When I first hear Anderson East answer the phone, I immediately realize that I’m unsure how to address him. Does he prefer to be called by his stage moniker, or his birth name, Michael? After he clears the air (“Anderson,” he says, before conceding that he chose “East” because “everything starts there”), my attention is drawn to the 27-year-old's voice. Husky and deep with a smoky Alabama twang, it’s capable of making a grown woman swoon—most notably his new girlfriend, country music star Miranda Lambert.
He’s calling from a stop on his headlining tour, Devil in Me, which takes its name from one of the catchiest songs on his acclaimed 2015 album, Delilah. Where exactly he is geographically, he isn’t quite sure. “Somewhere on Highway 94 heading to Minneapolis,” he says. But the artist, who sounds like a mix of Ray LaMontagne and Otis Redding, is keenly aware of his place on the country music spectrum. “I feel like I’ve won the musical lottery,” he says without a touch of pompousness, then adds, “Why I’m here is in the stars. I’m not sure why it happened, but I’m so grateful for it.”
What’s Delilah about? Is there a real-life Delilah?
It references the story of Samson and Delilah [in the Bible]. Samson is the strongest man that ever lived, and Delilah is his downfall. He was so in love with her—all that longing and want and lovesick feelings resonate throughout. I wouldn’t say it was directed toward any one person in particular—it’s more an amalgamation of all of the people in your life.
Who did you grow up listening to?
Pretty much what was on the radio at the time: Green Day, Offspring, The La’s, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and gospel music I heard in church.
You and fellow country crooner Chris Stapleton seem pretty tight. How did you two become friends?
I’ve been a fan of his for a long time—ever since I heard his first record with The SteelDrivers. Then [my producer] Dave [Cobb] called me up to help out with Traveller. I was just floored. I just thought, I’m getting to hear this before anyone else does.
What’s the last song you listened to?
“Maggie May” by Rod Stewart. That intro is just the best.
It’s pretty great. How about newer artists?
A lot of people we tour with: Brandi Carlile, The Lone Bellow, John Butler Trio.
Do you have a pre- or a post-show ritual?
Not really. We mostly just make sure we eat dinner so we don’t pass out in front of everybody.
Speaking of, one of your audiences nearly did when you and Lambert sang Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” as a duet during your Valentine’s Day show.
I’m a huge closet Mariah Carey fan—she’s got one of the best voices probably ever. That song is so well-written it’s mind-boggling.
What’s your idea of the perfect date?
It would be sitting at home, not doing anything, watching mindless television.
Netflix and chill?
Yeah, pretty much.
Do you have hard and fast rules for dressing onstage?
Keep it simple. Basically, anything that wouldn’t make me too hot, because it’s a pretty high-energy show. I’ve only found two companies that do it for me: Billy Reid and AllSaints, so I stick to that.
Listen to “Only You” below, and buy Delilah for $8 on the iTunes Store.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.