Anderson East just released his debut full-length record, Flowers of the Broken Hearted, which GTI reviewed yesterday. I had a chance to ask East a few questions about the new album, Tennessee women, and his thoughts on country music...
GTI: Most emerging artists don't release a double album as their debut. Were you at all concerned that potential fans might be intimidated by something with that scope, instead of the standard 11-track single album?
East: Yea, I was but I certainly got over that. I feel like the records are two separate records, however the subject matter for each is right in line with each other. And it's only about 58 minutes when it's all said and done. I know that's a commitment but I think there is something there for everyone.
GTI: Crowdfunding has emerged in 2011/2012 as a viable workaround for major label money. How gratifying is it to have your debut album funded through fan contributions, especially considering this is your first full-length release?
East: I think it's incredible. It's the way it should be done in my opinion. I don't understand why record companies aren't doing it… So strange. It's allowing people to have an experience and be able to walk away with something much more than a piece of plastic that'll play music.
GTI: I hear all sorts of people say things like, "I listen to all types of music...except country." And it's not really hard to understand why, with today's country=sugary-pop-with-a-twang. I feel like people wouldn't say that if they got to hear a song like "Memento" instead of what's on there now. How do you feel about today's country radio? Or do people have an incorrectly-skewed view of the format? (And if so, where do you think that comes from?)
East: I think country music has shifted in a lot of ways. Country music has always been for the "everyman" and even today that is exactly what they are trying to accomplish. A song that Joe can sing while he's driving home from work, that he doesn't have to think very hard about. But what country music has lost, I feel, is class. Today's music is quite ignorant, not to sound to harsh. It's hard to really analyze because like I said country music has come from typically "uneducated" (not dumb or ignorant) people singing about life as they know it. But it had soul and an honesty. It had class. I hope you get what I'm saying. Today, country music feels like I'm being sold a Pepsi. It's all about a hit. But it's just progress, some people love it and who am I to knock that. But God bless 650 AM WSM. They'll help show you the good stuff.
GTI: I've always been fascinated by songs that tell a compelling story. The usual question that most people seem to want to know, though, is whether the characters (e.g. the woman in "Fire Song") are fictional or real? And while that's interesting to me too, I wonder: What does that (writing) process look like for you? Does storytelling about fictional people come naturally? Do you need to "inhabit" the character in order to understand his/her motivations for doing whatever he or she does in the song?
East: Nice question. I think it can be double sided when creating a person and a story. With that song, it was like watching a trailer to a film. I just saw a few short frames and the rest was up to me. And it was easy from then on out. But that doesn't happen all the time, you try and complicate the story and things get messy and doesn't work out. I don't think any of this stuff can be broken down into a formula. I keep doing things in a different way hoping to find something new. Not to say I don't dip back into my trick bag but in writing and recording, we're just trying to capture magic and keep that creative high going for a little bit longer.
GTI: What's your inspiration for songwriting? Was anything particular going on in your life before you began writing this album?
East: Women… Women are the cause of damn near everything.
GTI: What's your favorite song on the record?
East: I really love "Lonely." I love "Fire Song." Hell, I love them all. I think each one has a bit of magic on it. Something that comes through the speakers that wasn't intended. "Morning is Broken" has some of that.
GTI: "Better" absolutely could be a huge mainstream hit. What do you think it'll take to get the song there?
East: Thank you. That's a fun tune. I think it would take a lot of people liking that song, a lot of money and a radio station.
GTI: Living in Nashville, do you get any flack for "Tennessee Women"? (Just an aside: As a guy who once had a thing for a Tennessee woman...I get it.)
East: You know, I haven't got to much "flack" for it. But I don't really play that tune out very often. However I did play that tune out at some songwriter night at the Bluebird and after it was over some guy who must have had a few too many yelled, "Leave it to the fu**ing new guy to alienate himself." It was pretty comical. But I got no hard feeling towards the ladies from Tennessee.
GTI: You recorded each side of the album in a different place - first in Los Angeles and later in your Nashville studio. How did the location influence the songs that emerged?
East: They were absolutely influenced by location but somewhat in a reverse order. The record that was record in LA sounds like it should have been done in Nashville and vice versa. It was somewhat of a running joke that I came from Nashville to cut a country sounding record in LA. I guess heading out there really brought out where I came from. Also I was working with Chris Seefried out in LA. He's a super talented guy and with us working together brought about something fresh and classic at the same time.
GTI: Fans of prolific songwriters (guys like Ryan Adams) adore how productive they are (and get nervous when a year goes by without a release), yet critics tend to cite this as a negative, even suggesting they "need an editor." As someone who has now released new music in each of the last three years, do you think prolific songwriters get an unfair deal from the critical establishment? And do you see yourself continuing with this recording pace?
East: I love recording songs. I literally live in a recording studio. It's hard to shut that off. So no, I'm not worried about it. If the songs come, great! If they don't, that's fine, I can wait. I think people can get way too critical. With an artist like Mr. Adams that you mentioned, some of those odd ball left field tracks are some of my favorites. I'm thankful that guy and artists like him don't let people with only opinions weigh them down.
GTI: How do you think your background in audio engineering affected the sound of the record?
East: Hopefully it's helped it sound good. For this record I knew the sounds I wanted, but in the global sense, I wanted someone else to get them. I had some mighty fine help though: My good friend Tim Brennan who tracked the red side [Disc Two]. He really helped me out with letting me borrow some microphones that are pretty difficult to get your hands on along with a computer. He's a great engineer. Seth Horan did the first half and was spectacular. Those fellas did the hard work. I've done my fair share of engineering through the years but those guys are first class. It's beautiful watching them work. I've learned a lot from both of them.
GTI: Preferred music format - digital, CD, vinyl? And what have you been listening to recently? Have any artists or albums served as inspiration for Flowers of the Broken Hearted?
East: Vinyl all day long. I have been listening to a lot of Billie Holiday, Elvis, Dawes, Buddy Miller, Jon Martyn, Foy Vance. I keep it on shuffle really... I think every record I've ever heard has acted as an inspiration somehow. It's a pretty diverse record.
Thanks very much to Anderson East, and be sure to check out Given and Taken in Ink's review of Flowers of the Broken Hearted.