When Adrian Quesada first recorded some instrumental tracks in his Austin Studio in 2017, he had no idea they would eventually end up in the hands of Eric Burton. A chance introduction by a mutual friend would birth one of the funkiest and most soulful sounds to come out of Texas in a very long time. Flash forward to 2019, a complete album of music gets released and one could say that it’s the best year ever for the Austin based Soul Rock Duo Black Pumas. It seems as if they have gone from the smaller stages of the SXSW Music festival right to some of the largest in the world. A recent Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist” and shows booked all over the world, one could say that things are headed in the right direction for these guys. I recently had the opportunity to chat with the duo before their performance at the legendary Paper Tiger in San Antonio Texas.
Did you expect 2019 to end with a Grammy Nomination?
Eric: I don’t think so, I don’t think we did at all. I think the thing we have been most excited about is just hearing our ideas back between the two of us. We still focus on that mainly, anything else that comes as a surprise is definitely a great honor for sure.
How did you guys feel after your very first performance together?
Adrian: I knew it was something special. I have been in a number of bands and have been doing this for a while. I am a fairly confident person but I didn’t think it was going to be as good as it was. I knew it was going to be good but it exceeded my expectations. I knew there was some fire there for sure man. I remember walking off stage and I was looking at Eric and thinking “what the hell man?…holy Shi…” We had never performed together, we just had done studio work. Everything I had seen of him was just playing guitar and singing. I didn’t realize that he could also, on top of that have the high-level front man chops that he does.
Eric: The first time we played together, I was nervous but I think Adrian was nervous enough for both of us. He didn’t know that I did all my crazy antics outside of playing the guitar but I knew! I was like…I am gonna try something crazy tonight…Hold my beer!
Where was your first show?
Eric: It was a place called C Boys in Austin. Our good friend Steve Wertheimer owned the bar. He gave us a chance to play our music. It was supposed to be one month at first but it kept getting extended.
How was the reaction from the crowd?
Adrian: I think I generally remember people freaking out and coming up to us after the show. The night has become a little bit of a blur.
Eric: It was warm, I would say that is a good word to use. People in Austin love music anyway and Adrian is a mainstay. People really love his work and respect him in the music community. People were excited to see his new stuff and curious to see what I was all about. It was really good overall.
Eric, I have heard you have done some busking. What would you say is harder to do, busking in front of total strangers or performing live in front of people who love your music?
Eric: I don’t think there is much of a difference. They are two different scenarios that I think that if you are doing these things with the right intentions, it’s all fun anyway. I think that my main focus, whether it’s busking or performing with Adrian on stage, I am always thinking about the song. Thinking about writing a song or completing a song or embellishing on a song. Always just working on the music, that’s my main focus in both is just the music. Sometimes it begins to get really hard when “life happens”. When I am out busking because I don’t want to work a regular 9-5, trying to merchandise myself and with this (Black Pumas) it’s a lot easier to focus on writing songs when I don’t have to worry about making money. Either way, I am just focused on the music. That’s the exciting part for me, just creating the music.
Could you tell us a little bit of the backstory to the song “Touch the sky”
Eric: I started that song while riding the train in Los Angeles. I was inside this elevator at the station and I liked how the guitar sounded through my voice memo in the small space. I started recording a riff and that’s how it started. I had only had a verse and a chorus and hadn’t flushed it all the way out. When I got with Adrian, we were able to arrange it to a finished product together. There is no special story behind it but I started it when I was busking.
Top 3 albums that you feel influenced you as artists?
Adrian: Probably the Beastie Boy’s Check Your Head was the perfect album for me as a teenager. I remember opening the artwork of the album, they had these pictures of them and it was everything I liked. They were skateboarding and playing basketball mixed with punk rock and hip hop. It was just all of the stuff I liked at the time. It sort of felt like a mixtape, one minute you would have a Hip Hop song and the next it would be a skatepunk track. Later on in life, I always go back to Roberta Flack’s “First Take” a lot. I discovered that one at a low point in life and it always makes me feel good. Hmmm let me think of the last one…
Eric: Al Green is definitely a hero of mine. I can’t remember the title of the one I wanna say but I remember my first car. I had a truck, a short bed Nissan and I had a burned CD of songs. We used to ride around trying to emulate his voice for fun. Doing impressions of Al Green with my friends just for fun. Am I allowed to choose his greatest hits? haha! I also used to skateboard a lot and hang with a bunch of street kids and I got really into this band called Death. They were three black brothers from Detroit playing punk music in the 70’s. The album Politicians in my eyes, that album is so dope! They produced some of my favorite sounds, just so heavy what they were doing. Probably Good Kid M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar. He is a great lyricist and he does this thing where…I try to do it. I try to entertain people but I also want the lyrics to be substantial and want listeners to have some real content. I think he has done that perfectly while also infiltrating where your mom didn’t want you to go at night.
Adrian: I thought of something more recent, I really love the Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate Album.
Eric: It’s also one of my favorites for sure.
What is something you want people to know about Black Pumas?
Eric: That we are really cool dudes, we are personable and we really love what we are doing. If you ever come to our shows don’t be afraid to ask for a picture or autograph. We just love connecting with people and we want to make friends.
Adrian: It wasn’t that long ago that we were playing to 50 people at C-Boys, so we are just excited that people are feeling our music.
Do you feel, going into your next album there is pressure to live up to what you have already done?
Eric: I think there is a bit of pressure since the Grammy nomination. I think overall we are pretty confident that the inspiration for us isn’t dying out. We are settling into the dynamic we have as a duo. Confident in our ability to create music in the first place that we really enjoy. I think we are going into the new stuff with Adrian knowing the style and the key I sing in. Before when he was making tracks he had no idea who was going to sing on them. So now, he can say “you did a really good job on these but when we start making more music I will be able to arrange music that is more fitting to your songwriting and your voice. So I would say we are more confident in the degree that we know each other just a little bit better.
For more information on the Black Pumas be sure to check out:
Interview by Derek Jones
Live Photos by Hunter Levy