Keller Williams, 2006

 

Written by: Jason Perlman

 

So, you are a new dad and get to take your newborn on tour with you. Not too many people can take their kids with them to work everyday. That has got to be special.
It really is, to be able to have the best of both the worlds. I can have a guilt-free tour so-to-speak.

 

Is there any such thing as a guilt-free your?
There definitely is when you've got your wife and child, and then it is guilt-free rock and roll.

 

You have definitely had a lot of stops in and around Columbus, including the Newport Music Hall where you will be playing this time. Does it ever get mundane after you have played a club so many times, and you obviously draw a lot of the same crowd each time.
Well, when I am on stage it is pretty much fresh each time. I pretty much forget about everything. But it is all the non-musical things that get pretty mundane after you have looped the country for like the 29th time. But I am very lucky to be able to do what I do, I am very grateful and I always have to keep that in check. So I do a pretty good job, I think, of having different scenarios with what I could be doing. I try to keep that in the forefront as far as what I am doing. You know, I just have the best job, and I can't really look at it any other way than just having fun and having this huge release on stage. I just have all this internal music inside me, and being on stage is a way to get it out.

 

The two previous times I saw you live; one was the Acoustic Planet tour with Bela Fleck and Yonder Mountain String band, the other in the Newport. Do you have a preference as far as the outdoor, Bonaroo-style show versus the headlining club gigs?
I think a taste of both is a really great balance. To be able to go in early a big club like the Newport and very relaxingly set up, sound check and just get used to the environment and surroundings and really dial in the sounds, the frequencies are really different in every room I play. So to be able to really take a few hours and dial in frequencies and make it right so when you walk out for that first song everything is all taken care of in dialed in is great. But then on the same token, there is the whole festival scene where there is none of that. One band goes off and you are scheduled to go on exactly 30 minutes after that band. So that band clears off all their stuff and we set up our stuff and just quickly check all the lines; so it really is like run-and-gun, so that is totally exciting in that realm because there is so much room for error. So I am very grateful to have such an experienced sound engineer who can dial in the frequencies so quickly. And the other cool thing about festivals is there are so many people there that have never seen you before. So you are playing off that energy as well, and I just love playing to people who have never seen me play before. I am so incredibly grateful to have what we call the Repeat Offenders that come to multiple shows in a row, so for those people and my own sanity I try to change the set-up every show and play a different set every time. But for the people that are seeing me for the first time, especially at those festivals, you could be playing a song every show for a year, but it is now brand new to someone. So I think a good mix of both the long, drawn-out sound checks and the quick run-and-gun festivals really helps me with my Attention Deficit Disorder.

 

The term Repeat Offenders is a good one, as the aroma from the crowd leads me to believe there may be a few repeat offenders in the audience. It also calls for a relaxed crowd and atmosphere. Are you as relaxed as you seem and as everyone out in the crowd or is there some tension that you are just good at hiding?
Well, I did my very first gig was like 1986, and before that was theater plays and children's theater, so I have been doing the stage thing for many, many years, so when you do something so much it is obviously going to add to the relaxed atmosphere. But walking out on stage to a crowd that has actually paid money to see you is a huge adrenaline rush and just being out there in plugged in with the volume just adds to that adrenaline. So yes, I am relaxed in the sense that I am very comfortable, but there is a definite adrenaline rush that is coursing and that comes natural from the energy and electricity of the show.

 

Another great thing about festivals and even the Acoustic Planet tour is you were able to jam with so many other artists. Do you miss that being on the road solo?
You know, there is just a comfort level of being solo that I have done for so long and being out there by myself I am in total control and can go in different directions whenever I feel like it. It is fun, it is really fun to be able to play with other folks, but playing solo as much as I have, that is where the most comfort lies. Playing with other people is definitely cool and I really cherish it, but I don't think I really miss it. I definitely enjoy it when it happens, but when not, I am just so into doing my own thing.

 

You have a great song about missing a Dead show in Indiana where you call out everyone who ran the fences. Have you actually ever met anyone who has admitted to being one of those fence crashers?
I have friends who have friends who say they were a part of that crowd that rushed the gate and broke the fence down, but I never had anyone come up to me to say they were one of them that were a part of that. But I did receive a letter in the mail from someone apologizing saying they were one of them.

Didn't make you feel any better though, did it?
Well, that is the past and that shit happens. But that is definitely one of my very few songs that were written out of very sincere anger. And it is one of my very favorite songs because it has these very angry, dirty lyrics done to this almost angelic melody, I think. So when you say the words "Cocksucking mother fucker," you don't really think of putting it to very pretty music. So when those words are put together with pretty music, it makes an interesting mix and I really love doing that song.

 

And the phrase cocksucking motherfucker just flows so well.
It really does, it just rolls off the tongue. And not something you would expect from that type of music.

 

Well, when kids are in the car and I am listening to the double-live CD, I have so skip some songs, but children really love the music. Now that you have a 17-month old, have you ever thought about writing children's songs or do you think more about what you write now that you have a baby girl is it?
Yea, a little girl, Ella. Before we had the kid I was toying around with doing a kids record with Keith Mosley from The String Cheese Incident, and actually wrote four really silly songs. Since we had the kid and started watching kids television for anything that will keep her occupied for 15 minutes while we can do the dishes, I have been inundated with all this children's music, and some of it just haunts my dreams. Like the Wiggles. Like some of The Wiggles' songs just haunt my dreams. Like I know there is a lot of good children's music out there that are aimed toward the children, saying really good and positive things, but have music that parents can really enjoy as well. Like Jerry Garcia and Dave Grisman have a CD called Not For Kids Only, that is a fantastic kids record. And Putumayo Presents is a label that does a lot of world music, and they have a CD called African Playground, which has African instruments and music but again, with a real positive message. So I would say yea, there is a possibility that I would do a kid's record one day.

 

Has having Ella on tour with you affected how you tour or how much you will tour? Is it something that you see as an added bonus to your touring that the whole family is there, or are you looking at it from the dad perspective as you have to be home more?
She has changed touring in all different kinds of ways. It was not unusual for us to go out six weeks at a time before she was born, but once my wife got pregnant and didn't want to come along, I definitely scaled back. So we are now in a routine now of when we are not on a bus of flying out on a Wednesday or Thursday and flying back in on a Sunday, so be at home for four days and be gone for three days. That seems to be working out really well, because we are focusing on major markets and playing the really good nights of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then coming back on a Sunday; and then going out again the next week. So we are just focusing on major markets on the primo days, and that really seems to work. So we have somewhat of a home life during the week and work on the weekends. I am lucky in that I have a portable stage set-up that I can still do somewhat of a full show, but only have to take like three checks on the plane, and with United, Premier Status gives you three checks. But even when we do tour on the bus; that has changed the way we do things. We have a bus that has a bedroom in the back, so the wife, child and myself have that back bedroom and the whole crew has the bunk area and the front lounge and there is no sleep. We travel at night when the baby is sleeping. We try to have the bus not moving when the baby is awake. So when you have a bus full of sleeping crewmembers and when you get up at 7am with the baby, it forces us to vacate the bus as soon as possible, so we are able to explore the cities a little bit more.

Earlier you mentioned keeping every show fresh. How hard is it to make sure each time you visit a city, you are not playing the same show as the time before?
It definitely does not come very easy at all. For the past several years, my sounds engineer has been archiving all the set lists and before he starting doing it, random fans in the audience would do it and report back to the chat pages. Do before Lou, my sound engineer, would keep the set list, I would go on-line and investigate and do research on the set lists I did the year before. So while I have the set list from the year before at that venue, I also have the set list that I played the night before. So I am compiling a set list completely different from the last time I played the city plus different from the night before. So if I play Cleveland the night before Columbus, I not only look at the Columbus show from last year, but also from that Cleveland show the night before. It's definitely tricky and I could take the east way out and play whatever I want, which is what I did for years and years, but then I could end up getting in kind of a rut by playing the same things over and over. So for my own sake of entertainment, I want to make it different for myself first and foremost, and also make it different for all the people who have come to see me before.

 

I think doing all that to put together a set list is awesome. But do you ever wonder to yourself how all these people can remember what you played the year before?
Well, first and foremost I am a music lover. I am a music lover first, a musician second and a songwriter third. So I still get in a whole lot of phases where I will just listen to one artist over and over and over and I will seek out live shows they did and listen to different records. I really study it until I know it backwards and forwards and then I will move on to something different. So I have been in that case as well, where I am a fan of a musician and study all they do. And it is totally flattering that people are doing that to my music.

 

Who are some of the artists you are finding yourself a fan of these days?
Well, I have been into this long, lingering Fela Kuti phase. I guess my management was part of the Femi Kuti family for a while, trying to work on the American shows Femi Kuti was doing. So during their stint with Femi Kuti, they were able to release the material from Fela Kuti, which has been digitally re-mastered. So I got all the records and really got into this Fela Kuti phase. I have been really into Charlie Hunter the past couple of years and collecting everything that he had. And I was in a big Martin Sexton phase and collecting everything with him. And Ani DeFranco. All these people I mentioned, anything new that they put out; I am pretty quick to get it. And I have a radio show that is on like 25 stations, and because of that people are constantly sending me CDs, and I am on the radio send list from different labels, so my CD collection grows by the week. So it's great to get all this new stuff and to force myself to put in something I have never heard before. It is tough to take the time to do that, but I find some of the coolest stuff that way.

 

A lot of the artists you mentioned are solo artists, but then there are bands like Robert Randolph and His Family Band that just seems to have such a great time sharing the stage with each other. Have you ever thought about having a band as well or think you are missing out on not having that camaraderie?
You know, I do think about that and having a band around all the time. In this past year, I have done about a dozen shows with Larry and Jenny Keel. Larry plays bluegrass-style guitar and his wife plays stand-up bass and we all sing and play music. So I have had a little bit of this new camaraderie on stage recently doing this kind of communication without words or speech, just with eye contact. I love that and I always think about different ideas of having a bass player and drummer. The one thing that keeps me from doing that is the old saying; if it ain't broke don't fix it. So the solo thing, about seven or eight years ago, really started to work for me and I started to get more work and traveled to different countries and it continues to work. I am not really afraid to try things completely different, but I am working them in very slowly by doing this acoustic bluegrass group with Larry and Jenny. But I am always thinking about it. I have huge respect and am a big fan of Steve Kimoch, who was in a group called Hero in the late 70s and 80s. So after Jerry (Garcia) died and Phil Lesh came out to play, Steve Kimoch played with Phil. He is in the Jam scene, long instrumental music, and I got together with him and John Molo on drums and I was actually the bass player. We did that for a few days to see what would come of it, and we actually recorded a few songs, one of which I am using on this next record. So I am definitely exploring different ideas of collaborations and things. But as I said before, it really works as a solo act. So to every now and then to collaborate with different folks to keep it fresh and changing it up is good, but I don't think I could focus just on a band. It is so easy as a solo act and people seem to like it.