Taken from RICentral (Aug 04, 2017)
Keller Williams steams into The Wheel House
by DANNY EMERMAN
NARRAGANSETT—In San Francisco last summer, I once saw a street performer create his own instrument—a sort of Swiss Army Knife of music. His gimmick allowed him to simultaneously play the drums, guitar, piano and the saxophone.
Keller Williams, who is scheduled to perform in Narragansett at The Wheel House on Aug. 4 is no gimmick, though his artistic versatility and ambidexterity make his sound unique.
Williams, who has revolutionized a new genre—he calls it acoustic dance music—switches between multiple instruments and “loops” his voice, whistling, or a riff of a guitar to create a harmonious melody.
“Basically, I have these machines that are essentially delay units,” he explains. “What I do is step on a button and sing or play something. Then I step on the same button in time and it repeats what I just played or sang. Once that initial loop is created, I can layer on a bass line or a drum line and then have this layer that I just created in front of an audience that I could sing over and solo over. Nothing is pre-recorded. Everything is created onstage in front of the audience.”
Although he has worked with other musicians before, he more often performs his solo act.
“Musically, I’ve played by myself more than not. I’m very comfortable playing solo. It’s kind of like my day job, you know? It’s my normal gig,” Williams said.
With so much action onstage, Williams is a dynamic, exciting performer. He is like a quarterback in that he maintains complete control over his sound, but he does not consider himself a perfectionist.
“Oh God no. Far, far from it,” he said with a charming southern accent.
Williams did not start performing alone on stage by choice; he was just trying to make ends meet and playing in a band where the other members share the profits just wasn’t in the cards.
“The solo thing just kind of happened out of necessity, just wanting to make a living without getting a job,” Williams said playfully. “As time went on, I could actually afford to play with other musicians and I’ve gotten lucky that so many of them have let me into their world.”
He considers the “other musicians” who have influenced the evolution of his music a luxury. Some artists that have inspired his artistic growth include the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, banjo master Béla Fleck, bass great Victor Wooten, American musician/poet Michael Franti and many others.
“I’ve gotten contact with more humans who have allowed me into their worlds and I have been surrounding myself with more amazing musicians,” he said.
If Williams is a quarterback, his touchdowns—hit songs—are “Freeker by the Speaker” (2.5 million streams on Spotify), “Doobie in my Pocket” (1.1 million) and “Best Feeling” (1 million). However, a more obscure song, “I Am Elvis,” is the tune that most encapsulates who Williams is an artist.
“If you listen to [‘I Am Elvis’], it speaks to how I live inside my imagination. The song is very tongue-and-cheek all over the place, but that’s kind of the whole gist of my music. It’s not taking myself or my music too seriously,” Williams said.
“It’s focusing on entertaining, first and foremost, myself. My career is a relentless pursuit of entertaining myself, and it starts with me having fun first before I ever imagine anyone in the crowd having fun. I take having fun very seriously,” he added.
One of Williams’ most impressive skills has nothing to do with performing. By churning out 21 albums—all with one-syllable titles—since 1994, nearly one record every year, the artist has proved to be a prolific songwriter. Williams says that songwriting used to come easy for him, but then he slowed down as he had his kids Cabell, 9, and Ella, 12.
“There was definitely a huge period of creative writing musically, lyrically, for a long time…and then I had kids. And once you have kids, some people get even more inspired to write. For me, the songwriting was all about having time off...And once I was too busy for the boredom to kick in, my creativity started to slow,” he said.
Williams released two albums in January: Sync and Raw. The former a collaboration record with acoustic dance ensemble group called KWahtro and the latter being a solo acoustic album true to his signature sound. Williams highlights “Cookie’s,” the first track on Raw, as a song he’s most proud of. The upbeat, acoustic ballad is a 5-minute guitar solo addressed to his wife.
In a way, Williams’ music serves as a diary for himself. He doesn’t make his music for his fans, his wife, or his kids; he makes it for himself.
“All my records are just documents of what I’m into, where my head is. They’re for me to listen to when I’m old. Sometimes people buy it, sometimes they don’t.”
His genuine approach to producing music he enjoys has allowed him to build a loyal fan base, one that travels across the country—from his hometown in Virginia to Narragansett—to see him perform.