Keller Williams Talks 'Sans'

Article Contributed by June Reedy | Published on Friday, October 12, 2018

Keller Williams is a stand-alone kind of guy. With looping as his signature musical move, he has been in and out of loops ranging from gospel to funk bluegrass to now instrumental?  It’s true. The new Keller Williams album, SANS, hits the stores on Oct. 19th. Grateful Web had a chance to chat with him about the latest release.

KW: Trying out new headphones...Hello? Can you hear this okay?

GW: Yes I can! How ya doing?

KW: I am fan-tastic! I can’t complain!

GW: Are you at home, where am I calling you at today?

KW: I am at home, just outside Fredericksburg, Virginia.

GW: Great! I write for Grateful Web, based out of Boulder Colorado but today I am calling you from the cornfields of Illinois.  Not too far

KW: Nice!

Keller & the Keels

GW: So, I wanted to talk about the new album SANS.  8 Reimagined tunes plus 1 new one. I recognize a couple of these tracks from the album HOME. What was that? 2003? Can you tell me a little bit more about how you have come to marinate on these tracks and why now?

KW: There is one from the very first record that came out in 1994.  That was is called M&M’s. So many songs, I’ve always been a fan of instrumental music but never really allowed myself to go there, as far as a project goes.  The songs that I wrote recently, they are few and far between. I’m still working on a record of all original new material. It just takes a long time to write songs that I really like, that stick around.  I write songs all the time that go away just as fast as they come in but these songs on SANS, a lot of them were instrumental, solo acoustic pieces that I was playing. I would record them and play them live and then I just stop playing em. I kinda forgot them.  To bring these back up and to put a bass line drum part on some of these songs that have never seen these parts, they almost become like new songs. I think the idea with this record is very, um, more self-indulgent than anything else. Trying to release a compilation of music, something similar to what I would actually listen to which translated into what I listen to, what I play, produce and what I put out are often very different.  That was my self-indulgent logic behind this record.

GW: I get you, that makes sense.  I was listening to Sorry from the Shower - the previous version and then now the new version back to back - this one is so much more cohesive.  It’s always so interesting to watch you grow as an artist because you have been so transparent throughout the years.

KW: Right, that’s cool for saying that. That is very nice

Keller at Lock'n 2018

GW: Oh absolutely! Quick question: so on the new album, you have enhanced it with drums and bass. How about horns? Is that a mouth horn? I couldn’t tell.

KW: No, this is all technology use, really.  There are so many MIDI samples of actual instruments that are sampled.  Then you put that into the keyboard. I’m playing a keyboard, but it’s actually the sound of trumpets and trombones.  With the MIDI, you can put in any pattern you want and then you can just shape the note where it goes on the screen. It’s the most cheating you can actually do.  I’m trying to create this acoustic dance music using acoustic instruments and utilizing the technology of the day which is essentially mind-boggling. If you listen to the radio, you know, anyone can do it.

GW: (a good laugh) I don’t know about that.  It’s pretty overwhelming!

KW: It definitely is but then again, that goes into the stuff that I’m listening to, not necessarily the stuff on the radio, but the study of the production of the newest technology.

Keller at Summer Camp 2010

GW: Did you use your kids’ voices on Sorry from the Shower?

KW: The very last one is called The Cabella Vibe.  The very last track, my kids are all over that, playing and singing. The foundation of that song was a group of cell phone voice memos.  We’re in the basement and I’m playing the drums, my daughter is playing the vibraphone, and my son is on the microphone which has a crateradio if you step on it.  It’s like a karaoke toy with all these crazy super trekky patches that he sings through which shoot his voice up an octave and then dips and does these weird freaky harmonies. So he’s singing and I’m playing drums and she’s playing vibraphones. Then there’s one section where he’s singing, she’s playing drums and I’m playing vibraphones with 3 mallets in each hand like I know what I’m doing ya know. (chuckle) Once we had those samples, we created a song around it. That's got the kids all over it. My boy, you can hear him going, “Stop playing.” Then I feed that into it like, “stop playing. Stop playing. Stop stop stop stop plaaaaayinig.” It had to be done with that. I think my daughter is on there going, “hello! It’s me!” Then I made that like my guitar.

GW: Okay, so THAT is what she is saying!

Keller Williams and his daughter, Ella

KW: Sorry form the Shower, that appeared on the Home record. It was at High Sierra Music Festival in the early 2000’s, my wife was mad at me for something.  I was really up and she was going to sleep and I went and sat in the bathtub with no water in it and made up that song, Sorry from the Shower. (chuckle) It sounded so cool in there because you know, the tile, porcelain, the ceramic I think it had brass floors and I was like yup! Hitting these chimes on my guitar, singing, writing that song.  She didn’t want me to sing to her. Obviously, now, she loves that song.

GW: Well that is a great way to apologize. That is for sure!  How could she still be mad?

KW: MmmmHmm! Yeah, she’s over that. I don’t even know what that was. Wait, yes I know exactly what that was, but we’re not going to get into it. (chuckle)

GW: When you’re writing these songs with no lyrics, how animated you can be, do lyrics still pop up? Obviously, when you’re naming these songs it really gives each song a flavor.

KW: The third song is called Ticks When Told.  That originally had lyrics in it. It was written by my daughter. I think she was 8 or 9 at the time and they’re real deep. It wasn’t enough to make a song out of it so what I did was I did all the lyrics backward as if you were reading from right to left.

GW: Ooooh!

KW: Yeah, really interesting thing to do and sometimes the sentences come out really interesting if you have the right cadence and the right rhythm. But it was just too weird. (chuckle) What I did was I took the melody of that song, with the lyrics in it, and what we do was I sing, “baaadaa daa laaa daaa daaa daa daa” and ran my voice through all kinds of stuff. Now it sounds, my voice on that track but it sounds like a baritone sax and a flute.  That’s the amazing thing of technology, taking a signal and shaping it, turning it into something. The name of this record is SANS that means sans lyrics. It definitely has voices on it, not a whole lot of lyrics.

Keller killin the big crowds

GW: And that is the beauty of acoustic dance music.

KW: That’s right, there’s no rules really, other than acoustic instruments. Those are just my rules.

GW: You make the rules so you can break em?!

KW: Rules are meant to be broken

GW: What is the new track?

KW: The very last one I was telling you about, The Cabella Vibe

GW: Well I just have a couple more questions.  I am in the Chicago land area and I see that you are playing City Winery - I love that place - with Danton Boller?

KW: That’s right.  He is the most amazing upright bass player I’ve ever known or been next to. I am so happy to do a run of shows with him. We will definitely be touching on songs from this new record as well as songs from the SYNC record. It came out last year with my group called Kwatro.  He was also in the band so we’ll be looking at songs from both of those records as well as an assortment of covers and other fun stuff we’ve got planned.

GW: Awesome! I love City Winery, it’s such a nice fancy place for an evening.

KW: I haven’t been to the one in Chicago but I’ve been to a few of the others.

GW: I’m curious how they will compare because I've only been to the one in Chicago. Now obviously, each of your albums is a single syllable that has to do with where you’re at artistically.  As far as collaborating with someone like Danton, then you have your album Dream where you got to play with some people that you describe as ‘heros’, internally, when did you recognize within yourself that you were officially a musician on that level? Where you could do these things?

Keller Williams

KW: As far as the single syllable titles, it just started with the first record and I just continued with that. But um..

GW: You have collaborated with some amazing people…

KW: I think I was able to collaborate with people once I was allowed to. (chuckle) What I mean by that is that the solo act started out as a necessity because the band I was with wanted to take all the money and save it to put it into the record.  I wanted to take all the money and pay my rent. It was more of a necessity. Then the solo act started to work. If something is not broke, don’t fix it so we ran that forever. Once I was able to afford humans, really, is when I was allowed to play with humans - when I could actually pay them. (laughter) That was probably 2002, 2003, 2004. Before that I was more of a solo, an opening act, opening for String Cheese and Umphrey’s, maybe sitting in with them. The actual collaborations with other people came once people started buying tickets. Then I could afford to pay people, humans.  It’s always better working with humans.

Keller Williams


GW: It sure is.  Through your songwriting, one thing that I love about your music is that  I identify with you so much. You’re such a fan of music, and obviously, I’m a fan of music and it makes listening to your music a wonderful experience.  

KW: Aww, thank you. WEIR everywhere!

GW: Yeah! (laughter) I love it! Awesome.  Well, that is all I've got for you today. I hope to see you in November but until then, I wish you all the well, good luck and good fortune on the road.

KW: Well thank you so much fo the press, we love Grateful Web over here. Good Folks

GW: Thanks for chatting with me!

KW: Bye Bye now, Take Care