Anderson East is part of an elite group of artists who are an integral part of redefining today's Nashville sound. On Friday (Jan. 19) -- night one of his sold-out two-night stand at Nashville's 3rd and Lindsley -- he made a woman weep in the front row.
The song that moved her to tears was the ballad, "Cabinet Door," the final track on his sophomore album Encore. Armed with just an acoustic guitar, East hushed the entire room to pin-drop silence as he sang its sorrowful lyrics honoring the memory of a loved one who had gone to the other side. The moment showed East as not just an artful lyricist, but as one of music's next great interpreters of the human condition.
That night, East brought the room to its knees with his fiery blue-eyed soul and his signature gravelly voice. The 15-song performance was pure power and had him leading a group of masterful musicians including a two-piece horn section, a string quartet and blistering keys by Wetumpka, Ala.'s Philip Towns. The set list included Encore's seductive "All On My Mind," "Girlfriend," "Surrender" and a few selections from East's 2015 debut Delilah.
CMT.com recently spoke with East over the phone to discuss his new music. Questions about East's personal life and his current relationship with Miranda Lambert were off limits, but he was happy to talk about the longtime friendships that helped bring his latest album to life.
Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane co-wrote the soulful opener "King For a Day." Natalie Hemby co-wrote "This Too Shall Last." "Girlfriend" was co-written with Avicii's Tim Bergling and the album's producer, Dave Cobb. Ed Sheeran and Johnny McDaid sent East the framework of what became the album's lead single, "All On My Mind."
Anchoring the collection are the songs co-written with his friends, Aaron Raitiere and Adam Hood. All three are signed to Cobb's Low Country Sound publishing imprint which is helping evolve the Nashville sound of tomorrow. Most of Encore's material came together in the songwriting office East shares with Raitiere on the second floor of Music Row's historic RCA A recording studio. The room is a little bigger than a walk-in closet with enough space for shelves of books, a couch, a computer, a keyboard, a coffee table and a framed certificate from the Universal Life Church that lists Raitiere as an ordained minister.
East says the only challenge in making Encore wasn't space. It was time. The album was written and recorded sporadically between shows on tour.
"You weren't able to fully get into the flow of things all the time," East tells CMT.com "But it was also really great to have a little bit of perspective. And everybody was so gracious with their time. For all of us to be able to get in the room a couple of times is very special.
"Natalie Hemby, who I absolutely adore, she's just unbelievably talented. To not only be friends with her but to get to work with her, it's always a complete joy. Chris and Morgane are the same way. Steve McEwan, Ed and Johnny, I'm astounded that I can call those people and see if they're busy on a Thursday. It was really spectacular and inspiring. Aaron Raitiere is my No. 1. He's been my best friend for ages now."
East is a good friend to have. At one point during their friendship, East rescued Raitiere while his home was on fire. When Raitiere called in the middle of the night, East showed up with a van and a trailer, and they packed everything Raitiere had left.
"That was a heavy time for sure," East says. "I will say to his credit, while his house was burning down, he has all his notebooks in all these boxes, and he was just throwing them out the window while his house is on fire. That's the only thing he gave a shit about to try and save were his words. That speaks so much to who he is as a person."
Raitiere is also listed among Lambert's collaborators on The Weight of These Wings, and he co-wrote "Need a Beer" on Montgomery Gentry's Here's to You.
"There's no filter with him," East says of Raitiere. "It's just thought vomit and just when you're about to say, 'Shut up,' he says the most brilliant thing you've ever heard. If you put him in a room with a potato, that potato is going to come out with an awesome song. And I've heard some potatoes."
The two covers on the album, Ted Hawkins' "Sorry You're Sick" and Willie Nelson's "Somebody Pick Up the Pieces," were recorded partly out of jealousy.
"I'm super jealous that I didn't get to write that [Willie] song," he said. "Scotty Murray, our guitar player, he showed me Ted Hawkins. We were all riding around somewhere, and we were like, 'What in God's name is this?' We were hooked. There's an immense amount of love for those songs to begin with. It's like I wish I could have been part of that. In doing so we tried to be part of that."
When asked for his thoughts on being part of Nashville's music evolution with Low Country Sound, East said it's surreal.
"I remember six years ago me and Dave hanging out," he said. "To his credit, he really wanted a community. He is an unbelievable music maker. He proved himself properly and rightly so. I think it's absolutely beautiful to somewhat be part of it. It's an incredible honor.
"Throughout music, all the greatest moments have been with everyone else. You have Bob Dylan hanging out with the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones hanging out with Bobby Keys and Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The list goes on and on."
East takes his tour overseas this week with shows in the U.K. and Europe. His tour resumes stateside on Feb. 8 in Dallas, Texas.