Anderson East felt like “a little kid playing with toys”, working on his latest album Maybe we’ll never die. âThe Dave Cobb-produced project marks the artist’s fourth studio album and a pivotal point in his sonic evolution. Previously characterized by his sweet, haunting melodies and warm, twang-tinged vocal contributions, East sets the standard in music. ever-expanding art through its 12-track collection, released August 20 via Elektra / Low Country Sound.
âI haven’t seen it go in that direction from the start, but it continued to evolve as I continued to learn,â says the Alabama-born, Nashville-based artist in a recent telephone interview with American Songwriter. East, Cobb and their co-producer Philip Townes were nearing completion of the project when the pandemic struck last March. But rather than sit on the songs, the artists began to separate pieces of the project after living with their creation in the silence of those first weeks of confinement.
âWe weren’t adding as much as we were just taking it out,â he continues of the process. âAfter touring for so long, I just wanted to be alone with my music. And of course, Covid was like, ‘You wanted to be alone? Well, now you are alone. So it was really a necessity product, and I was really excited about it all. We got rid of the ones that looked like work, and the ones that stayed looked easy to me. “
Encapsulated by an existential title, the ethereal project evokes questions about our existence in the purest form of oriental musical art. Touching songs speak of the solace he found in the solitude of this creative process and the self-defense he returns to in romantic situations.
The concept emerged floating in a reservoir of sensory deprivation. Designed as an extreme platform for meditation, the tank invites clients to immerse themselves in a shallow tub, in a closed room, free from any light or noise pollution. Lying there, unable to see, hear, smell, taste, East reflected on his desire to be the best version of himself.
âI started to think about my grandmother and the meaning of self-improvement in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, like her, or dementia,â says East. âAnd then came that epiphany, trying to transcend the physical body so that it could aspire to be that image of God, of perfection. It was an intuitive thought that was more of a feeling. Thinking of my grandma, I thought about watching someone you love start to disappear. “
The starting point of the project was a meeting with Cobb, where East was able to define his collection intentions, thus creating a solid foundation on which to build. The pandemic left time to evaluate the album. East explains, âIt was good for me, because we started with this structured and sober approach and got a little more psychedelic and ‘out-there’. And then we started to refine the chaos into something.
Working with Cobb, East continued his R&B program, an approach to sound that has seen a slow rise throughout his career. To achieve this, the artist had to remove layers of his country-soul sound, maintaining a simplistic scaffolding for a sultry groove. The extra space allotted throughout allows East’s enviable voice to shine through.
âAt the start, we wanted everything to be very minimal,â he explains. âMadelyn,â his introductory single, is one of those songs Cobb forged in this process. Lyrically, it speaks of the power of a constant company in an ever-changing landscape – a hymn for this global experience written before the pandemic. East estimates that the song changed shape nearly 10 times before arriving at the final product. As the album’s third track, “Madelyn” traveled a full circle, released as the original demo.
“Like Nothing Ever Happened” is a champion of the all-around simplicity motif. “If You Really Love Me” sits at the end of the production spectrum, adorned with piano interludes, lush string arrangements, supported by triumphant horns. Between the two pillars is a comprehensive chronicle of East’s Personal Checkpoint. May we never die explores unexplored sonic territory while intentionally perfecting his craft as a storyteller and songwriter.
âIt’s the hardest I’ve worked on,â shares East. âI tried to make the soundtrack that I identified with and saw the world at that point. I am very proud of it. I’m grateful for the things he’s taught me and excited for the life he’s going to lead now that it’s out of my control.
Photo credit: Kat Irlin