For our interview, Keller Williams takes a break from recording his radio show, Keller’s Cellar, at his Fredericksburg, Va., home base. The show (which can be accessed through kellerwilliams.net) is much like Williams’ work as a musician: Eclectic doesn’t even begin to describe it.
“It’s a 59-minute, self-indulgent mix tape of stuff I’m into,” Williams says. “And it don’t cost nothin’, to you or to anybody else. To me, it’s a very expensive hobby.”
Keller’s Cellar is just another piece of the holographic musical jigsaw puzzle that Williams has been assembling since the early ’90s. Influenced by and, to a certain extent, modeled after the Grateful Dead, Williams’ output reflects the panorama of American music as he crafts his unique musical vision utilizing Bluegrass, Prog, Alternative Rock, Jam, Jazz, Folk, Blues and anything else that strikes his fancy.
Williams’ latest album, the appropriately titled Odd, is no exception, although it might stand as the most focused refinement on his ADD style shifts.
“I like that the Jazz sounds like Jazz and the Dance sounds like Dance,” Williams says. “My love for music is definitely flowing through my records and when I listen to it, there’s some substance, at least for my ear.”
Still, Odd is an oddity even within Williams’ expansive catalog, from its roll call of disparate genres to its Doom Metal cover art depicting him as a bulked up barbarian riding a dragon through the Apocalypse.
“It’s slightly odder than the others,” Williams says. “(The cover) was inspired by the song ‘Elephorse,’ which is of course a cross between an elephant and a horse. Not to be confused with the cover. What I’m riding is the multi-headed beast.”
That kind of nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor is a consistent element of Williams’ repertoire, but not to the extent that he edges toward novelty status. His funny side has an organic way of leaking out.
“Nothing is ever forced as far as songwriting goes for me and everything that comes out lyrically just comes out,” Williams says. “It’s not like I’m trying to do it, it just happens to be tongue-in-cheek. A plethora of new songs have come to me in the last six months, and each one is not to be taken seriously. I take having fun very seriously, and I don’t ever take this business too seriously.”
Besides its diversity and off-center irreverence, Odd is typical of Williams’ work ethic in that he tends to write until he has enough material for an album, rather than deciding it’s time to make an album and writing with that purpose in mind.
“I didn’t really expect anything, these were just the songs that were there for this record,” he says. “All of them, with the exception of ‘Environmental Song,’ were road-tested over the course of a couple of years. And the Dance track, ‘Spartan Darn It,’ is an old song I’ve been doing acoustic; the way it ended up on the record is completely different from how it originated.”
Williams also notes that his songwriting methods have changed slightly, with a shift to a more spontaneous, creative way of working.
“My writing process is evolving into a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing,” he says. “ ‘Doobie in My Pocket’ is kind of a stream-of-consciousness thing. There’s a lot of that coming to the forefront. The rest of it is pretty much starting with a hook or a chorus and making it up from there. For this record, it was just about abandoning any rules and keep the vibe and the flow all the same and just going totally left turns.”
Another of Williams’ avowed influences, among a list he characterizes as “countless,” is late, great guitarist Michael Hedges. It’s easy to see the parallels; Williams shares Hedges’ passion for all musical styles and has crafted an engaging live show that reflects Hedges’ phenomenal showmanship.
“The way he was able to command the attention of an audience with just him and a guitar,” Williams says of Hedges’ impact on his own work. “And his funky side and his right-hand rhythmic pattern. And the way he made a cover song his own.”
Williams’ point of departure is the extent to which he has taken the concept of playing solo. While he has played with bands in the past (among them the Yonder Mountain String Band, String Cheese Incident and the Keels), the majority of Williams’ stage time finds him alone with his looping effects and pedal controls. It is an impressive display that has earned him a legion of rabidly loyal fans that he in turn wants to please, sometimes too much.
“I get in trouble with wanting to play more than I’m actually allowed,” Williams says. “There’s a big worry in my world of me over-saturating markets and people hold me back from playing more than once a year in specific markets. And I just want to get out and play.”
KELLER WILLIAMS plays Bogart’s at 8 p.m. Saturday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.