Keller Williams – Talk

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 Keller Williams has long been the champion of solo-shoeless rock, touring the country with nothing more than a gaggle of guitars, a couple of loops, a few crazy ideas and his musical ADD riding shotgun.

Recently though, Williams seems to be getting a bit lonely on the road.  From the all-too short lived bluegrass adventure of Keller and the Keels, to the all-star roster of 2007’s Dream, Williams has been spending more and more time indulging in his life long dream of fronting a band.

So when the timing was just right, the pied-piper of one-man rock went out and did just that.  

Arming himself with three stellar musician friends – Keith Moseley (bass, String Cheese Incident), Gibb Droll (guitar) and Jeff Sipe (drums, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Leftover Salmon) – and calling themselves the WMDs,  the newly-minted band hit the road and started playing some shows.

The foursome soon realized they had something special, and Williams realized he had a band.  They dropped the name WMDs, and went by the simple, yet effective moniker of Keller Williams with Moseley, Droll & Sipe.  Touring steadily for the past year and half, the band recorded some live shows and released Live, a 2 CD/DVD document of the band’s powers on stage.  For Williams it is simply representative of some of the best work he has ever done.

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photo by Todd Radunksy

While preparing for a West Coast tour with Moseley, Droll, & Sipe, Williams took some time to talk about the band, their future, and what he has taken from the experience of fronting his own band.  Williams has long summed up his albums with simple one-word titles that say more than a mouthful of eloquent sentences ever could. With that in mind today’s conversation would simply be Talk in Williams’ world.

Honest Tune:  So how did this idea for the band and the live album come about? 

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Jeff Sipe

Keller Williams:  I guess the way we all came together was sheer timing.  I had been doing the solo thing for many years, and for me and the other guys in the band, the time was just right.  I was fan of each of those guys individually, so I was grateful that timing-wise it worked for all of them.  As far as releasing the live album it was just to be able to document what was happening with these four dudes on stage.  To me, I feel it is some of the best music I have made in my life.

HT:  Did this start with you approaching the other three with purpose of putting a band together, or was it a little more natural where things just seemed to happen and one thing led to another?

KW:  No, it was my project, my vision.  I funded the whole thing.  I have always wanted to play with a band, to play with other people, but when I first started I couldn’t afford it. When I could afford it, things weren’t broken as a solo act and the solo act started to work so there wasn’t any reason to do something different.  After I did the solo thing for many years the timing was right for me to be able to do what I had wanted to do for so long.

HT:  I think your connection with Keith Moseley is well established from your long relationship with the String Cheese Incident.  How about the connection to Gibb Droll and Jeff Sipe. How long have you known them, and have you ever worked with either of them before?

KW:  I met Gibb Droll a long, long time ago.  I saw him perform a few times first before I actually met him.  Gibb has different story of how we meet, but I don’t believe his version, I think he is just trying to be difficult. {Laughs} He is the coolest, most genuine guy you can ever meet.  I first saw him, wow, probably 1988 or 89, but I didn’t meet him until the early 90s when I got a chance to open for him.  He did his solo thing for a long time and then he settled in to playing with other people.  We got the chance to first play together a couple of years ago inPhoenix.  It was just us and two acoustics.  The way he was listening and playing along just made him an obvious choice for me when I was putting the band together.

Jeff Sipe – I have just been a huge fan since the Aquarium Rescue Unit days.  I used to travel a couple of hours to go see ARU whenever I got the chance.  He was always my number one choice for a drummer when I was putting the band together.  I first got a chance to met him when he was playing with Derek Trucks in a tiny little basement bar in Steamboat Springs in probably 1995. Since then whenever our paths crossed we would talk about doing something, and the timing now just happened to be right now for us to get together.

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Gibb Droll

HT:  In your short time together have you done any writing as a group or started kicking some new ideas around with each other?

KW:  There are a good number of Gibb Droll songs we have incorporated into the set.  We have a couple of Keith Moseley songs that we do as well.  He had done some of them with String Cheese, so people who come from that scene have really appreciated hearing them.  As far as a group, there is one idea that is going on right now, but it has mostly been me thrusting my library of songs upon them.  We have had very little time to focus on anything new yet.  We have done maybe seventy shows in the past year and half, and probably played in the ball park of about eighty different songs.  I try and play different songs every night, and that frustrates the band a bit, because with so many songs it is hard to get a real handle on them when we don’t play them for a couple of nights.  They have been real good about it though.  We rehearse every day during sound check.  I am trying to keep with that jam-band religion idea of playing completely different sets every night.

HT: Its funny you would say that it frustrates these guys knowing their backgrounds.  You would think they would expect it and kind of know they just have to roll with it night to night.

KW: They do expect it.  But at the same time if we have the same song on the set list two nights in a row they are psyched. {Laughs}

HT:  While it is nice to switch up your sets each night, it also must be nice to have songs that feel like you have a chance to really get into the groove with as well.  With only having played seventy shows there must be songs that you have only played a handful of times.  Its one thing to rehearse them, but it must be another thing to actually get them on stage in front of a crowd.

KW:  Exactly.  There are some songs we play electric one night and then like total bluegrass acoustic the next. We don’t totally change the arrangement, but we do mix up the tempo and the style of them, and I think that keeps everyone on their toes too.  It takes something that we may be used to playing and totally changes it up.

HT:  Any songs of yours you weren’t able to work up with the band?

KW:  Nothing in particular, I have really thrown my library at these guys.  Unfortunately there are so many songs to learn but so little time.

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HT:  Was it tough letting go of some of what you do with the songs? A sense of a loss of control over these tunes that you have played a certain way for so long, and now you have other musicians on stage with you owning parts of these songs that have been yours, and yours solely since they were written?

KW:  No, it was actually the opposite.  These songs, like you said, I had been playing for so long had new life breathed into them with these different players who brought their different experiences and backgrounds to them.  They brought a whole new thing to these songs, they took them in directions I had never expected and it was all for the positive.  I liked it.

If I didn’t, I would tell them and they would accommodate me, but there was very little of that.  It was mostly letting them take the songs to where they think they should go.  It just ended up sounding so much different and so much better than the original solo versions…at least to my ears.

wmd_071107_i.jpgHT:  Are there any parts the other guys brought to specific songs that you think you may incorporate or use when you play solo again?

KW:  That is great question.  I have played a handful of solo shows lately and I have definitely been approaching the solo thing with a new vigor, new energy, because the band has taken me to a certain level on stage musically.  Solo shows are my day job, it’s what I do, everything else is a side project, but I was very hesitant going back because the energy that we achieved as a band is so far ahead of what I can achieve solo, so I wasn’t that excited to get back to the solo thing.

But once I was up there and I was connecting with the audience again, it was definitely a lot different than it was before I started playing with the band.  Whether I take their arrangements and incorporate them into the songs remains to be seen, but I don’t see how I can’t try to achieve that energy we had as band when I play solo now.

HT:  That is only natural.  Sometimes you have something you have done for so long and you just need to get a fresh look at it to get revitalized about it again.  You have a painting hanging in your living room you have been staring at your whole life and all of sudden you look at it from the other side of the room and it is as if you are seeing it for the first time again.

KW:  {laughs} Or, you put a different light on the painting.  This has been real exciting for me.  I am really looking forward to this tour we have coming up of the west coast.  First because I just really love playing the west coast, but secondly I think the people on the west coast are really going to appreciate this group and where we can go with the music.

HT: It seems that leading a band, and this group in particular, has been a really positive experience for you and your music.  What have you taken from this group, either from each musician individually or from the group as a whole that has changed you or the way you are going to approach your music from now on?

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Keith Moseley

KW: You know just trying to take it to another level, another energy level and how to ride that peak is something I have gotten from the group.  I think the camaraderie, the listening and rhythm playing were all very important, they all played a huge factor in the group.  But the main thing I have got from playing with them has been the listening.

Before there has been a sense of me taking the lead and letting other people follow me, but with this group once the groove is laid out and you listen to what everyone else is doing there are chances for a jam to go so many different places, and I think that idea of listening to the other musicians is the most important thing I have learned.

HT:  Any plans with this group for the future?

KW:  We are playing live and we going to go with that for now.  At the end of this west coast tour I will have taken this group to all the markets that I play around the country.  So after that I will have done my part and I will be leaving it up to the promoters.

A good part of next year I have to play catch up and play as many solo shows as possible.  Like I said before I funded this group, so I need to play financial catch up.  The promoters have a wide range of options to choose from in my world and I hope they choose the band.

Studio photo by Todd Radunsky; live photos by Josh Mintz

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