Jam-band looper Keller Williams – musician – Interview
Byline: MIKE LEVINE
Close your eyes at a Keller Williams show, and you might think an entire band is onstage. Open your eyes, and you’ll see a solitary, high-energy performer surrounded by guitars, basses, drums, and sound gear. Dashing from one instrument to the next (and often adding “mouth percussion”), Williams records and layers multiple loops until he’s assembled a full-sounding song.
Using a Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro processor to handle his onstage looping (and with the help of his harmony-singing sound engineer), Williams has put together one of the most unusual and inventive live shows in the business. His up-tempo blend of rock, folk, and pop along with his improvised looping, frenzied guitar playing, and unpredictable stage show have earned him a healthy following on the jam-band scene. (He records on the same label, SCI Fidelity, as The String Cheese Incident; his latest CD is called Dance.) I caught up with Williams recently to find out more about his one-of-a-kind live act.
How did you develop your unique one-man-band approach?
It came from hours and hours of playing solo and wanting to create more. Wanting to have more places to go with it. Really, it all started to entertain myself, in my room. And I just kind of took that to the stage.
Since you don’t have a band up there to feed off, how do you get your inspiration onstage?
My energy comes from the audience. As far as collaborating, that’s something I miss – being up there with other musicians. Over the years I’ve obtained a heavy comfort level of being up there by myself and being able to go in any direction I want at any time.
Who’s your main influence as a guitarist?
Michael Hedges is my first and foremost influence. His playing and performance in general opened up a whole new world for me about how one guy can be onstage with a guitar and fill the space.
In a given song, do you usually record the same loops in the same order every gig, or do you just improvise?
There are some jams where I’ll definitely play the same parts and where I’m kind of used to those particular chord progressions. But sometimes I’ll stumble upon a lick or a rhythm line or something and I’ll say, “Hmm,” and I’ll loop it and go from there. It’s kind of like an improv thing.
How do you control the recording and playing of loops on the Echoplex while you’re playing your instruments?
It’s controlled by a footswitch. I hit the footswitch and play something and sing something, and then it’s recorded and played back. Once that loop is obtained and played back, then I can layer on top of it. I’m just using one machine.
I noticed your sound engineer singing backup vocals from the board.
Musicians often ask, “How are you getting your harmonies? I’m watching you, you’re not hitting a harmony footswitch or anything.” All that [harmony singing] comes from Louis Gosain the sound engineer.
What happens if your loops cut off midsong due to a technical problem?
Doing this type of thing there’s this huge element of danger. Right from the beginning, even in my room, I was practicing for what happens if that goes down. And I’ve kind of learned to just cover it up and start over.
Is the danger element part of the appeal? Does it add to the excitement?
I hope so. It’s definitely exciting to me. It’s kind of like working without a net.
Guild JF30, Martin HD28, and Tacoma JT55 acoustics Alvarez by Joe Villette baritone 6-string acoustic Renaissance custom baritone 12-string acoustic Gordon Anderson custom 8-string electric Godin LGXT 6-string electric Godin Multiac SA fretless nylon acoustic/electric Fender Jazz and Tacoma Thunderchief basses Roland GR33 guitar synthesizer Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro processor Lexicon MPX G2 processor Ernie Ball volume pedal DigiTech Whammy pedal Allen & Heath Mix Wizard 16-channel mixer Audix OM7, E4, and GX10 mics Sennheiser E602 and E608 mics Fishman Pro-EQ Platinum preamp Tama Rock Star kick, Sunlite piccolo snare Everyone’s Drumming djembe Zildjian hi-hats Moog Theremin Percussion tubes by Joia and Boomwhakers Hohner Kazoo Shure E-5 in-ear monitors Sennheiser wireless hardware (for in-ears)
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