ANYONE familiar with the work of Keller Williams knows one big thing about him: he’s never been too concerned with labels. His career has taken him in many different musical directions, but they’ve all been on his terms. Williams is eclectic in the truest sense of the word, but he’s often grouped in to the jam band world by association. Truly, he is a musical chameleon who is always doing brilliantly left-field.
To say he’s always doing something new is admittedly an understatement. Williams released three albums in the past year alone—two solo and one with a project called Keller Williams & the Keels. It seems as if he reinvents himself at every possible turn, which is perhaps why he’s been able to thrive both professionally and creatively since his debut album in 1994. He has proven himself to be one of the most prolific and diverse artists in modern history, and the quality has always matched the quantity.
Williams is currently touring, which he never really stops doing, and will land at Southbound Brewing on Fri., Dec. 27. We caught up with him ahead of the show for an in-depth conversation about his career so far.
You’ve made so many records and you tour so much; it’s really amazing to witness. How do you find the balance between all of that?
Well, thank you! The balance comes from taking on, over the past decade, the weekend warrior mentality. I’m focusing Thursday/Friday/Saturday, which is the optimal time to play. When you’re booking a tour, you lease a tour bus. So on nights off, you’re still paying for the bus, which is why bands play six nights a week.
Right, you have to stay on the road to sustain it.
Exactly. And that’s just really difficult and taxing, both physically and mentally. And those early-week shows aren’t very well attended because it’s a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. For us, [the idea is to] focus on the good nights. I have two kids, 11 and 15. Both kids definitely slept in the back of tour buses. Those buses had giant diesel engines that would rumble so they’d sleep like angels, but once it was time to get them in school, we took on the weekend warrior mentality.
I’m usually gone from Thursday morning to Sunday evening, and Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday is where that balance comes in. I’m excited to go play music on the weekends, but then I can come home and really decompress. Tuesdays I definitely jump in and really focus on what’s happening. If there’s a project, I make sure I’m up on that material. But those days are kind of like a normal person’s weekend [laughs].
Is the spark still there for you after all these years, creatively speaking?
The spark is definitely still there, for sure. I live for that audience reaction and communication—I give it to them and they give it back. I think without it, I would perish. I haven’t taken more than, like, two weeks off ever. But when I was touring all of the time, that first week off would be complete decompression. And the second week would be, just angst [laughs]. That’s when all of my songs were written, in that second week off.
The songwriting has definitely been cut down over the past decade or so.
Nowadays, do you write on a project-to-project basis?
No, it’s more like I have a backlog of songs that never got recorded, and I’ll go through these inspirational bursts and fill it out. But each record takes a bit of a theme, so the three this past year—there was an instrumental record called Sans and then one in March called Add. This recent one with The Keels is a bunch of covered that kind of attacked my brain.
You tend to jump from project to project, and you execute your ideas so well. I think that's something that takes a lot of focus, because we all have plenty of ideas but the execution is where people tend to duck out. Do you feel that doing this for so long has given you a sort of confidence that has allowed you to follow through on these projects?
I do, and it all starts in a very self-indulgent way of wanting to entertain myself. I've always been very adamant about that. If it starts becoming not fun, then it goes away.
All of this being said, are there any records or projects planned for the new year that you can talk about? Anything you're particularly looking forward to?
You kind of caught me at a spot where, as I said, I just put out three records this year, and I have a room in my basement that's floor-to-ceiling with product [laughs]. So we're trying to play catch up. I'm slowly writing songs, but I've got nothing really in the future other than my 110 shows a year that I do every year. It's kind of a neutral period right now, and I don't think I'm in a rush to release anything.
It must feel good to be in that place, though!
It does! It feels great. It's also great to have a vision and an idea, and something to work for. I'm sure that'll come, I'm just not forcing anything right now, you know?