"I miss the ubiquity of live music. Seven nights a week there were little combos in bars, concert bands in the park, community marching bands, jazz groups at weddings and parties. Most of the music we consume now is recorded, so I worry the traditions of playing live will be forgotten or lost. I remain hopeful that humanity’s need for music will keep it all alive, though perhaps much different than before."
The Hungry Williams: Brand New Thing
The Hungry Williams play music that puts a smile on your face and aspring in your step. Legendary Midwest drummer and leader John Carr has assembled a group of like-minded R&B gurus who deliver the goods. Lead singer Kelli Gonzalez belts it out of the park with sass and charm, while the rest of the core group including Mike Sieger on bass, Joe Vent on guitar, and Jack Stewart on keys make it jump all night long. With a sax section adding grease to the skillet, the Hungry Williams rock, swing, jump, and stroll at every show, making sure everyone takes some time to leave their worries behind and have some fun. Their debut album “Brand New Thing” released in 2019.
(Photo: The Hungry Williams)
John Carr on drums, born at an early age, John started out carrying his dad’s drums whenever he could. One day, it occurred to him to set them up and play them. 35 years later, John has played with innumerable bands in every style imaginable: the Swingin’ Kools, Blue in the Face, the Subcontinentals, the Carolinas, the Masonic Wonders, the Uptown Savages, and jazz legend Chuck Hedges. John’s true passion remains hauling gear around. Kelli Gonzalez on lead vocalist is an encyclopedia of music, ably singing anything you ask her to, with the soul of someone twice her age. She consistently knocks it out of the park with the Hungry Williams, just as she does with her other groups: Kelli & the Soul Mates, Shut the Front Door, and the Subcontinentals.
How has the Swing and R n' B music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
John: Swing and R ’n’ B is the music for when you need to set aside your worries and have fun. Dance, sing, smile, laugh, if only for a little while. That’s what this music has taught me: you only live once, and life can be hard, so celebrate when you can. Be in the moment.
Kelli: For me, I love how Swing & R&B sounds so carefree and joyful. There is no way to stay still while you are listening to it. I have played many genres of music and this type is my all time favorite.
How do you describe band's sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does creative drive come from?
John: We zero in on the style between the big band swing era and the rock ’n’ roll revolution that started in the 50s. Saxophonists were the guitar heroes of their day, so the horns are a big feature of our band. The rhythms and grooves of New Orleans are a particular fascination for me, so I try to do as much of that as I can. Groovy music makes people move, and that movement unburdens your soul. That’s our philosophy: get moving, have fun. My creative drive comes from simply loving to play music. I grew up watching my dad do it, and I’ve wanted to join in for as long as I remember. That hasn’t diminished.
How do you describe "Brand New Thing" sound and songbook? What is the story behind band's name?
Kelli: I definitely think that "Brand New Thing” has a new/old sound, if that makes sense. I think that we put fresh spins on classics and also are able to write songs in the same vein but are also unique to us. Our band name was imagined by our dummer, John Carr. He is the reason that we are The Hungry Williams. He Has a love of New Orleans/swing music and lists the drummer, Charles “Hungry” Wiliams as one of his idols. When he decided to start the band, he thought the name would be a great fit.
"The Milwaukee music scene always reminds me of the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon-everybody knows everybody somehow. We are a pretty small community and I find that the musicians all respect and support each other." (Photo: The Hungry Williams)
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
John: Years ago, Kelli, Mike, and I played a wedding that featured pagan Morris dancing, a big hairy guy in a pink dress, a guy dressed as a tree, Swedish folk dancing, group singalongs, skits, a guy wearing skis, and informative lectures to accompany all of it. Oh, and the zydeco band we were in. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. Weirdest gig EVER.
Kelli: I played an outdoor gig in a park a few years ago, and the people running the event thought that it would be a great idea to empty the port a potties right as we were set to play. It was very strange to see the entire audience plug their noses when we hit the first note.
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
John: I miss the ubiquity of live music. Seven nights a week there were little combos in bars, concert bands in the park, community marching bands, jazz groups at weddings and parties. Most of the music we consume now is recorded, so I worry the traditions of playing live will be forgotten or lost. I remain hopeful that humanity’s need for music will keep it all alive, though perhaps much different than before.
Kelli: I miss the rawness of old records. There is nothing better than hearing a song that was done in one take. That is perfection to me, even if it isn’t. It’s too easy to fix a mistake now. That takes a little bit of magic out of it for me. My biggest fear is that more and more live venues close down.
What would you say characterizes Milwaukee music scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?
John: Well, I’ve lived here my entire life, so I don’t have much to compare to. That said, Milwaukee has an interesting blend of jazz, blues, R&B, and gospel, that usually operate independently in their own scenes. On those occasions when they all come together, it’s glorious. Also, we’ve got WMSE, a fabulous indie radio station.
Kelli: The Milwaukee music scene always reminds me of the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon-everybody knows everybody somehow. We are a pretty small community and I find that the musicians all respect and support each other. (Photo: The Hungry Williams)
"I miss the rawness of old records. There is nothing better than hearing a song that was done in one take. That is perfection to me, even if it isn’t. It’s too easy to fix a mistake now. That takes a little bit of magic out of it for me. My biggest fear is that more and more live venues close down."
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
John: I learn all my life lessons in music first. Perseverance, above all, but also what it means to be an expressive human. Music is the one thing in life that gives back exactly what you put into it.
Kelli: I think that it has gotten a million times better than when I first started playing music in the 90’s. It was almost like a novelty to have a “chick" in your band. I have been really fortunate to work with people who just treat me like me.
What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?
John: It has to be noted that almost all American music comes directly from African-American traditions. Any serious musician has to know this. Elvis Presley invented rock ’n roll? Um, no. He was a great singer, though. I couldn’t pin it down to one person, but I think Little Richard arguably did more than anyone to create the rock ’n’ roll we know today. So, what socio-cultural effects does American music have? It forces a reckoning with race in America. You want to talk about American music? Then you have to talk about racial division in America.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
John: Well, as a history buff, I’d want to be in Rome around 10 AD, but that’s a whole different conversation. Musically, I want to be in J&M Studio on North Rampart St., New Orleans on September 14th, 1955, to see and hear Little Richard record “Tutti Frutti”.
Kelli: I would love to go back to February 9th, 1964 to be in the audience of the Ed Sullivan show. I cannot imagine what it would have been like seeing The Beatles for the first time. I would have been one of the crying, fainting girls for sure.
(Photo: The Hungry Williams)
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