Some of the inspiration for Anderson East’s latest full-length, Maybe We Never Die, sprang from an unlikely place: the interior of a sensory deprivation chamber. The Alabama-born singer says he gave the practice a shot after learning about it from his monitoring engineer.
“It was a radical experience,” he says. “Being in that environment is something I would definitely recommend.”
Sensory deprivation involves lying in a tank of shallow saltwater that is set, as is the surrounding air, at the same temperature as your body. It's dark and quiet, as the name implies, and the session lasts about ninety minutes. East, who is currently based in Nashville, says he's likely to make it a regular engagement.
“After what appears to be an eternity goes by, you just kind of lose the relationship with your own body and swim in your thoughts,” he explains. “It was pretty wild. ... It gives you a good chance to analyze everything.”
East says that his mind went to his grandmother, who recently passed away after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. They were close, and he's grappled of late with the idea of what a person becomes at the end of their life if their brain has deteriorated. The album's title track came together as a result of that reflection.
“Once the song was recorded, I felt like, based on all this subject matter, that song was lyrically and musically a good way to sum the whole project up,” he says. “That’s kind of [what] the record came out of.”
Although various themes run through the twelve tracks on Maybe We Never Die, East wouldn’t characterize it as a concept album.
“All of the songs are at least approached with a similar mentality and some similar subject matter,” he explains. “There are a lot of similar emotions. … Love is a constant emotion through all of it, even if there is a slight back-handedness to it.” For instance, he notes that “I Hate You" is a love song at its core, despite its title. And “Hood of My Car” concerns a nostalgia for love. But both are approached with the same heart.
Sonically, the album carries a strong ’90s neo-soul, hip-hop energy that was resonating with East and his colleagues at the time it was being made.
East wrote about half of the album before COVID struck, and the remainder during the pandemic. It was a challenge, he says, because he likes to work with a group of people in a room, and composing via Zoom doesn’t suit him as an artist. (He and his collaborators were able to spend some time in a Gatlinburg, Tennessee, cabin finishing up the songs this year, however.)
“A majority of it was working in these isolated scenarios and then trying to retrofit humanity into it,” he recalls. “You couldn’t be around people, so it was definitely a different production process.”
East says that five albums in — or three, because he considers his first two self-released full-lengths to be “practice swings” — he's not so focused on his progression as an artist. He’s just happy to be here.
“That creativity that comes by and brushes a few people — I just hope to be in the right place at the right time when that breeze comes across me,” he says. “I’m just incredibly fortunate to be afforded the chance to sing for a living. I hope that people like it, for sure."
He’s a few weeks into a tour that will stretch into February and hit a large swath of the United States. Aside from the bus breaking down near San Francisco, things seem to be going pretty well. East has been playing a mix of new and old songs, and making them all jibe together in a live setting has been a fun undertaking, he reports. He was crestfallen to see live shows dry up during the pandemic, so he’s happy to be on the road and performing with a full band.
“It’s been wonderful to be reminded of how lucky I’ve been,” he says. “Before this, we were doing 150 to 200 shows a year. For it to be gone over something you have no control over — the appreciation level is at an all-time high.”
Anderson East will be at the Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway in Englewood, on Friday, November 5, with Bendigo Fletcher; find tickets at axs.com. Maybe We Never Die is available now on most streaming platforms.