Q&A: Anderson East on his breakout year, playing Belly Up Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Q&A: Anderson East on his breakout year, playing Belly Up Aspen

Anderson East will perform an early show at Belly Up Aspen on Sunday evening.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

Who: Anderson East

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Sunday, Feb. 28, 6:30 p.m.

How much: $10/advance; $15 day of

Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com

With a raspy voice and a muscular take on old-school soul and R&B, Anderson East has quickly become of of the most buzzed-about acts in American pop music since his phenomenal major-label debut “Delilah” came out last summer.

Rolling Stone dubbed him the “next big thing.” The Nashville-based, Alabama-born singer and bandleader toured with Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, and later this year will hit the road with country giant Chris Stapleton. This winte, the 28-year-old has been selling out theaters and earning rave reviews with his own six-piece band on the road around the U.S. This Sunday at Belly Up he’s playing an early $10 to $15 cover show that promises to be the great sleeper concert of this winter in Aspen.

Aspen Times Arts Editor Andrew Travers caught up with East this week on the phone as he drove across Iowa toward Colorado.

Andrew Travers: How does it feel to be touring the country filling clubs and theaters for the first time and getting all this acclaim?

Anderson East: The weirdest thing is I can remember, not too long ago, showing up somewhere I’d never been before and saying, “Man, I hope 20 people show up to this thing.” And it’s this gut-wrenching, nerve-racking feeling. Now we show up to all thee places we’ve never been and it’s a couple hundred people a night. It’s just insane. It feels amazing and my stomach doesn’t hurt at all.

Travers: What songs off “Delilah” are you most enjoying performing live?

East: We’ve been, this past year, opening for a lot of great artists and stuff like that. A lot of the time our playing time is quite short. So now we’re playing roughly 90 minutes a night, so we have time to develop our own rhythm, and this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to take a moment in the middle of the show and play some songs all by myself. That’s been a lot of fun for me. And we try to keep it interesting and mix in some tunes that you’ve herd on some other records besides ours. So it’s all just a lot of fun.

Travers: Yeah, I’ve seen some unpredictable covers in your set lists — David Bowie and Van Morrison and Mariah Carey. When you’re going outside of the country, soul, R&B tradition, how do you make a song your own and what do you look for in a good cover?

East: It’s kind of just whatever we think looks fun. It has to already be a great song, but then it’s just a matter of whether we can find ourselves in that song, as well. Like last night, we were in Minnesota and we played two Prince songs just for fun. It’s all about if we can have a style about it that’s all our own. That’s all we really look for.

Travers: On “Delilah” you thread a needle between nodding to the soul, rhythm and blues tradition while making it fresh and contemporary.

East: Ultimately we’re just trying to service the sonds. Most of them, when they’re written, it’s just on acoustic guitar or piano. It comes from a simplistic nature, where there’s no predetermined way that it’s going to be. It’s just when we get into making the record or performing it live that we ask, “What does the song call for?” “How do we bring it to life without getting in the way of it?” And as far as all the songs on the record, they do have that element of the South and Southern music in general. The production is just what comes out.

Travers: How was that shaped by the Nashville country tradition and playing as a session musician in Nashville?

East: I’ve had somewhat of a heavy country, Americana, roots background. But I don’t know if I attribute it to the Nashville sound or the Nashville way of making music. I never really fit into that scene. But there are a lot more scenes in Nashville, beyond country music, that people don’t even realize are there. There’s this wealth of rock and roll, metal, hip-hop — the gamut is super wide there. It’s just a matter of being creative and finding your own voice in the middle of all of it.

Travers: What was the first show you played?

East: The first song I ever wrote was in the seventh grade. We played it for our seventh-grade talent show and it was terrible — in the Athens Middle School auditorium. And we also played “Freebird.” Because you have to do that.


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