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February 7, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Keller Williams loves music unconditionally. From rock to reggae, funk to folk, chances are Williams has played it before. On his most recent project, the bluegrass album Pick, he teamed up with the Travelin’ McCourys. After more than 20 albums recorded, the genre-crossing artist talks with Vox about bluegrass, electronica and bad venue juju.
Last year you came out with an album called Pick with the Travelin’ McCourys. Could you talk about that project?
Del McCoury is a living bluegrass legend in my eyes. He’s been doing it a while, and he has a lot of people who have been influenced by him. I crossed paths with the Travelin’ McCourys and the Del McCoury Band over the years and got to meet the guys. It just kind of happened naturally that we would get together. The first day we ever played together, I went to Nashville to hang out with them and see if there was any kind of chemistry; we ended up standing in a circle and picking songs for hours. There’s a common bond with all of the songs we know. A cool thing about bluegrass is there’s a certain formula, and once people get together and understand that formula, it can really mesh well. We’ve played together many times before, but the first time was pretty magical.
WHERE: The Blue Note
WHEN: Feb. 8, 9 p.m.
You’ve experimented with a lot of genres. Would you say that bluegrass is one of your favorites?
Yeah. It’s one of the easiest as far as collaboration. I never want to tie myself down to one genre, but bluegrass is definitely super fun in a simple way. You can have acoustic instruments and play anywhere, anytime. With bluegrass you can just walk up to a microphone and go. It’s a fun diversion from my normal life.
You’ve talked a lot about collaboration. Was that an important concept for the album?
They would listen to a melody and create their own musical lines in the song based off of it. It was cool the way they would pull these melodies together right before we recorded. It was really organic the way we recorded the record. A lot of it was done live in the studio; my singing was live.
What are you planning to do next?
Right now, I’m in the middle of mixing a live record with a six-piece funk band, and we’re called More Than a Little. We’ve done seven shows so far. It is bass, drums, guitar, keys and two wonderful female singers; these folks are kind of on the Richmond, Va., R&B gospel scene, and it is really inspiring for me. It’s super funky and super soulful with afros and high-heeled boots. We’re in the middle of mixing a live record.
With new electronic genres emerging, do you have any interest in experimenting with those?
Absolutely. If you were to go online and Google “Felas Funk Trouble,” you’d pull up a SoundCloud. “Keller Williams B.I.T.C.H.” is another SoundCloud. These are my ideas off to the side of electronica notions. This new revolution that’s happening has an energy that really can’t be ignored. I have definitely adapted and been inspired by it. The more recent electronica has appeared in my set by way of beats, grooves and tones. We’re in an age of computers, and kids are growing up on computers. By the time they get to be in their late teens, they’re taking all of the knowledge they grew up with and creating music. The young folks are getting it. It’s exciting.
You’ve performed at The Blue Note several times before. Do you feel like you have a real fanbase in Columbia?
There are some really great people in Columbia that definitely support my show when it comes around, and there’s really something special about The Blue Note. I always liked that venue, just the super old vibe. There’s a certain oldness that provokes those ideas of musical spirits swirling around. I feel it in other old places too; sometimes it’s negative and can get into the electronics and make bad things happen, but I think The Blue Note’s different. I think The Blue Note has more positive spirit.