Interview: Keller Williams talks new records and his upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations

Keller Williams is one of the most prolific artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Since releasing his debut album FREEK in 1994, Williams has gone from a one-man-band looping wizard to a skilled bandleader and back again. With nearly 25 albums under his belt--two in 2017 alone--the “Freeker by the Speaker” shows no signs of slowing down.

Keller has a stacked fall schedule including a slew of solo shows and his third annual “Thanksforgrassgivng” celebration in his home state of Virginia. Williams is also returning to his former home state of Colorado for a run of shows with up and coming indie-fol act The Accidentals.  AXS recently had a chance to chat with the singer-songwriter about his upcoming shows; his 2017 releases, SYNC and RAW; as well as what the future holds in store for Keller Williams.

AXS: You've got a busy fall coming up. Are you touring with a band or solo?

Keller Williams: It’s mostly solo acoustic looping shows. I think there are a handful of Grateful Grass shows in October. Then in November, there’s these Compadre shows I’m doing for Thanksgiving that are really fun. We got a huge, big lineup I’m really excited about. But I’m excited about all of them.

AXS: What’s the lineup for the Compadre shows?

KW: It’s called ‘Thanksforgrassgiving.’ It’s the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving in Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. For those, the lineup will be Larry and Jenny Keel on guitar and bass, Jay Starling on dobro, Jeremy Garrett from the [Infamous] Stringdusters on fiddle, and Danny Barnes on banjo.

AXS: That’s a great lineup!

KW: I’m really excited. I’ve played with everybody individually in different projects but this band as a band has never happened. We’ve been close but I think it’s going to be really comfortable.

AXS: What kind of material are you guys going to be tackling?

KW: It’s going to be a focus on my material and my ideas for covers. But this year I’m definitely going to be drawing from some of Larry’s material and some of Danny’s material, Jeremy Garrett’s got a lot of fantastic stuff. So I think it’s going to be more of a collective effort than in years passed.

AXS: Sounds like those shows are going to be great. You’ve been putting together these great projects but could you talk a bit about your solo album RAW? What made you want to return to your roots on that album?

KW: That idea came about when I was booked on a co-bill with Leo Kottke. I didn’t really have a record that represented the type of show I would be doing on that specific run, which was basically a guitar and a microphone, no looping, no band. And I didn't really have anything that was like that. So I wanted something for that show that hopefully the Leo fans could take with them and that’s how RAW came about.

AXS: What was it like to record RAW?

KW: I did it in about two days because the record was as simple as you can get, really. I released it at the same time as my record called SYNC with my project KWahtro. It wasn't that far of a stretch and was pretty easy and comfortable to do.

AXS: Could you talk about SYNC and the KWahtro project as well?

KW: Yeah, Rodney Holmes is on drums. He’s probably the most famous guy in the band, world-renowned drummer who’s just incredible. Danton Bowler is just an over the top incredible bass player, been around the world several times with several different people. Gibb Droll on guitar, an incredible listener and super old friend of mine. It was just great that these three geniuses allowed me into their world for this project. It’s one of those projects that is very close to my own world, my own music. There’s a lot of bluegrass projects that I love and I’m in for the love of bluegrass. I love that style of music. Then there’s the funk thing, the gospel thing. I play a little bit of a character in those bands whereas this KWahtro thing is a little bit more of me. I’m not really sure how many more shows were going to be doing together. We kind of hit the spots we needed to hit and now it’s kind of up to the promoters and the people to say they want it back. But we have this record to document our time together and that’s really what all my records are about, to document where I am musically at that time.

AXS: Wow, that’s interesting because SYNC and RAW are seemingly very different albums but seeing as how they share the same time and space, how would you say they’re connected?

KW: Well, all my records are connected obviously because of me and the stylistic sensibilities and the lyrics, the tongue and cheek-ness of it all, I think there’s a link there. And obviously acoustic tones, they’re both similar in that realm. But I think it’s all linked. All my recordings are linked together like a string of thought in my crazy world.

AXS: Each one of your albums has a one-syllable name. For instance, your debut album was FREEK and now you have SYNC and RAW. Was that something that took shape as you went along or was that concept in place from the beginning?

KW: The idea from the beginning was to try and describe the record with one syllable, like a less is more type of thing. Not with one word, but with one syllable. And so FREEK was like, ‘F-R-E-E-K,’ like freaking out on the free things in life. I’m a freak who likes free things because at the time I was 24 and broke (laughs). And then SPUN and BUZZ were like a play on double meaning words that fit those compilations of songs. But had I put a little more forethought into it I definitely would have had more of an idea of what to spell out in 20 years (laughs). To where you would know what the next album was going to be if you were trying to spell out a sentence or something with records.

AXS: It’s never too late to start!

KW: For me, it’s too late to start, 23 or 24 records into it. A paragraph of meaningless babble is what it is (laughs).

AXS: What are your plans for 2018?

KW: I’m going to be focusing more on the solo, looping acoustic stuff. I’ve been focusing on a lot of projects the past couple years and I’m gonna try and get back into the solo acoustic thing. Some of the folks that have been seeing me over the years, they allow me to play with other people but they’re starting to get a little more vocal about wanting the solo show back and that’s a really great problem to have.

AXS: That’s a great problem to have indeed. Any recording plans on the horizon?

KW: I am in the middle of an instrumental record right now that I am just over the top elated with. An instrumental record is something I’ve always wanted to do but I never really had the confidence. I’m hoping this record will be out by the beginning of next year. I’m trying to record a record I would listen to. The stuff I listen to and the stuff I release are usually two different things and I’m getting closer to releasing something I would listen to.