack of being able to not play new songs.

BOT: Well that’s great to hear that you’ve got so much material on deck, I’m pretty excited to hear the new Keels record and the kids’ record definitely sounds like a pretty great idea – You actually have a show coming up with the Keels, right – in April [in Wilmington]? You think we’ll get a full-on tour whenever the new album comes out, or do you think that’s a just a one off for this year?

KW: That’s a great question, the only time we’ve ever really toured we’ve done like little 3-day runs where I’ll play a set with the Keels and then a second set solo. And then do a big encore with the Keels, but we’ve never done a real tour. More than like 3-4 shows at a time, we need to get back to doing that. I think that it would be great to do a tour with the Keels, it’s hard to say when and if it’ll happen but that [record] is definitely gonna be the next release. And that will probably be late summer/late fall.

With the kids’ record we’re currently looking for a home. I’m pretty proud of it. We’re trying to really exhaust all opportunities and connections in the kids’ music world before we release it to the fans that I have with kids. I’m trying to really dive into that market –possibly do some videos and stuff for kids TV – you know I have 2 kids so I watch a lot of that sorta thing. But I’m seeing a lot of stuff that I like and I don’t like. A lot of those videos are very cheaply made, so that’s kind of a drag. My plans are to put a lot of money into these crazy kids’ videos, to be you know shown on the Disney channel, and Nick Jr. and all the wonderful channels like that. But, like I said, we’re still shopping that around and, while we’re waiting for that to come to fruition, we’re hoping to be releasing the Keels record pretty soon – next couple months.

BOT: Speaking of collaboration – I was fortunate enough to see both your set at Rothbury as well as Cheese’s set. You collaborated with several members of Cheese and you joined them for their headlining set. What about these new dates at Red Rocks and Horning’s Hideout? Are you going to be in attendance?

KW: I hope so. I doubt I’ll be at Red Rocks – that one will be Cheese doing their thing. They might get some celebrity type of openers – they’re pretty famous for paying big money for some of their heroes, more Los Lobos and some of the others that have come and played before the Cheese. I think Red Rocks will be reserved for that. I’m hoping to play the Horning’s festival, but I haven’t heard anything from that yet. I’m a huge fan off the band, and I’m just so excited that they’re getting back and doing at least for a handful of shows.

BOT: Yeah, hopefully it’ll spawn into something bigger – you’ve also recently played with another member of Cheese, with Williams, Moseley, Droll, and Sipe, which is a really great live album and DVD by the way – any plans to hook back up with those guys this year or in the foreseeable future?

KW: That is strictly up to the promoters. Right now I’m offering different band sort of packages for the promoters to choose from, so it’s kind of up to them. I would like nothing more than to go and rock with that band. It’s an amazing group of guys. I’m actually doing a second set with Droll and Sipe – with me on bass – at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC, where Jeff Sipe lives very close to. I’m really excited about doing a whole set playing bass on a lot of the same material that we played with the band… and, in the same sentence, I’ve gotta say I’m doing a 3 piece with Keith Moseley and Jeff Austin, with me on guitar at Delfest – Memorial Day coming up [in Cumberland, MD]. I’m not purposely leaving Keith off the Asheville show, I’m just trying to make it very easy since Jeff lives there he can drive to and from the gig instead of using bag line and flying in… it’s just a little itch I need to scratch playing the bass.

BOT: You think that Delfest show will feature a set of Grateful Grass? Or are you guys gonna play mostly original material?

KW: It will not be labeled as Grateful Grass; we will be going to the festival, meeting there couple hours before the set, and there will only be a few hours of rehearsal, if that, for that set. So we are probably going to compile a set of songs that all three of us know, and I’m 100% positive there will be bluegrass versions of Grateful Dead songs, but the whole set will not revolve around that – it will be original material and other covers from other groups as well as the Grateful Dead bluegrass stuff.

BOT: You mentioned maybe playing at Horning’s this year, are there any other fests that you’ve kinda fallen in love with and would like to get back to?

KW: God yes. High Sierra Music Festival is one of my favorites. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is something that is very close and dear to my heart, that I would like so much to be back on the bill for. The last time I played was in 2003 – and I’m very, very grateful to have played that festival. Unfortunately I had flight issues and all my gear didn’t make it, and my stuff that did make it broke – so I don’t think it was really a real representation of my set. But I did have a song make it on the 25th reunion compilation CD for that fest, so I’m really grateful for that. It’s one of those fests you can go to without even seeing the lineup and you know what you’re going to get, and I so wanted to b a fixture of that festival – just like all these other festivals, you know.

There’s all kinds of festivals that I’ve played at that I love – there’s the Shammy bash in ohio, which I think I’m going back to. It’s in Columbus, [OH] – that’s a really cool grassroots type of fest. Wakarusa’s very cool, I’d love to go back there. Gathering of the Vibes is great, there’s a great vibe all around – I could list a ton of festivals that I’ve played that I’ve enjoyed and would love to go back to, but those are the ones that stick out at this present juncture.

BOT: You mentioned Wakarusa. That one is near and dear to our hearts – we attend that one pretty much every year for that past I don’t know 4 or 5 years.

KW: Yeah, I think I just played the Kansas site a few times, and then I guess it’s moved to Mulberry Mountain up in Arkansas – is that right?

BOT: Yeah, it’s a beautiful site – you played it in ‘06 or ‘07 as part of the Mulberry Mountain Harvest Fest, I swear.

KW: Yes, that’s right.

BOT: It’s a much better site [for Wakarusa]; you should have them invite you this year.

KW: Have them invite me… that’s easier said than done unfortunately. You know playing these festivals, unless you’re Peter Rowan or Sam Bush or Bela Fleck or someone, you kinda have to have a shelf life. And obviously if I was a festival promoter, I wouldn’t want the same acts coming back unless of course you’re dealing with Peter Rowan or Sam Bush or Bela Fleck or Jerry Douglas – you know the Telluride regulars. I’m grateful for the plays that I get, and I totally understand when I’m not asked back to these fests simply because I’ve played it several times before. You know that’s kind of a self indulgent wish, to be a part of several of these festivals. You know even Bonnaroo… I was lucky enough to play four of those and it was an every other year thing, and I haven’t been back to Bonnaroo in a while; I’d love to play Bonnaroo again. Also, Coachella – that’d be a great achievement for me to play that festival.

BOT: It would be a really interesting add for you, but I think you could play it now that the lineup has gotten more appropriate for ALL music rather than just indie rock.

KW: Right, it’s funny you know because the indie rock can translate over to the jam scene, but not vice versa.

BOT: Yeah, I just don’t understand why they’re [typical indie rock fans] just not open to good improvisational music. It’s too bad.

KW: Well, it’s an acquired taste.

BOT: Speaking of acquired taste in improvisational music, I’d guess that the Dead are a pretty huge influence on your music based on your history of seeing ‘em and touring with them back in the day. Did you see or listen to any of the Furthur shows, with Phil and Bobby?

KW: I have heard some of the shows online, and I actually have plans to see ‘em in Hampton. I saw the Dead shows last year when they came through and I had a great time, but this whole Further thing is – in my opinion – it’s what a lot of Deadheads have been waiting for. I love Mickey and I love Billy Kreutzmann, but the new energy with Joe Russo, the consistency and the knowledge of Jay Lane, and of course John Kadlecik taking over the Jerry slot… big shoes to fill obviously. Warren Haynes did a fantastic job putting his energy and his style in and also adapting to that style of music, but John from Dark Star has such an intense knowledge of this music and the style of Jerry Garcia both vocally and musically… I think this is what we’ve all been waiting for. For a lot of people it died when Jerry died and, for us hangers-on, what we need are those Jerry tones and those licks that we miss and were so used to. I’m so excited to go and experience it live.

BOT: Hampton will be amazing. What else have you been listening to Keller?

KW: I’m way into the Pimps of Joytime, which is kind of a DJ group. I’ve never seen ‘em live, but I have the record and I just can’t stop listening to it. There’s the afrobeat offshoots like Antibalas and Afromotive that I love so much as well. There’s a lot of that [type of music] – The Motet, they are really combining two of my favorite types of music right now which are afrobeat and electronic. So that’s just kind of the stage I’m in, kind of rotating back in to the electronic world. I would love to get tap into that scene myself – which is not that far of a stretch since I’m kind of doing it live anyway. But maybe booking a show under a different name in a different type of venue – maybe a smaller venue – and you know starting the show at midnight, losing the acoustic guitar, and just kind of going for a full-on dance electronic kind of set done my way. That’s still off in the future, but it’s what I’m looking to do sometime this year… tap into that late night electronic kind of world.

BOT: One last question. You come to Austin a lot and you come to Dallas a lot – come back to Houston! It’s been since ’05! We miss you, we really miss you.

KW: Thank you, thank you. Houston has been interesting for me, I’ve played a few places there and it’s always been fun. It just hasn’t been consistent enough to make it a regular stop. It’s a tricky town for me for some reason , and I seem to do better in Dallas and Austin. You know nowadays with my family, we really pick the cities that do the best. I love Houston and I would love to come back and play there, I just need a teeny little more support to make it a regular stop. I appreciate your request – we want to play Houston again and I hope we can.