When Gregg Nadel, the president of Elektra records, sent Ed Sheeran a completed version of Anderson East’s brand new single, the slinky, soul stomper "All On My Mind," he says he was "a little nervous."
The song, after all, was co-written by Sheeran and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, the duo behind a little ditty called "Shape of You" that dropped in January 2017 BD ("Before 'Despacito'"). At the mid-year point, "Shape" was the most streamed song and the biggest selling digital song of the year with 689.8 million on-demand streams as well as the most streamed audio-only track (354.2 million), video (335.5 million) and best-selling digital song (2.17 million downloads), according to Nielsen Music.
But what gave Nadel pause was how different East's version of "All on My Mind" was compared to Sheeran’s initial demo. "He immediately loved it," he says. "He could not have been happier with how it turned out. He’s really excited about it and really hopes it does well.”
Sheeran’s not the only one. The lead single from Anderson’s upcoming second full-length Elektra album dropped Friday and, according to Nadel, it is already the most added song at Triple A. Additionally, SiriusXM has made East its next “Certified Spectrum” artist, a title bestowed on up-and-comers that has included the likes of Hozier, Kaleo and Rag N Bone Man.
The story of how Anderson East, a relatively unknown 30-year-old artist from Athens, Ala. who now lives in Nashville (and reportedly dates Miranda Lambert, according to the internets) came to record a song by one of the biggest songwriters on the planet, is one that shows both the importance of the art of A&R as well as having strong working relationships.
Nadel first heard "All On My Mind" through Erik Eger who runs Threee and manages McDaid among other songwriters and producers. "He’s a fan of Anderson's," Nadel said of Eger. "We were listening to a bunch of things, talking about potential mixers and different ideas and, he said, 'Hey man, have you heard this song that Johnny and Ed wrote? It might be a good song for Anderson.'"
"Wow," is how the label president describes his reaction upon first hearing a demo of the song. "The more I listened to it and the further we got into the recording process with Anderson the more I kept coming back to it."
That's all fine and well, but not everyone can ask Ed Sheeran for one of his unrecorded songs, but Nadel had an in. “I handle all his U.S. marketing,” he says of his dual role of marketing Sheehan for Atlantic Records in addition to running Elektra. “This is the third album we’ve worked on together and he’s just a great guy. So I went to him and said, 'Hey, would it be okay if I played this for Anderson? I'm really really excited about this record we're making and maybe it’s a song he would consider cutting.' And he said sure."
Anderson, Nadel says, was interested as soon as he heard it. "It has a lot of elements of stuff we've been talking about," he says, "but he really wanted to also make it his own and add his own lyrical twists that he could relate to more personally. Ed, Johnny and everyone was open to that idea so Anderson went in and started working on some of the verses."
At the time, East was recording with producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell) whose Low County Sounds label is an Elektra imprint that put out East's 2015 Elektra debut Delilah.
Perhaps most fascinating about "All On My Mind's" evolution is how Nadel came to produc one of East’s final studio sessions for the song and helped coax his stunning vocal performance. "I just didn't feel that it was quite there yet,” the Elektra president recalls. "He was still messing with lyrics and trying different things so I flew down to Nashville." Cobb was out of the town at the time time, so Nadel, with an engineer, helped cut the final vocal performances.
Nadel said he has been in studios many times with vocals being recorded, but has never had a one-on-one session. "My favorite days are the days that I get to spend time actually making music and being in the studio," he says, though bristles when asked if he could see himself becoming a label head/producer in the mold of Jimmy Iovine.
"Anderson's obviously an incredible singer and he did most of the work," he says. "I was just telling him how great he was and helped make sure he was getting the right parts."
As for the track's prospects for success, Nadel is cautiously optimistic. "You don’t know if this is going be the biggest song in the world or what," he says, "but as long as it’s progressing his career and helping us push everything to the next level, then it will be a big win for everybody."