Once you hear Anderson East sing, you know he’s the real deal. With a rich and smoky soulful Southern voice, he has earned comparisons to Otis Redding and Solomon Burke, among others, and continues to win accolades for his rooted country-rock-R&B music. He became friends with Chris Stapleton — for whom he opens at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Tuesday, April 26 — while sequencing the Grammy Award winner’s album. I spoke with him on the phone about his new album, Delilah, categorizing country music, and his relationship to his voice.
Your record Delilah has a timeless or classic sound. How did you cultivate that?
Honestly, we didn’t really set out with a mission. I just showed up with the songs and … that’s just what kind of came out. [Producer] Dave Cobb and I, we definitely speak the same language — we love old records, we’re both from the South, we both grew up with that kind of influence in music. It wasn’t trying to be soul or country; it’s just songs, and we tried to service the songs.
Your album title was derived from the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, and it seems a lot of country music revolves around human frailty, particularly in love … What lyrical themes resonate with you?
My friend said, “Son, every song is a love song.” I really think that’s true; if it’s about loss or something else, some part of it is still a love song. I think it’s just good stories, songs that have some kind of something to grab onto. I love well-crafted, simple songs. If you can say something as simply as possible in a new way, you’ve beat the system, and that’s what I’m after.
There seems to be a divide right now about “real” country versus “bro country,” and so on … Do you believe in that labeling? Where do you fit on the spectrum?
I can’t really speak for anybody else, but I think that as music should be, things just get blurred. I don’t think there are clear-cut lines — you can break a song down to be anything you want it to be. You have Aloe Blacc on an Avicii track; it’s EDM but with one of the best bluegrass country voices, so what are you gonna call it? As for me, I’m striving for something classic, something timeless. As far as Chris [Stapleton], I know pretty much where he’s coming from; he’s a very sincere guy, and we’re just playing music we love because we love it.
What’s your relationship like to your voice? Is your voice untrained?
Yeah, I would definitely say it’s untrained. It’s just really going for it. Anybody that’s worth their salt has a fair bit of self-hatred, and I definitely have that where you listen back and think, “You can be better.” You know that part of your voice that is exciting to you, and when you have that a-ha moment, that moment of divinity? I’m trying to get to that point. We’re just drug addicts, really, and we’re just trying to get back to that really good feeling.
What lies ahead for you? It’s a sound I’m trying to chase. It’s all about keeping the excitement going, whether it’s a song or, for the nerd in me, a piece of gear, that makes me want to create more. In my mind, it’s just on making a different stew, if you will, just combining odd things. I want to push that kind of timeless classic thing a little further, the thing that could have been made 60 years ago or 60 years from now, but I don’t know what that is. That’s what excited me to keep looking. I want to be a child still, a little punk-ass kid with a distortion pedal seeing how loud I can make it go. That’s all I want to do.
Anderson East opens for Chris Stapleton on Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.). For more information, call (805) 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com.