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Anderson East interview

We caught up with East during his recent UK tour to discuss new record Encore, songwriting and much more.

Anderson East
Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins

Alabama’s Anderson East has been winning rave reviews for his latest album Encore.

Produced by Grammy Award winner Dave Cobb, the record effortlessly mixes soul and Americana and shows off East’s stunning vocals to great effect. He’s now out on the road promoting the album as part of his Encore World Tour.

Ahead of his recent sold-out show at London’s Omeara, I sat down with Anderson to talk about the new record, working with Chris Stapleton and Ed Sheeran, and what he’s learnt from his time on the road.

How is the tour going?

It’s going good. This is our first show over in Europe, so we’re excited – looking forward to it. Everything in the States has been good, so yeah, pretty happy.

How many times have you been over to the UK now?

I think it’s our third or fourth time now – we’ve been over here quite a bit.

So what is it that keeps you coming back?

You know, it’s always just a good time. We have such a nice time being over here and the crowds are super-supportive and seem to wanna hear it, so we wanna keep coming back.

Do you find you get a different reaction from fans in the UK compared to other places?

I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t think we get a different response – it feels like similar people wanting to see an honest show. I think it’s pretty similar, from my vantage point.

The new album is very gospel and blues influenced. Was that something you consciously wanted to do when you were making it?

I don’t think we had any genre specifications set in place when we were trying to make it. If anything I think in the recording process of it I brought it up as ‘I want every song to be able to be an encore’, hence the title. So we had more performance in mind than genre.

You’ve also got two covers on there [Sorry You’re Sick and Somebody Pick Up My Pieces] – why did you choose those two?

I think ultimately we were just fans of those songs. Somebody Pick Up My Pieces – lyrically that song just really spoke to me. And then Sorry You’re Sick – we were just such huge Ted Hawkins fans, and we’d been mulling over just on the road ‘shall we do that song or Bring It On Home or…?’ And then we were in the studio just listening to music and I played that song, and it was just like, ‘man, we should work on our own arrangement’ after that. So it was just wanting to be a part of things that we loved and trying to honour it and put our stamp on it too.

You wrote with Ed Sheeran and Chris and Morgane Stapleton for this album, how was that?

With Chris it’s very… just guys in a room talking and then a song falls out. It’s very not try-hard at all. And then with Ed it was all done digitally, so it’s the two complete opposite ends of working. But they were both incredibly rewarding.

Do you have a favourite track on the album? Were there any that were particularly easy or difficult to write?

I have a mix. I think on the record there’s some that surprised me. Like House Is a Building was probably the biggest surprise, that it came out how it did. Also This Too Shall Last I thought came out really great, and Ryan Adams was gracious enough to play guitar on that too. Those songs were probably the most enjoyable to write. I wrote both of those with my friends Aaron Raitiere and Natalie Hemby, and it’s just the best time hanging out with them. So those two are both of the answers [laughs].

Do you have any favourite co-writers? Is there anyone you’d like to write with in future?

My best friend Aaron Raitiere, he’s always like my comfort blanket. So it’s more just hanging out with your buddy and there just happens to be a guitar in the room. That’s usually how I enjoy writing, period – just casually without a purpose.

Do you write on the road much?

Not really. I have a little bit but I don’t really enjoy it. I think my brain – I know people that can do it, but I’m very one-track-minded and from the moment I wake up to go to sleep all I’m focussed on is the show, and putting the show on. Hopefully that’ll change one day, but not right now.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

Speaking of Ryan [Adams], I heard him say one time, ‘there’s no such thing; you just keep writing’. And I think the biggest hurdle of doing it is taking the time to actually sit down and put something on paper, whether it’s good or not. You can rhyme ‘cat’ and ‘hat’ all day long, so there’s no reason to not write something – eventually something of substance will pop out.

What have you learned from touring and being on the road?

I can talk about that for days. It’s just… how to arrange a show – there’s all kinds of little tricks. I think the biggest thing you learn is how to be really loud by being really quiet. You get a lot more attention from softness a lot of the time than just blowing it up, and I think we tried to explore that in different aspects on the record as well.

Are there any songs you particularly enjoy playing live?

Everything we’re doing now, we’re just trying to scare ourselves a little bit more, and musically take it to places we don’t really know. Very rarely we’ll play the same setlist twice or play the same song the same way. So more than anything we’re just trying to stay interested in what we’re doing.

Do you think that’s an important thing for artists to do?

I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but I know that for us and the amount of touring that we’ve done, when you’re stuck with a certain amount of material to play after a while you have to figure out a way to make it new again. You know, have that curiosity to rethink a piece of music. Ultimately the only way the crowd’s gonna have fun is if we’re having fun, and we’re just trying to always maintain that level of spontaneity and excitement.

Are there any favourite places you’ve visited on tour or that you’ve played in?

I mean, there’s still a whole lot of new things, especially over here. We’ll always have a great time playing London – being from America, you’re always in a new neighbourhood. So I think for us we’re always just keeping our eyes open and appreciating that people are showing up to hear us.

Do you prefer smaller more intimate venues to arenas? Or are you just happy to play wherever?

As long as people come with a willingness to listen that’s really all we care about.

What are the best and worst things about being on the road?

The best thing is probably just the community with the band and crew and the community with the audience. And probably the worst is just being gone. And then there’s certain things that get pushed to the side just by the nature of not being present. I always say you have to be present to win, so I’m lucky that it’s 2018 and you can Facetime whoever you want to and have some semblance of… I can’t imagine it being 75 and having to pay phone everyone back home. That sounds pretty miserable.

What’s next for you after the tour?

There’s no what’s next. It always is. So we’re just gonna keep playing shows and keep making music, keep playing shows and keep making music.

Anderson East’s new album Encore is available now. Watch the video for All on My Mind below:

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