Interview: Keller Williams freeks out

Keller Williams 2.0: The singer has become a ‘Once a Week Freek’

(From The Guide, 3/5/10) Keller Williams’ last local show was his 2008 New Year’s Eve gig at the Shoreline Ballroom on Hilton Head Island. The musician — known as a one-man jam band for his ability to play and loop different instruments — put together a three-pronged show that featured a regular set, an all-request set and a bonus set of “grunge-grass,” his name for bluegrass versions of ’90s hits from Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and the like.

And even though Williams is of the genus of musicians who treats every show like a unique moment meant to be shared by tapers, you won’t find the Hilton Head appearance in the vast pantheon of his music online.

“I was thinking about releasing it, but got talked out of it due to all the licensing issues that have happened to Pearl Jam and Nirvana,” he said. “They keep that stuff pretty close to the chest. But I might sneak it in in my ‘Once a Week Freek.’ ”

Keller Williams

When: 9 p.m. March 6

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St., Savannah

Tickets: $20 in advance, $23 at the door

Information: 912-233-1192, www.livewiremusichall.com

That “Freek” is basically Keller Williams 2.0. After a 16-year career spent holding on to the traditional concept of the “album” as a physical and complete identity, Williams last summer decided to start selling individual tracks of unreleased studio material, outtakes and live shows through his site.

“That was just me finally coming to grips with the digital downloading world,” Williams said. “I’ve been bringing along a group of people who record (a show) and put it on disc and sell it right away. I think that’s great. But it’s not something I was eager to get into, the whole downloading idea and the absence of the idea of the album (as) a group of songs put together in an order and meant to be heard in that order. Now what happens is that album is up and you can just choose what you want off of it.”

The experiment is an example of the dilemma many musicians are facing as fans turn away from record stores and turn on iTunes instead. Williams uploads one song a week that fans can download for 99 cents. The releases include his latest album, last year’s “Odd,” which appeared on the site a track at a time before it was available as a hard copy.

Williams said the venture isn’t a huge moneymaker, but it’s been great to pore over his old catalog and pick out gems from his early days, like recordings from a pool hall 15 years ago where you can hear the cue ball hitting the rack and bottles clinking against the trash can. It could be the model for all music distirbution in the future.

But for now, Williams still has two old-fashioned albums in the works. The first, “Thief,” is a follow-up to his 2006 album “Grass” with Larry and Jenny Keel, an all-covers set that’s due out in May. The second is an album of kids’ music he’s been sitting on for a while.

“I’m holding on to that romantic idea of the record,” he said. “There’s still some people who want the compilation and the artwork and to hear it the way it was meant to be heard.”


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