By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // KWahtro is the latest project from Keller Williams
Keller Williams has always blazed his own trail and is happily kicking 2017 off in the same spirit, launching a new project and releasing two albums on Friday.
Williams rolls into the Pacific Northwest this week with three shows in support of the releases and his new project titled KWahtro. He starts off in Eugene Thursday, hits Portland Friday, and is in Seattle on Saturday.
Never been one to follow convention, Keller has become somewhat legendary for his multi-faceted solo shows where he creates samples on the fly with an acoustic guitar and vocals. No two shows are ever the same and sometimes even new songs only survive a few test runs before being dropped and left behind on the road.
What emerged from this strategy is a strange mashup of electronica, folk, and generally free-flowing playing where Williams lays down an improvised groove to get people moving their feet and bodies.
As Williams describes it, KWahtro is the natural evolution of this style featured on the album "SYNC", which is being released under the name Keller Williams' KWahtro.
"The idea behind the project was to try to create acoustic dance music," Williams told me by phone last week.
In recording the album, the goal was to borrow from the formula of electronic dance music and merge it with his own acoustic style.
"What came out was more of a groovy, acoustic acid jazz that I'm quite proud of."
Joining Williams in the project are Gibb Droll, Danton Boller, and Rodney Holmes.
Fans of Williams know he titles each release with a single syllable word that best describes an album, and the two releases this week continue this tradition.
"SYNC" refers to the process of how the album and its individual tracks were recorded. Each performer recorded their own portion of a song before passing it along to the next person.
"All the tracks were recorded separately, but somehow they came together," he explains.
Hategreedlove is a perfect example of how the various pieces merged into the final album. Although the song had humble roots as a finger-picking folk song, the version that landed on the album has undertones of reggae with a dubstep foundation. Keep in mind, this was accomplished using only acoustic instruments.
The bottom end of Hategreedlove is held together with two tracks of an acoustic double bass, one bowed and the other plucked.
"A good bowed acoustic bass can get kind of close to the tones in electronic dance music, that low warpy bass that you hear. I really like (that sound), when the bowed bass is grindy and gritty," Williams tells me.
In addition to the bass, the track includes cello and violin adding lush layers that alternate between sweeping harmony and sharp accents. The end result is darkly orchestral, mirroring the tensions found in the lyrics as hate, greed, and love battle for supremacy.
Stylistically, "RAW", the second album being released Friday resides in a parallel universe connected to "SYNC" only through their shared acoustic heritages.
"RAW" has roots in a 2011 project that was eventually scrapped when Williams decided the concept behind the album, 12 songs with 12 acoustic guitars, wasn't shaping up as envisioned.
But when Leo Kottke approached Williams last year about a series of dates this winter and spring, Williams found himself searching for new material that would work in his native solo acoustic format.
He went back to the abandoned 2011 recordings and picked out a few songs that represented what he would be doing with Kottke. After writing a couple more songs, "RAW" finally came together.
As the title implies, "RAW" is as straight-forward as it gets: a player with his acoustic guitar.
It also speaks directly to how Williams approaches his craft.
"The focus is documenting what's going on with me and my music, trying to get the most pristine and most executed recording I can just for my own documentation. It's fun that some people buy them, it's an added bonus."
ON TOUR: Keller Williams and KWahtro make three Pacific Northwest appearances beginning Thursday Jan. 19th in Eugene at Wow Hall. On Friday, they appear in Portland at the Wonder Ballroom before heading to Seattle on Saturday to play the Nectar Lounge. Tickets for all three shows are available