Q&A: Keller Williams Talks Kids, Hippies, Dreams, and Goats
Keller Williams is the darling troubadour of the jam band world -- a dude that you may have seen in the lot during '90s Dead tours, and are likely to see bouncing around Bonnaroos for years to come. He's grown famous for his uber-fun and trippy one man band performances where he employs multiple instruments on stands and many loop pedals to create multi-layered, improvised mater-pieces night after night.
He typically incorporates his funky originals as well as Dead and Phish songs, and less obvious covers from artists like Amy Winehouse and Snoop Dogg into his sets.
Recently K-Dub (as he is affectionately known to his fans), whose target audience has mostly included the grinning, hippie population, has expanded his musical reach by writing some tunes for the other silly, grinning faction of society -- children.
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His latest album, 2010's appropriately named Kids, offers fourteen cuts which aim to get the kids and their mini-van steering chauffeurs bopping along together. Though he is doing special kids shows in select cities, his stop this weekend at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale will be geared toward the older, hairier kids -- the hippies! Recently County Grind had the chance to chat with Keller about kids, hippies, and such as he built a fire at his Virginia home.
Keller Williams. 8 p.m. Firday, February 25 at Revolution, 100 SW 3 Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $28.10. Click here.
County Grind: Hey Keller, how's it going?
Keller Williams: Good. Did we have something scheduled for today?
Okay, I believe ya. I'm just going to start a fire while I talk to ya.
Okay, that works. I wanted to start by asking you a couple of questions about the Kids album. Which came first, some of the songs or the idea for an album?
I guess the idea for the album came first, then the songs started to come. This was probably seven years ago. I didn't even have kids. Four songs made it to the record that were written even before I had kids. The original inspiration came from a record called Not for Kids Only by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. It showed me that there could be family friendly music enjoyed by folks without kids. Once I had kids they started liking all kinds of music that I don't particularly like, and I guess I wanted to kind of make a record that could get the parents' heads bobbing, you know?
So that the parents wouldn't have to listen to some of the less enjoyable children's music that's out there?
Just so the parents would enjoy it as much as the kids would enjoy it.
I grew up on Raffi. Did you listen to much Raffi?
Once my daughter was born, we were reaching out to any and all children's music just to see what took. And Raffi definitely took. He's not so bad. He's definitely not my favorite, but he is definitely a very, very, very, very rich man (laughs).
What are some of your favorites, besides the Garcia/Grisman record?
Sure. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. He's really, really super funky. And, They Might Be Giants, Dan Zanes... Dan Zanes is cool 'cause he'll play old kids music from the 20's and 30's and revamp 'em.
A lot of contemporary musicians are doing stuff on Nickelodeon. Have you considered trying to get into that scene?
I was fortunate enough to be part of the Super Music Friends segment of Yo Gabba Gabba! Live Tour. We did that to promote this Kids record and also in hopes that we could actually one day actually get on the Yo Gabba Gabba! show. So, yeah, that's definitely been in the thought process, and we'd be very lucky if we could get anything on any kind of show. It's a very coveted spot.
I have a rather long question if you don't mind. All songs have the potential to greatly influence those who are hearing them. It seems that this potential may be greater when the audience is children. Do you feel a greater sense of responsibility when presenting songs to kids, than when you're presenting songs to a more mature audience? I guess the shorter way to ask that question would be: what's the difference between playing for kids and playing for hippies?
I think playing for kids and hippies is very similar (laughs). But the obvious thing is that you are also playing for the parents. There is a certain morality that you have to stick to, and I one hundred percent agree with that. A major difference is the lyrical scenes, and how you present it to the listener. My Kids record, there are a lot of songs where I'm coming at it from a kid's perspective, talking directly to the kids, and not down to them.
On the whole, the theme of the record is kind of coming at it from a kid's perspective. As far as it being more of a responsibility, I was looking at it as more of a camaraderie. I have kids, and I know what I don't want my kids to hear. I was definitely stay true to that. But I wasn't really thinking about the responsibility side of it. The adult shows, the energy is, by far, more intense. And the kids show is more curious, which has its own beauty in itself.
Is your intention the same when songwriting and playing for kids and adults? Are you always aiming to achieve a camaraderie? Is there any sort of intention that you could summarize with your intention to songwriting and playing in general?
Sure. I think for a kids show the idea is to turn the kids on to my kind of music. When the kids see music being made, the actual process, they are leaning a process as well as feeling the energy of the whole group show atmosphere that a lot of us have come to love over the years and passing this on to this generation in a way that's family friendly.
I think for the adult show I'm going directly for entertainment and trying to get the audience to possibly forget the problems that they have maybe in the outside world and reality. Inside is kind of a little more of an entertainment based, forget your problems, have a good time, don't worry...keep it on the positive tip. That's kind of what the difference is, I guess.
There is always an element of fun at your shows. I was wondering if there are ever nights when you aren't feeling particularly fun, and how you handle that, how that works out.
For many years I would do several tours and we would fill as many shows as we possible could with the time that we had. There was almost always five in a row, sometimes six, and we even got into seven in a row the last couple years. On that fifth and sixth night in a row, and even that seventh night, there'd definitely be a little bit of strain on the creative side. But the past year and a half I've adapted the whole weekend warrior mentality. I'm only playing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. That has made me less jaded, so to speak.
It makes the shows more fun when you don't do them all the time. And to answer your question, what did I do on those nights, and like I said they don't happen anymore, but what I did was I would call on my theater experience. Really just look at it as a show. A lot of times on those nights I would throw out any rule books and just play covers, play stuff that I would want to hear. The first thing that I always stayed true to was having to entertain myself. I can't really entertain others unless I'm being entertained.
This is rather unrelated, but something I'm curious about. You have an album named Dream, and a song named "Bob Rules", which is about a Price is Right dream that you had. What is your relationship to your dreams? Is it something that you draw inspiration from often?
Dreams are bizarre, you know? A lot of times when I actually do remember my dreams these days they are definitely something that I don't want to write songs about. Dreams are tricky. The whole dream scenario in the world of songwriting is definitely prevalent and obvious in a lot of cases. It's definitely something that's easy to stem on, and going with a dream to write about. Taking bits and pieces of different dreams...it comes up in my songwriting, for sure.
If I may end with a silly question, in your song "My Neighbor is Happy Again" from the Kids record, there is a line about the two goats going behind the barn, and then there were three goats. I think you may have broken some ground there by writing the first children's song to suggest goat sex. What do you have to say about that?
Well, it's not really focusing on the goats' intercourse, it's focusing on life and how my goat got lonely so I got him a friend and they went behind the barn and now I have three goats, and now they're eating even more grass and all my neighbors trash and I had to dig a moat to keep 'em all in, you know? That's kind of where that was. The idea of trying to do something so different and that is to insinuate goat sex was not in my thought process. And you should be ashamed of yourself (laughs).
I am a little bit ashamed of myself
Yeah, that's a lot of your personality coming through.
Well hey, thanks for chatting, man. Looking forward to the show, as always.
Thank you so much, man.
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