Musician Keller Williams performed two shows in Montana in mid-January. Go behind the scenes below with the artist, who released his latest album Sans (SCI Fidelity Records) in October. Williams opined on a range of topics including his new album, Tom Petty, playing in Montana, and real estate.
Montana Press: Why did now seem like the right time to release Sans on SCI Fidelity Records?
Keller Williams: Well it’s something I always wanted to do which is release an instrumental record. As I get older, I wanted to release something similar to what I actually listen to. A lot of stuff that I perform or release isn’t necessarily the type of stuff I listen to. The more recent stuff I perform has been kind of getting closer, a little more on the dance music, acoustic dance music side that is.
MP: How have you evolved musically over the last two decades to where you are now?
KW: I would say the lyrics have evolved more into comedy. Or at least they’ve evolved into what I think is funny. I think musically I’m trying to go a little more toward the “less is more” idea and try not to be so busy musically in the recordings. I think I’ve definitely accepted the audience as a member of the band and keep them in on the jokes. I definitely have a true connection when the folks are really listening and I can toss in some inside jokes in the songs. That’s definitely evolved in 20 years.
MP: You have a myriad of music projects on the go. Is there a feeling out process to see if it’s going to work or not?
KW: It starts with knowing what you’re getting into before it happens. It’s definitely a comfort level that exists before the project even begins. The more you play live with the same people the tighter it gets. When it starts out really tight you know it’s going to go nowhere but up and better. That’s the way it’s been with this new project called PettyGrass that I’ve been doing.
MP: How did the Pettygrass project come about?
KW: Every December 26 in Fredericksburg, Virginia I do a benefit. It’s for the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and every year I try and do a different project for this benefit. In 2015 I was doing PettyGrass with Jeff Covert on guitar and Jay Starling on dobro. I was playing bass and singing harmonies. Just taking all the Petty hits and doing them bluegrass.
Then skip ahead two years later when Petty dies and I’m doing this Sans record and I couldn’t focus. I was in shock. So we took the voice memo recordings of rehearsing for that 2015 benefit and mastered them and released them on SoundCloud. The Hillbenders picked up on it and long story short they talked me into doing this project. I’m really glad they did because it’s really super fun and a celebration of his songs.
MP: You grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. What was the music scene like growing up there?
KW: We had our share of bluegrass musicians. In the ‘80s was the glory time of the solo acoustic guitar guy in the corner of the restaurant or the bar. You don’t see that very much anymore. Then there was the arrival of go-go music. Go-go music is a heavy D.C. thing with a lot of heavy rhythm bass, lots of bongos and percussion. It’s usually like a one-chord groove where everyone is just dancing. So it was like a mixture of bluegrass and go-go music.
MP: How have the shows gone in 2018 and what does the touring schedule look like for next year?
KW: I have a great time. I’m usually gone the morning of the Thursday and usually home on the afternoon of a Sunday. It’s a great life. I’m very grateful to be able to do what I love and then go home and be with the family for a couple of days. I’m looking at about 100 shows a year until 2037 is when I can cash in my 401K, so that’s what I’m looking at.
MP: What can fans expect from these upcoming shows in Montana?
KW: These are going to be solo shows. And they can count on a wide selection of songs off my 23 records. They can count on some covers that they recognize but they might be done in a different way. They can expect hopefully open-minded hairy people smiling and bumping into each other.
MP: Do you have fond memories of playing Montana?
KW: I remember playing either Bozeman or Missoula but it was a long time ago. It was like an atrium that had a bunch of mailboxes, college mailboxes. College kids would step over my pedals to go get their mail. That’s a Montana memory of the early days.
MP: Has Keller Williams Realty ever approached you for a jingle?
KW: I did get a cease and desist letter, well not a cease and desist. It was 1996, they had just come to the East Coast and I was playing weekly at a couple of places in Virginia Beach. People were pulling up signs out of the ground and bringing them to the stage and putting them on the back of the stage with mud still on them. So I got a very polite letter from Keller Williams Realty Company asking me to kindly ask people to not pull up their signs anymore. My mother wrote them back and demanded they hire me and pay me an exorbitant amount of money to play at their convention. So we never heard from them again.