With less than a half-dozen upcoming shows on the books, Anderson East is approaching his first significant break from the road in ages. "From the time we put out that last record until now, we've done just shy of about 300 shows a year," he tells Chris Shiflett during this week's episode of Walking the Floor, which focuses on East's career as a full-throated soul singer and recording engineer. Recorded after a string of opening dates for Chris Stapleton's summer tour, the podcast catches Anderson during a rare lull in an otherwise chaotic schedule, with an album cycle winding to a close and a new record approaching in early 2018.
As usual, we're premiering the episode here at Rolling Stone Country, while also offering a quick rundown of highlights from the pair's conversation.
East prefers playing indoors.
Since signing with Dave Cobb's record label, Anderson East has shared shows with some of the producer's A-list clients, including Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. After wrapping up a handful of summertime dates with Stapleton, though, East is ready to get back to his beloved club and theater shows. The acoustics always seem to be better inside. "All the crowds on this past tour we've done with [Stapleton] have been awesome," he enthuses. "Sonically, though, I don't really get it – playing outside."
His strength as a live performer – and a well-timed bathroom break – caught the attention of producer Dave Cobb.
East was still an independent musician when he booked a show at the Bluebird Cafe, the famous Nashville venue where Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift launched their careers. Cobb was in the audience, interested in catching one of the other musicians on the bill. It was East, though, who left the bigger impression. "[Dave] came to see [my friend] sing," East admits. "I drank too much onstage, and it was one of those writer-in-the-round things, and when it was my turn, I got up to go take a piss and made everybody wait. That's how we met." When East returned to the bathroom, he ripped into one of his original songs, and Cobb was sold. They became friends that night.
He's a top-shelf recording engineer.
After logging two years in the recording program at MTSU, East headed north to Nashville, where he began freelancing as a studio engineer. He cut his teeth on albums by a handful of CCM artists, then broadened his reach after opening his own studio with a friend. The two produced several dozen albums in that space, including Kelsey Waldon's The Goldmine. "Me and my guitar player, Scotty [Murray], we started a studio," East explains. "[Dave] had a house where we cut Delilah at, and it was a stone's throw from [my house]. The Church of Christ owned the house that we lived in, so we turned the entire bottom into a studio. We were in there making probably 40 records a year, whatever they'd pay us for."
More than a dozen years after moving to Tennessee from small-town Alabama, he's still blown away by Nashville's music scene.
"I've always said I can get a four-piece string section or a pedal steel guitar player faster than I can get a pizza," he says of his adopted hometown. "It's like, you just walk out the door and grab your Uber driver and he's the best songwriter you've ever met."
East, who moved to Tennessee in the early aughts, says Nashville has always pushed him to become a better musician. "The community was so tight knit. . .It was super inspiring," he says of those early days in town. "I'd go out every night. Coming from a town where there was nothing, and then going to see the best music in the world, every night, it was like, 'I've gotta step myself up.'"
A good frontman will always take you to church.
East was raised in a church-going family, and he learned to sing during Sunday morning service. Years later, he still sees the church's influence in the music that moves him. "Everything really is just derivative of being a preacher," he says of his stage presence, which borrows heavily from soul singers like Wilson Pickett, crooners like Neil Diamond and the attention-commanding oratory of Southern preachers. "You're all there to have a collective experience," he says of a concert, "and you're leading the audience, and that's what a preacher is. That's what it is. It's [someone who's] trying to command a bigger moment for everybody."
He's getting used to the tabloid attention surrounding his relationship with Miranda Lambert. . .although he still dislikes it.
"It's very eye-opening," East says of the attention that's surrounded his high-profile love life. "You really can't read too far deep into anything you see, especially in the checkout line at Kroger. I think it's weird, having your sister call and say, 'Are you getting married?' And you're like, 'No, just stop.' It's just life. It's people without creativity."