Singer-songwriter Anderson East initially intended to become a studio engineer. He got a few jobs in studios and freelanced for a long time. He even ran his own studio for several years.
“We did a lot of records there,” says East, who spoke while backstage at Lollapalooza in Chicago this past summer. East performs with Lucie Silvas at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17, at House of Blues in support of his latest album, Encore
. “It was fun, but it was very inconsistent. Nashville at the time was a much different place than it is now. You could still be broke and be a musician or an engineer or an artist. We had good friends and people who were really inspiring to work with.”
Eventually, East self-released his first two albums because “it was just an excuse to buy more gear and write more songs."
One day, he met producer Dave Cobb, and the two became fast friends.
“He had seen me play a show and he liked some of my songs,” East says of Cobb. “He had seen one of my shows and told me that we should record some of them. I couldn’t afford to do that, but he said he’d pay for it. I did two songs, and they turned out so much better than anything that I had done on my own. He was really gracious with me. I would do free sessions with him. I refinished the floor in his basement, and he let me do that kind of thing to pay him.”
At about that time, Atlantic Records asked Cobb to start his own imprint, so he asked East to be the first artist on his label. The album’s single, “Satisfy Me,” sounds like it could’ve been cut during the ’60s, and it even made it onto the AAA Radio charts. East followed that album up with last year’s Encore
, an album that favors soul and R&B over alt-country. He cut the record at RCA Studio A, a room that he says Cobb has turned into a “clubhouse.”
“I have a little office right above the control room,” he says. “Me and my best friend, with whom I write a lot of songs, share the space up there. It’s a constant scene, and it’s great because I’m not home all that often, but I’ll just pop in the studio and there’s a community there. That’s what drew me to him and him to me. It’s great to have like-minded people around.”
East says he wanted to make a record that “felt like at any moment it could fall apart.” While Encore
wasn’t cut live, the songs have a real immediacy to them. The swinging, horn-driven “Girlfriend,” a collaboration with the late Avicii, suggests how open East, who sounds particularly souful on the song, is to collaboration.
“We got a call that Tim [Bergling, aka Avicci] wanted to write with us, but I’ve never worked with someone from that kind of electronic world,” says East. “I kind of railroaded the thing a little bit. We booked the studio time and asked [Avicci] to go along with it. We turned the writing session into a recording session. Tim was fantastic. He was just rolling with the punches with our crazy asses. He was a very musical dude. He was such a talent.”
For the live show, a backing band adds some serious punch to the tunes, something that’s not lost on East.
“Man, they are so good,” he says. “It’s a comfort level for me. Not only that they are such talented and amazing musicians, but they’re also my best friends. I treat it as a family scenario. Usually, if we’re having a good time, it’s incredibly difficult for the audience not to have a good time. I look at it as a family. If you’re going to go up in a fight, I think I’m going to win. That’s how I view it. It’s emotional security.”