Anderson East on Collaborating With Ed Sheeran and His Favorite Hymn

Anderson East will play The Rustic on Saturday.
Anderson East will play The Rustic on Saturday. Joshua Black Wilkins
In 1978, Madonna dropped out of college and moved to New York with little money in her name to pursue a career in music. It goes without saying that her tireless pursuit of success in the music industry paid off, but instances like that are rare. Thousands of aspiring artists before and after her have left everything behind to venture out to, as Neil Young once put it, “where the pavement turns to sand.”

Anderson East is one of many artists who moved to a major music hotbed to pursue a career in music, but unlike many artists, he didn’t exactly leave everything behind. The Nashville artist lives 100 miles north of his hometown Athens, Alabama, so going back to a familiar place would only entail a 90-minute drive for him.

The R&B singer-songwriter, born Michael Cameron Anderson, is not about familiarity, at least when it comes to songwriting. His musical style is a conglomeration of numerous styles, ranging from Southern rock to neo-soul.

In anticipation of his Dallas show on Saturday, Dec. 8, at The Rustic, we caught up with Anderson via phone for a quick interview.

I wanted to ask you how you would describe your musical output and, just in general, the state of your music career before and after producer Dave Cobb got involved?
I definitely had a lot more going on after Dave Cobb got involved. He’s been a good friend and a good person to work with.

You met him at the Bluebird Café in Nashville.
I did.

And he pursued you after the show? How did that come about?
Yeah, he just came up to me afterwards and introduced himself as a producer. He pretty much just moved to Nashville around then, and we were both real studio-minded people, so we hit it off immediately.

You have stated in multiple interviews that Southern gospel music and your Southern Baptist upbringing were big influences on your music. Were there any particular hymns from way back when that stuck with you?
“In the Garden,” which I sang with my sisters in church, definitely jumps out.

What I like about your music is you do have this versatility with many musical styles. You have gospel, you have Southern rock, you have roots, you have R&B. You’ve collaborated with Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlile, but also with Avicii and Ed Sheeran. I wanted to ask about the latter collaborations. Did you ever get cold feet that some people would find “Girlfriend” or “All On My Mind” corny because of the pop-oriented left turns that you made?
No, not really. Both of those guys are absolutely, devastatingly creative people. With “Girlfriend,” it is kind of meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but I thought musically, it stood up on its own, and lyrically, I thought it was pretty strong and fun, so no, I never had any issue with it.

How exactly did those collaborations come about in the first place?
I think it was just through the music business, I guess. Ed and I share the same record label and have mutual friends, and Avicii was in Nashville and did a lot of work there. We kind of just got set up on a blind date that was supposed to be, I guess, more of a writing session that ultimately ended up being an actual recording session for “Girlfriend.”

Let’s assume, hypothetically, that you were playing a short, intimate show with a listening crowd, and you have license to play whatever you want. No crowd-pleasers, no nothing. You can play as many originals as you want, and one cover. What cover, and what originals would you pick, and why?
It’d be at least 15 songs just to make up the time. Man, I always have a good time playing “This Too Shall Last” off the new record. We treat every day as a new experience; we try to keep some tunes that people like to hear from the past few records. As far as covers, we change it up every night. We started playing an Elvin Bishop tune [“Fooled Around and Fell in Love”] here recently that’s been a lot of fun to play.

Anderson East plays Dec. 8 at The Rustic as part of the Love Street Live series. Tickets are free.
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.