Keller Williams is a one-man band, singer-songwriter, known for his improvisational, inventive folk-bluegrass blend. As a solo act he uses a looping technique during his performances, choosing from the huge selection of instruments he brings on stage with him. Keller Williams will be performing at 8 p.m. Sunday at the State Theater. Staff Writer Nicole Hartmann spoke with Williams about his on-stage performances and collaborations, this summer’s festival season and his insight on the jam band scene.
Nicole Hartmann: Do you have any pre-show rituals that help you prepare for your high-energy shows?
Keller Williams: Well, I like to put bologna in my shoes and kind of use them as insoles. They make me feel, you know, weird. No there’s no pre-show ritual, the high energy pretty much comes from the audience and is given to me and I try to absorb that and turn it around and give it back.
NH: Where does the inspiration for your improvisational techniques come from?
KW: Well, the improv is just kind of part of it. It is my attempt to keep myself entertained and just to make stuff up on the spot and going with it from there. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s fun.
NH: You’re coming to Ithaca on a solo tour, but in the past you’ve played with a band. What makes your solo act different from playing with a band?
KW: With the band there is no looping, it’s all playing with actual humans at the same time. The band is also limited to about 80 songs to choose from which is pretty decent, but the solo library definitely triples that. Both are my vision and I make up the set lists in both situations. I really miss playing with the WMDs. I love that band. I took them around the country to all my favorite markets and cities, but it’s time now to focus back on the day job, which is what I consider my solo act, my day job.
NH: Besides working with a band you’ve also done a lot of onstage collaborations.Who has been your favorite?
KW: Well, the String Cheese Incident I’ve definitely done the most with as far as sitting in onstage and that is definitely the most comfortable group for me to play with. Ratdog is always really fun and exciting to sit in with.
NH: Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
KW: Wow, sure. There are tons of peoplee … like Bobby McFerrin. That would be cool. Soulive would be great, I’d like that. The White Stripes, I’d like to play bass for the White Stripes.
NH: So the festival season is approaching, where can we expect to see Keller this summer?
KW: I haven’t quite memorized it; it’s up on my website. I’ll be at Summer Camp in Illinois. I’ll be playing Gathering of the Vibes with the band up in the Northeast and All Good Music Festival in West Virginia.
NH: What are you listening to now?
KW: I’m all over the map. I love jazz; I love listening to serious real jazz. Satellite radio and Internet radio too. I love just having random music that I’ve never heard before. It’s exciting. As far as my iPod goes, I’m a big Fela Kuti fan. I have a lot of his records. He’s the godfather of Afrobeat. I’m also a huge Charlie Hunter fan; I own pretty much everything he puts out. Bobby McFerrin too. There are all kinds of stuff that I love. John Hartford, John Scofield, Medeski Martin and Wood. I really like EOTO. They’re a real inspiration for me.
NH: We’re seeing a lot of reunion tours this summer with Phish and The Dead and a String Cheese Incident appearance. How do you think this will affect the jam-band scene, the festival scene?
KW: Well I think it’s a huge revival, the jam band scene kind of started after The Dead stopped, or at least that is when they started calling it the jam scene I guess. The Dead coming back and Phish touring I think will be nothing but good for the scene in general. This summer is very promising for the jam band scene. I am nowhere near a spokesperson for the scene, at all, whatsoever. But I feel that the scene is made up of the audience and the audience makes up who is a part of it. I am just grateful to have a stage to play on and people in front of me, no matter what they call me.