We’re not allowed to talk about Miranda Lambert during our phone conversation with musician Anderson East. The Athens, Alabama-bred musician isn't going to answer any questions about his personal life, thankyouverymuch. Though all we need to know is peppered throughout Lambert’s Instagram account that documents their canoodling and confirmed relationship.
But that’s OK. East is entitled to his privacy, and he has plenty more to talk about. The 27-year-old singer-songwriter just kicked off the "Devil in Me" tour, and has the first single off producer Dave Cobb’s new powerhouse compilation, “Southern Family,”due March 18, alongside the likes of Zac Brown, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and yes, Ms. Lambert.
He calls us from Richmond, Virginia, where he’s eating a cup of bean stew.
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What’s with the stew — is this how you stay healthy on the road?
I’m trying to pack on the nutrients. I don’t let myself think about getting sick, but it’s really just sleep and water and you’re pretty good. Usually the Irish whiskey will kill all the bad, and a humidifier because it gets so dry and my Southern nostrils don’t like it.
Your birth name is Michael Cameron Anderson, so what made you take on a stage name?
I think at the time I was tired of myself, to be honest with you. I needed some kind of mental construct to have a difference between me being the guy that pays the phone bill and me being the guy who wants to say something profound. It gave me a way to be more honest, which I know is kind of a backhanded way to approach it, but it’s provided some distance where I wasn’t responsible for all the things I thought or said.
But what’s the significance of East?
I wanted a fresh beginning, and the sun rises there, and everything in mythology begins in the east. There’s where everything starts.
That’s pretty deep.
I know. I don’t usually get that deep.
Do you consider yourself more of an R&B or a country singer?
I think of myself as a Southern singer. There’s no separation [in those types of music], besides who’s singing it. I don’t have a clear-cut line of what I want to call it, but I want it to be American music. And most days it’s listenable.
How did you get involved with Cobb’s “Southern Family”?
That was pretty natural. Dave had been wanting to do this record for a while, and me and him have been friends for a long time. We always would have that conversation about when you look through music as a community, you notice a lot of the good [musicians] were buddies with all the other good ones. Like Willie [Nelson], Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty — they’re all in that mindset. And with Dave, he’s done a lot of records with musicians and they’re all still friends. It’s a real honor for all of us [to be on the album] — me especially. There are a lot of people I look up to greatly on there, and I’m sure others feel that way, too.
The musicians on “Southern Family” all wrote their songs about their perspectives on growing up in the south, what does “Learning” mean to you?
That title is such a broad title because it means so much to people in so many different ways. For me, there’s a lot to be said for it, but in thinking about it, I just wanted to write a tune for my old man. I wanted to tell him thanks and that I appreciate him caring so much and being there for me and being so supportive. He was a hard ass when he needed to be, for sure, but it’s more of a “Thank you” letter. That’s my intention of it.
Were you with him when he heard it for the first time?
No, but everyone keeps asking whether or not he’s heard it. I was kind of embarrassed, but I sent it to him the day before it came out, and was like, “I hope you like it, or whatever.” He called back very tender afterward, so I assume he liked it.