Alabama has a lot to be proud of when it comes to musical heritage, from both then and now. One of the Cotton State’s newest treasures is soul-based singer/songwriter Anderson East. With a voice and style that lands him somewhere between Ray LaMontagne and Joe Cocker, East is taking the world by storm. His new album, Delilah, is just out as the first release on producer Dave Cobb’s label and it’s something special. Like really special. Cobb says of East, “He’s the first guy I took a chance on and I did it because he has the talent, 110 percent. But he’s also one of the best people I’ve ever met. Just a great friend, a great human being. He has more charm than anybody I’ve ever met.” Though Delilah feels like his debut — and it is, in many ways — the 20-something East actually has two previous releases, including 2012’s Flowers of the Broken Hearted, which is nowhere to be found.
I searched all over the world wide web for Flowers of the Broken Hearted and only found clips on AllMusic. Why are you keeping it from us, man?
It wasn’t my decision, honestly. It gives you a little something to look for. It might be in a bin at a Salvation Army somewhere. You never know.
Is it going to maybe get re-released down the line?
I don’t know. Maybe. I think that’d be cool.
Well, the bits I heard of it were great. And the Southern soul seeds were planted on that one. So, did you go into making Delilah wanting to bring that out? Or did Dave Cobb angle you toward that more?
I think it just kind of fell out. I’ve always been making songs that brushed against it. With this batch of songs, I just think it all lent itself to it. And Dave was smart enough to pick up on that. So, yeah, I think it all just fell out naturally. We recorded a bunch of songs. Some of the ones that I still love a whole lot just didn’t make it because they didn’t fit. But, there wasn’t any forcing any of it to come out … if that’s what the question was. [Laughs]
[Laughs] You also recorded some separate cuts at FAME Studio down in Muscle Shoals. Now, it seems to me that a lot of artists go down there to take from the magic of that place. But I’d like to think that your presence in those walls gave a little something back and not just because you grew up an hour away from there. What’s your sense of Muscle Shoals — the history and the give and take of it?
I think it was just that — it was a lot of give and take. For me going down there, it was a special moment and something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but didn’t have the know-how or resources to really make it happen. So getting to go down there to do that, it was a lot for me to get the spirit of the place. But then, to be able to give it back, like you said, was kind of the main thing. It was more just to try not to embarrass myself in the presence of the spirit of the greats who have been in that room before me.
And you found a song down there … “Find ’em, Fool ’em, Forget ’em.”
Yeah. Yeah.
I need you to clarify something that’s been bugging me in the lyric “He told me to find ’em, fool ’em, and forget ’em. Remember the …” what? Because I think it says “four Fs” …
“Remember the four Fs.”
But there are only three, unless …
Well, I didn’t write that song. I’m going to leave that up to your imagination and the legacy of George Jackson. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Alright. Alright. I mean, I can find a fourth one, if I need to, but …
Yeah, I think most people can. It could be … uh … “friendship.” That’s what it is.
Friend ’em.” It was written for the Facebook age. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yeah. “Friend ’em.” There it is. Exactly.

[Laughs] One of the things I dig about you is that you don’t go for it on every song like some folks with your voice might. You rein it in when it’s right and that makes the country crooning of “What a Woman Wants to Hear” just as powerful as the soul singing of “Satisfy Me.” But do you feel like you’re getting more attention for the latter?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely the soul thing. And that’s, mainly, my wheelhouse. What it is is trying to be sincere to the song. Especially when it’s a solo artist instead of a band trying to focus all the attention on themselves … I guess that’s what the voice is there for, that’s what you listen to. But I’m just there to participate just as much as anybody else is. There’s that old saying, “It’s not what you play. It’s what you don’t play that makes you good.” So, if I’m holding back or it seems like I’m holding back, I’m just trying to serve the song. And that’s, ultimately, the one thing that I should have the highest regard for. So, yeah, I think that’s mainly it … just trying to have a bigger picture in mind than hitting a note here or there that is impressive. I’d much rather it be a strong whole, rather than an impressive moment.
I read an interview with you in which you said that having tabs of your music on the Internet was a success for you. I’m guessing you’ve raised that bar a bit. Where is it now? What’s a win for you?
Well, I still think that. I don’t have some grandiose expectations with any of this. I think winning is still being curious and having a curiosity about all this stuff, having the same kind of attitude toward making music as I did when I was a kid. It just feels good and it’s fun. I think, for a while — it wasn’t that I wasn’t having fun — but I just took it all too personally. And that may sound backwards because any kind of artist is very much inside of themselves. But, for me, I’d lost that sheer joy of playing music, and playing music in front of people. And, rightfully so, I was just trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing. For this, I finally got a joy back in the writing songs and playing with other human beings who spoke the same language. I’m sure I’m going completely off your question. What was your question?
[Laughs] What’s a win for you these days?
Oh, yeah. There we go. I think that’s just it, man. As long as I’m having fun, that’s all. It’s nice, now, that people are coming to the shows. They’ve heard some of the songs and they like them. They come to see us. I’ve played for enough walls and bartenders to where just having anybody take the time out of their day and their life to willfully be excited to come watch me play and leave themselves at the door and have a good time with us … I think that’s my winning. I love what I’m doing. And I’m just real grateful that there’s people starting to come out. That makes me feel real good.
And that’s another big change for you. You’ve already been on the road for a few months now. And you still have Red Rocks with Brandi Carlile coming in August. How’s that going for a homebody hermit kind of guy?
It’s great. It’s great. I’d gotten a nice little taste of being on the road. I played guitar for Holly Williams for a long time and got to do some really cool stuff, go overseas with her. It wasn’t nearly the extensive touring we’re doing now, but I love it. I have my best friends out here and I’m getting to see places I never thought I’d get to see. Everywhere we go, everybody’s been so kind and generous and welcoming. It’s something I’m extremely grateful for.
Also, when you do get back to Nashville, you’re part of a crew that I just love with Caroline Spence, Andrew Combs, Kristin Diable, and a few others. You all have great, sort of throwback records out this year. What does it mean to you to be part of such an embarrassingly talented community as that and Nashville, on the whole?
It’s really great. I got to work on a lot of those records. I engineered a bunch of those records. I think it’s always so special. What I’m always drawn to about Nashville is that there’s always this community that has this … I don’t know what the proper adjective for it would be, but “competitive” is the only one that comes to mind. But it’s not a competitive way to make you feel bad. It’s “Check out this song I just wrote.” And it’s the best thing you’ve ever heard and it forces you to step it up a little bit.
I think Nashville, in general, the best music in the world comes through there, whether it’s going to see a show or whatever. I genuinely feel like, with few exceptions, the best musicians in the world are in that town right now. You see so much greatness every day to where you’re in some small town and somebody rolls through and your mind’s just blown. But, when you’re surrounded by that caliber and quantity, it takes a lot more for everybody to get on board with it and give it the time of day. And rightfully so. I think that’s why a lot of people get frustrated in Nashville, especially if they come at an older age and expect things to move pretty quickly. I came when I was 17 and was playing in hotel bars and shit like that. I was willing to be bad and knew that I was going to be bad for a long time. And I just stuck it out. Hopefully I’m not nearly as bad as I was.
No. You’re alright now. [Laughs]
Well, you know, I just hope I’m not as good as I’m going to be. And I think that’s what Nashville puts into you, especially having close friends like that who are so talented to where you can feed off each other’s creativity and aspects of their personality and talent that lend themselves to being better. It’s a really special thing and doesn’t get to happen in a lot of different places. I think it’s just that: Everybody makes everybody great. You can’t take all the credit for it.
This article originally appeared on the Bluegrass Situation.