Ed Williams is the pedal steel guitar player for New Orleans-based rock band the Revivalists. The Revivalists put on a dynamic and energetic live show. Ed recently discussed touring with Gov’t Mule and his love of New Orleans Jazz Fest. The Revivalists are playing the 2013 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Saturday, May 4 at 11:20 a.m. on the Gentilly Stage. For more information, check out The Revivalists website. Get to know more of the great artists playing this year in our other Jazz Fest interviews with Ed Volker and Marcia Ball!
McClain: What first got you interested in playing pedal steel? How did it happen?
Ed Williams: When I was a teenager. I played a lot of instruments growing up. I heard this guy named Chuck Campbell play. He really blew me away with the way he played the instrument. He could really make it sing. I looked into more of the instrument, the old school players and some of the new school guys. I decided that it was what I wanted to play. I asked around a little bit. I’m from New York and this guy Bob Hopner was a good teacher. He helped me get a steel together and taught me some lessons. Ever since I’ve first played, it’s just been like an addiction ever since.
M: That’s got to be fun, because you can make so many different sounds and tones out of it. That’s what’s nice about it, the range of it, right?
EW: Yeah, that’s what I really love about it. You can emulate really anything, especially when using little tricks like an evo. You can make it sound like a cello or a violin. If you want to, you can do some horn emulations. The main way that I play is mostly guitar and vocal emulations and kind of work in the organ-y, steel sound, the classic steel sound. I love the fact that, if you put your mind to it, you can make any noise you want out of it. It’s pretty cool. I’m always finding new, neat little things. You’re always discovering new ways to make different articulations of the way that you want it to sound. You can make it just the way that you want it. You have a lot of options.
M: It’s nice to be able to have so many things you can do with it.
EW: Yeah. There are a lot of people in the Revivalists. Sometimes maybe what is needed is an extra organ part or even a synth-y type part. I can use electronics to get weirder sounds or even do classic rock guitar stuff. There’s just a ton of options with the way that you approach the instrument. I wish more people would play it. People think that it is hard. It’s not. It’s just as hard as anything else. You’ve got to put time and passion into it. You get just as much out of it as you would any other instrument.
M: You have so many people onstage, but your sound never sounds cluttered. That’s what I like about it. It’s always really clean. I think in a lot of bands, there is too much noise going on. It doesn’t really add up to much. You guys have gotten extremely good at being tight, even with so many people onstage.
EW: Yeah. It’s something that when you grow over time, we’ve all find this way to grow together. Everyone puts their part in and you try not to clutter things, and keep everything real tight. That’s one of our main goals for the live show. You have to be that way, or else you are just not going to put on a good live show. That’s our number one priority. We want the people coming to the live show to be witnessing something that is not the norm. We’re trying to constantly make that better and tighter. We obviously concentrate on the songs all the time, but the live show is one thing that we take very seriously. You’ve got to be tight. You have to work on that stuff, or it’s not going to be as good.
M: It really comes off well. People see you, and they get it. It’s so awesome to see people understanding what you are doing. That’s got to be an amazing feeling, having people wanting to work with you. To go from jamming out in NOLA, to Ben producing your album, to Warren hanging out with you.
EW: Yeah, it’s been a pretty crazy roller coaster ride for all of us lately. For us, we’re kind of caught in the day-to-day aspects of it. We’re very excited with all the things that have changed. For us, it’s like we just have to make sure we are doing the same thing every day and just making sure that the live show is great, and everything that we are putting out there is great. We just hope it continues. It’s been a roller coaster lately, ever since we hooked up with Ben. He was our number one choice for the album. We really loved what he did with Trombone Shorty, and we really loved what he did with Galactic’s albums. We weren’t sure if he would really want to work with us. He really was our number one. When he did, we were really excited. We thought the album came out great. When we paired up with Warren and Gov’t Mule, that was huge for us, to get in front of those crowds and really step it up a notch.
M: It’s got to be fun branching out to those crowds. It’s amazing to see you guys really getting up there. You guys deserve everything and it’s so wonderful to see that.
EW: I appreciate that, man. It was great. Our first show with them was in L.A., where we are heading to right now. We love playing festivals and doing that, but this was one of our biggest shows because of what it meant. It was our first show with a big, big band. We got great reception from the crowds on that whole tour. Warren and Gov’t Mule’s team were just great to us. The most awesome people, the nicest crew ever. It was really an awesome experience for us to be a part of that. The fact that we were there meant that we were doing something right, and that they appreciated what we were doing. It meant a lot to us, getting up with Mule and jamming. Some of us got to sit-in. It was an amazing experience.
M: That is an amazing experience. For you, it kind of validates what you know about yourself.
EW: Well, it was a big break for us. It was great to team up with Hardhead and Gov’t Mule. We are actually going on another seven show run with them pretty soon, right before Jazz Fest, in between Wanee and Jazz Fest. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It makes you feel good that you’ve made it that far. You just got to keep going, you can’t stop. We tour consistently. We’re just trying to be road warriors and play as many shows and get in front of as many people as we can.
M: From day one, you’ve always been about quality live shows. That’s just the way it goes in NOLA. When you play in NOLA, you’ve got to bring the heat live.
EW: Oh yeah, absolutely. New Orleans does not mess around when it comes to that. You have to be great, because everyone around you is that great. You learn from that. We were all there young, when we started college. We took that New Orleans sound into the way we play. One of the reasons we believe that we were able to kick it up a notch in our live show is because we weren’t out there saying, “We need a pedal steel player, we need a saxophone player or trumpet player or key player. ” It was just like, “Man, I know this guy and he is really good at playing his instrument. We should play.” It just kind of expanded off that. Each person in that band brings their style to the live show. We have a lot of different people who can do a lot of great things, like Mike. He’s our keys and trumpet player. We have that many more weapons to use when we are putting on a live show.
M: It’s nice. Mike really brings a different slant on things.
EW: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the things, we all come from a different musical background. We all love the classic rock. We all have the same favorites. We all have different musical personalities. Everybody comes from a different musical angle. Everybody adds their flavor to the live show. We can go from doing a sultry ballad to completely doing a sacred steel type jam. It could be in the same song. It’s one of those things that is interesting for us. We are able to switch it up a lot.
M: You guys are touring all the time. You want to keep invested in the music.
EW: Absolutely, maybe change the way you approach a solo one way. You kind of try and change things up just to keep it fresh.
M: With all your shows coming up, what are you most looking forward to on the calendar? Jazz Fest is coming up.
EW: Jazz Fest is a great one. I love playing Jazz Fest. Crowds there are always so receptive. They are there to really check out new bands. The festival is put on great, the way that everything is laid out and taken care of. Obviously, the food is great, too. I don’t think I can go one day at Jazz Fest without eating a piece of crawfish bread.
M: You can’t. It’s impossible.
EW: We just love playing it. When we first started playing music in New Orleans, the first time we got to play Jazz Fest was such a great experience. I’ll always remember that as one of the big moments for me in my very, very short career. It was one of the big ones for me. We just love playing Jazz Fest. It’s just a ton of fun, since we live there, to have all of our people there. They can’t always be everywhere with us. We have a lot of festivals coming up. We’re playing Mountain Jam, Governor’s Ball. The Gov’t Mule run, that’s also something that is going to be fun for us that is coming up the day before we play at Jazz Fest at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on May 3.
All photos courtesy of www.revivalists.com