“I’m a weekend man and I have been for the past couple of years now,” Williams offers, speaking by phone from Fredericksburg, Va. “I just go out on weekends and I’m off Sunday through Wednesday nights. I’m very, very lucky to be able to have it this way—it’s working tremendously.”
But we shouldn’t be surprised at his ability to simplify touring life, given that Williams has always done things his way artistically as well. Known for dizzying live shows that find him building songs on a sophisticated looping unit, Williams continuously reworks his own material while covering songs by Queen, Ozzy Osbourne and Big Country to name only a few. On Thursday, March 31, Williams will return to Workplay for an 8 p.m. performance. His most recent project is the aptly titled CD Kids, a collection of children’s songs released in October of last year. I ask Williams when the seed was first planted for the album’s creation.
“I’d say about eight years ago, before I even had kids,” the father of two says. “The first idea came around when I got (1993 album) Not For Kids Only by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. When that came out, I was absorbing anything and everything from the Grateful Dead family and I listened to that record a lot. A lot of people have told me that their kids like my music and it’s playful and that I should do a record. The idea was there and I started making up songs and I made four or five before I even had kids. Once I had kids, the rest of them came around pretty naturally. But, it’s a taken a long time for me to do it. I recorded it and sat on it for a couple of years and released the (side project) Keels record first. The Kids record was already recorded and mastered when the Keels record came out. I was just waiting for the right kind of home for it. It’s been fun and it’s gotten a decent response and we’ve been piggybacking some Saturday night shows with a matinee so I get to play these songs which I would never do at an adult show.”
Those that listen to Kids will hear Williams’ daughter singing alongside him on several tracks. You can hear the pride in Williams’ voice as he recalls the recording experience.
“She was four when we did that—she’s six now and way more grown up. She was uninhibited then,” Williams says. “We just sat on the couch in the studio and put a microphone in front of her and she sang along. There were a couple of songs—‘Hey Little Baby,’ ‘Horse Back Rider’ and ‘The Fastest Song In The World’—where we were actually sitting in a recording booth together. To do those three songs probably took nine minutes.”
In a recording career spanning more than 15 years, Williams has seen numerous changes in the music industry. Though admittedly resistant at first, he is embracing technology’s role both as an artist and music consumer.
“I think if someone wants to hear some kind of music, they can hear it in seconds on their smart phone,” he says. “I have (online music ser vice) Rhapsody on my phone and I’m constantly talking about some act and 15 seconds later I’m listening to it. For me, if something’s not there, I’m surprised, and stuff is usually there when I look for it. For that reason alone, I think it’s amazing to be in this business at this time as far as getting your stuff out. Anyone with a Pro Tools rig can do it, but that’s a beautiful thing, too. In my case, I’ve never really made a lot of money off of record sales, so I’ve always used it as a documentation of where my music is at that time.
The second part is to promote live shows and you can listen to it and hopefully want to come see it live. I’ve always used the Internet to my advantage. It definitely took me a long time to come to grips with CDs being nonimportant. It took me a long time to realize that the digitization of everything was the next step.”
Though Williams is known for shaking things up in the live setting, certain songs still fall in his set lists quite often. I ask him how a longtime fanfavorite song like “Freeker By The Speaker” stays fresh to him night after night.
“You know, it’s impossible, really,” he admits. “If I sing that song in the same key and the same tempo, people will sing along with it and that’s great. I can double-time the music and play it bluegrass, just do it on the bass or just do it with drums in the background—anything and everything I can do to change it up. Sometimes opening up with it keeps it fresh because it’s the first song of the night. Sometimes opening up with it catches people off guard. It’s a 100 percent luxury problem to have a song that people like and they want to hear. There’s a contingent on Facebook that doesn’t like it, but they don’t see me play every night. The people that come see me once a year scream for it. I don’t play it every night, but it’s probably every other night.”
A self-described gearhead and musical sponge, Williams is continually searching for new equipment and new creative outlets.
“I’m always looking at new toys,” he says. “I’ve always had ‘GAS’ and that’s ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome.’ I have found a group of electronics and instruments that really work for me, but I’m always checking stuff out. I’ve been infatuated with the bass for the past couple of years. I’ve got a project that’s a trio with me on bass, and we’re really enjoying the reggae/dub/funk/soca type of stuff. I did just get a new bass that’s pretty cool. It’s definitely a trip to be a bandleader on the bass.”
Whatever projects lay before him, Williams will continue to be defined by his restless artistic spirit. The career freedom he is afforded remains his biggest ally.
“I’m very lucky,” he says. “The solo thing is pretty much what my world is rooted in and that’s what I do the most. The band stuff is the added bonus for me and adds excitement to my world.”
Advance tickets to the all-ages show are $17 - $20 day of the show – and can be purchased at www.workplay.com.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.