Fri. Jan. 23
32 Ann St.
"Skitso" from live recordings with Mosley, Droll & Sipe
It was an odd set-up for an interview — this reporter with a digital recorder generating feedback into a cell phone on speaker setting, Keller Williams juggling our conversation and a nine-month-old strapped to his chest.
"Let me know if the buzzing bothers you," I say. "No problem," says Williams, then warns me, "There may be loud shrieks of joy and possible shrieks of anger coming from an innocent."
However brightly his star may shine in the music world, Williams will never inundate a reporter, fan, or friend with his celebrity. A decade ago, he was a long-haired dude in the lot, playing a funky 10-string guitar that impressed onlookers. He befriended the String Cheese Incident, then picked up a gig playing between Cheese, moe., and Galactic sets on a 1999 summer tour. Today, he's fresh off a New Year's Eve show in Hilton Head that sold 1,200 tickets.
That three-set shindig included an all-request set, a set of "grungegrass" versions of '90s alternative radio hits, and a closing "dance party set." Williams says he's excited to be playing the Lowcountry again, although the Virginia boy won't disclose whether or not he prefers roasted or boiled peanuts — "shelled," he replies.
Williams hits the Music Farm on Friday in the first week of a two month solo tour — his first such excursion in over a year and a half. The year 2008 found the one-man band opening his door to some fine musical friends, touring with guitarist Gibb Droll, String Cheese bassist Keith Moseley, and drummer extraordinaire Jeff Sipe. The quartet thrilled crowds at festivals and released a CD/DVD package, Live, this fall.
Williams admits the experience leading a band has changed his approach to performing solo. "Gibb Droll has definitely affected my playing in the sense of listening," he says. "With him being the electric soloist, and me focusing on being the rhythm player, then kind of blending my little rhythm solos in with his leads, that's definitely changed the way I play in a band format. I felt like the energy that was created by the band is unrivaled as far as what I can do by myself, and I think I take a lot of that with me [to the solo shows], and it adds to the energy and excitement of playing."
The solo tour is "going big," says Williams. He holds back on details of the stage and light set-up, but says, "We're definitely not half-assing it."
He embarks on his tour just as he wraps up recording his latest solo album. True to the one word form of his previous releases (Laugh, Dream, Loop, Grass, etc.), he says he's leaning toward "Odd" for the title.
"A lot of the lyrical content is really strange and bizarre," he says. "For example, there's a bluegrass science fiction song. It's bluegrass music, but has lyrics about riding a multi-headed beast into the ..." (insert shriek of an innocent). We heard "Styx." Whatever the beast rides into, it sounds daring.
Chatting with the man who arguably began the "loop phenomenon" that almost every bar-corner six-stringer uses now — recording and looping segments of music during a show, then playing them back live to build a bigger sound — it's refreshing to hear his excitement about other young players on the scene. William's top five albums of 2008 list on Jambase.com include two Lowcountry boys — Beaufort's Zach Deputy and Charleston's Josh Phillips. He says he found them through the Homegrown Music Network and instantly loved both.
In just another reminder of his regular-guy demeanor, the conversation with Keller came to a close just as tickets went on sale for The Dead's recently announced 2009 tour. Greensboro, N.C. hosts the first show of that tour (and the closest to Charleston), and tickets were expected to go fast (we got 'em). Would a former tour kid-turned-rock star be hitting any shows?
"Oh yeah, for sure good buddy, at least two that I know of," says Williams. "I remember being at the top of the arena in Greensboro, and it's like, you can pretty much touch the ceiling. I remember touching my head to the ceiling and having an experience.
"That Greensboro show was a pivotal moment in my college career," he continues. "That was 1991, and I was on tour and in college, writing papers in the parking lot and stuff. I drove home after that show and went to class to turn in my papers, in the same clothes and not showering from the night before. I ended up failing and got politely asked to sit out a couple semesters, and I never went back."
Considering how that worked out for him, call it an honorary degree.