Keller Williams keeps himself company with his music
In the movie "Multiplicity," Michael Keaton's character clones himself with diminishing returns. Keller Williams, in a fashion, replicates himself at live shows with vastly different results.
Williams will play, for example, a bass line, which is taped and then repeated using a sequencer. Layers are added until it sounds like the Keller Williams Orchestra, not a single musician.
At first, audiences, especially music writers, were confused.
"There were times, without talking to me and understanding it, they would write down there was a drum machine and sampler," says Williams, who performs shows at Mr. Small's Theater on Friday and Saturday, "not really seeing it was recorded right there. I try to make it blatantly obvious it was recorded right there by incorporating some of the audience, getting a little bit of the applause so it loops around, and you can pick it up. But I think a lot of people understood, and the people who didn't understand, that's kind of what made it interesting, too."
Williams is a modern-day version of the street musicians who strapped accordions, banjos, drums, cymbals and other instruments to themselves and created a cacophony of sounds. The difference is his music is infinitely more entertaining and musical. "Stage," Williams' latest release is a live double disc that showcases his work, with one side devoted to "the attentive energy of a seated listening audience" and the other exploring the "seatless dancing party vibe."
Williams' do-it-yourself mentality allows him to shift directions in the middle of any song.
"I can switch around verses, all kinds of stuff you can't do with a band," he says. "If you have a band up there, you have to rely on mental telepathy to do these things, or a little microphone off in a corner that's patched into everyone's earphones, which is a secret of the trade that a lot of bands do."
There are some limitations. Williams says intricate arrangements and chord changes are difficult. The loops are good for one, two or three chord grooves, but anything beyond that is difficult.
"It's kind of like short-attention span stuff," he says, with a laugh. "It's blatantly obvious I have ADD."
If that's so, Williams also is afflicted with a wicked imagination that allows him to reinterpret songs that range from Van Morrison's "Moondance" to the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."
"I don't choose the songs, the songs choose me," he says. "It's pretty much I'm walking around singing it, then I pick up the guitar and it comes really easy."
Williams tries not to do the same show twice, and has recently started paying more attention to his setlists to avoid replication. But the very nature of what he does precludes much repetition, as it is hard to mimic the same loops from show to show. And Williams admits there are "happy accidents" on stage every night.
"Happy accidents is kind of a synonym in my world for jazz," he says, noting one of his influences is jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter. "If it's an accident and it sounds good, it could very well be considered jazz. And I like that, because the real musicians will listen to it and say, 'This dude is a complete poseur.' And I am. I definitely don't have any formal training, I'm pretty much imitating and mocking what I'm hearing." Additional Information:
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Admission: $17; $19 day of show.
Where: Mr. Small's Theater, Millvale.
Details: (412) 821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com .