Courtesy of Melissa T. Colombo
Keller Williams is the definition of a one-man band. With his live-phrase sampling technique, he produces as much sound as a typical band with several members.
“What happens is I step on a button, and I sing something, or I play something, and I step on the button again in the right time and it repeats what I just played or sang,” Williams said. “Once that initial loop is created, then I can layer in a drum line or a bass line, then I can solo over top of it. Nothing is prerecorded. Everything is created on stage in front of the audience.”
Williams is scheduled to display this technique when he performs at the Newport Music Hall Friday at 8 p.m.
While Williams’ style is rooted in solo acoustic guitar and vocals, his music is so diverse that it is nearly impossible to place him into a single genre.
“It slips into acoustic dance music, just teetering on the edge of electronica.” Williams said of his playing style at his solo shows.
With a vast array of different instruments ranging from guitars and bass guitars to drum pads and maracas, Williams’ stage set resembles a music store or a pawn shop. He displays his talent and versatility by playing each one of them skillfully during his performances.
“Keller makes the stage his own musical playground, dancing barefoot as he moves from one instrument to another,” wrote Andrew McConnel in a concert review on TheOtherPerspective.net.
Throughout his career, which began in the early ‘90s, Williams has released 16 albums and along the way, he has demonstrated his musical range.
“I’ve been given the freedom to go in so many different directions to satisfy my jones,” Williams said. “I have a rock band, a four-piece that does rock-jazz improv type of fusion. There’s a couple different bluegrass projects, there’s a solo project. There’s a lot of really fun different directions I can go. It’s never really been a problem figuring out which direction.”
Among these side projects are The Keller Williams Incident, which was a collaboration with jam-band The String Cheese Incident, Kdubalicious, which is a reggae project, and Keller and the Keels, which is a folk/bluegrass project. He also created Keller Plays for Kids, a project devoted entirely to young children.
Unlike some artists who write music to please the masses, Williams explained that he creates music as “a meager way to entertain myself.”
“It’s pretty much a self-indulgent thing I do to kind of document my own music from where I was in that headspace at that time,” Williams said. “I often give myself writing assignments to kind of challenge myself to do something different. Like, write a song about pain, or write a bluegrass science fiction song.”
Whereas most artists will do a tour to support the release of an album, Williams is actually more likely to play old songs than those on his newest album.
“Releasing (music) to the public is a means of putting it to bed, so to speak,” Williams said. “Once it’s recorded the first time, it feels like I can move away from it, and go back and visit it every once in awhile on stage.”
Williams will be releasing his 17th album, “Bass,” Dec. 13. It will be the first album Williams has released that features him playing only the bass guitar.
On the same day, Williams will also release “Keys,” which will be available as a digital download only.
“Keys” will feature Williams covering Grateful Dead songs on solo piano and vocals. All proceeds from this album will go the Rex Foundation, a charity started by the Grateful Dead in 1983 which supports creativity through the arts and education.
Austin Brown, a fourth-year in psychology, has seen Williams perform before and enjoyed the show.
“He’s a pretty cool guy,” Brown said. “I like how it’s just him and nobody else. I like his style of a one-man solo act.”
As is typical of many touring musicians, Williams said that one of the hardest parts of being on the road is being forced to spend time away from his family. However, Williams now only schedules his performances on the weekends. That way he can return home to be with his family during the week.
“It’s pretty much a routine that we’ve gotten in, so I feel very lucky,” Williams said. “I’m just so incredibly grateful to be able to do what I love and make a living out of it. And there really isn’t a whole lot of difficult things in my world right now. Life is really wonderful.”