Q&A: Keller Williams

Q&A: Keller Williams
Courtesy Photo The Keller Williams KWahtro features (from left to right) Danton Boller, Keller Williams, Rodney Holmes and Gibb Droll.

Courtesy Photo
The Keller Williams KWahtro features (from left to right) Danton Boller, Keller Williams, Rodney Holmes and Gibb Droll.

Acoustic jam-master extraordinaire Keller Williams is bringing the odd funk to George’s Majestic Lounge next week, and this time he’s brought along some talented friends.

Williams, known for his technical and groovy guitar playing, will be taking his new quartet, affectionately called KWahtro, on the road throughout 2016. Jan. 22 at George’s Majestic Lounge will be one of those gigs. William’s band consists of Gibb Droll (guitar – Brandi Carlisle/Bruce Hornsby), Danton Boller (upright bass – Roy Hargrove/Jazz Mandolin Project) and Rodney Holmes (drums – Santana/Steve Kimock).

This four-piece collaboration with two acoustic guitars, double bass and drums will reinterpret Keller originals and choice cover songs with sounds ranging from new disco, reggae, drum and bass, jazz afro trap, and much more.

The man is a chill one. Check out our groovy Q&A:

TFW: You’re renown in the jam community for your solo shows, as well as your Grateful Dead tribute groups. What’s your vision with this new group you’ve formed, KWahtro?

WILLIAMS: It’s all acoustic. Two guitars, upright bass and drums. I’m looking to experiment with following a dance music formula and using my songs as a template and getting into a modern kind of dance music thing with acoustics and using my songs. It’s an experiment, and I’m really excited — these players are unbelievable and I’m honored they let me into their world. There’s all kinds of possibilities, it’s limitless. Anywhere I want to go I feel these guys can execute my ideas. I’m really excited about this project. I’m really hoping we get some great documents out of it as far as recordings go.

There’s definitely going to be about five or six songs off the record “Vape” as well as older songs off my older records done in this format. There’s some interesting covers. You can expect the unexpected.

TFW: That’s an interesting idea about the dance music approach. Could you tell me more about that?

WILLIAMS: I’m an acoustic guy first. That’s where it started with me. I love playing with humans. When you get into bands and things you’re expected to go electric and to have that kind of power and vibe. I’m looking to maintain that energy of an electric band and go completely acoustic or electric sounding but with acoustic. The idea came from the beginning of wanting to collaborate with other folks and be able to communicate without words and using music to communicate. To get on that same wavelength that comes with playing with other guys every night.

There’s a certain form that electronic dance music has. Like a disco groove that has a tension build up, and then that apex into a super dark half time kind of thing. It’s following that kind of formula. It’s something I’ve really been influenced by the EDM scene. When you think about it, the term dance music, the word came from Ireland of a dude standing on a stump playing a fiddle and a bunch of people dancing around. That’s kind of where it originated. That type of vibe before there were speakers. Staying true to all of that and putting the backbeat into all of that. Folks listening in attendance are going to want to move. That’s the objective, to keep it movin’.

The EDM shows I’ve been to, there’s a certain element of people who have never really heard the music before but understand the formula of the build up and the drop. Because of that, everyone is on the same page. It’s sort of a communal thing. I really appreciate that you can do that with music without people knowing the song that you’re playing. That’s what I get from EDM in a positive way.

TFW: Hmm. That’s a great way to look at the experience an EDM show can bring. Sounds like an impressive experiment.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, there’s no one I know who likes EDM [laughs]. My flavor and my vibe is still rooted in what I am in my music, and the folks who have come to see me over the years can trust I won’t totally change it in a way that’s unrecognizable. It definitely starts with me entertaining myself and I go from there.

TFW: I’ve often seen you on the Highberry festival line ups, is there something that keeps you coming back to this area?

The Highberry thing is always a beautiful invite. Those people are just grassroots to the core, folks that have been checking out my music and other music in the scene for many years. They’re folks who are in it for the right reasons. They’re great, great people. I’m appreciative and grateful that they have me back.

George’s is a fantastic place as well that started out for the right reasons. Not necessarily as a money maker thing, but a way to bring different music to the town. I think it’s evolved well and the changes are very accommodating to the musician. And that town with the school in it isbumping. I don’t know how many times I’ve played there. It’s always been super fun.

TFW: You do some pretty wild stuff on the guitar, whether its with both of your hands on the neck or creating a percussion line with the body. How did some of your technical acoustic techniques develop?

WILLIAMS: A lot of that came from inspiration and influence from a guy called Michael Hedges. He left us in the late 90s in a car wreck but he left behind a huge body of music and videos. I got turned on to him when I was about 18. My mind was absorbing everything around. I had just been swept away from the Grateful Dead, and I was totally obsessed with that, not only the music but the community that surrounds it. All of a sudden I got flipped around and got into the solo acoustic acts. I had been messing around with acoustic gigs around that time.

He really showed me how one guy can demand the attention of an audience with just one guitar. He showed me how to take a cover song and make it your own. He’s the main influence.

TFW: We all know you’re a big Grateful Dead guy. Tell me about that time period when you were first “swept up.”

WILLIAMS: They were definitely the soundtrack to my life for many years, and I’d play several of their songs. The ones that really latched on were the Deadheads that were hearing the songs that were familiar to them. Then I started to surround myself in that world. Definitely a very important band to me. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing as my favorite.

In the mid 80s I went from aggro-skate punk to more of a melodic fast rock which was called college rock. Like The Smiths, Cure and REM. It went from REM in the mid-80s before the whole “Orange Crush” thing.

The first thing that turned me on to the Grateful Dead was their acoustic album “Reckoning.” That record really turned me around. I started listening to the live stuff. I went to the show, and that’s when I was swept away from the show and the culture that drives that whole scene. At that point in the late 80s, folks and kids coming on to the scene were looked down upon as ants at the picnic. It wasn’t very welcoming in the sense of the hardcores but you look past that and make your own friends. Pretty soon everyone was one. I guess with the MTV “Touch of Gray” thing, some of the older Deadheads were blaming. As time went on everyone accepted everyone and now it’s still a thriving community.

TFW: Kinda cool how the new kid who was looked down upon at those shows ended up forming several successful Grateful Dead tribute bands.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a full circle thing. I got to play with the original members. It was surreal, I’m still a little nervous around those guys. Absolutely a very cool situation to have a band have such a profound effect on so many people. My shtick is to stay true to those songs and do them in a different way. People appreciate it.

TFW: Sorry in advance, but can you pick a favorite Grateful Dead album?

WILLIAMS: “American Beauty,” “Working Man’s Debt,” those are classics. If I had to give you an absolute live record… Wow, that’s tricky. “Blues for Allah” is really cool. Something that documents the music that was happening when I was really into it is “Without a Net.” It’s a double live record from fall of ‘89 and spring of ‘90. It’s an amazing document of the band at that time. I was at half of those shows, so that’s a special one for me.

Keller Williams and KWahtro

Where: George’s Majestic Lounge, 519 W Dickson St., Fayetteville, AR

When: 9:30 p.m.

How Much: $20, sold online at georgesmajesticlounge.com

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