Austin Artists Setting the Stage for a New Wave of Music in 2020
Black Pumas are rising. Plus, other artists making waves across genres
By Kathryn Stouffer
The soulful sounds of Black Pumas members Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada have pulsed through stereos across Austin since 2017, but with a recent Grammy nomination for Best New Artist only months after the release of their inaugural album, they’ve been set on a much vaster stage.
The duo’s seemingly disparate backgrounds led to a fortuitous formation. Quesada has a Grammy and a wealth of experience under his guitar strap, while Burton is fresh off his Sixth Street busking grind. Now, their authentic, innovative sound offers the best elements of soul, funk and R&B.
One can’t help but feel the spirit of the songs in Burton’s expressive lyrics and captivating range, which have garnered the record an impressive list of accolades. In addition to the Grammy nomination and an “Austin City Limits” taping, the group has made appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Adding to that recognition, Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, declared May 7 as Black Pumas Day.
To experience Quesada and Burton onstage, die-hards and new fans alike can catch them at the Coachella and Newport Folk festivals this year. In Austin, the group has sold out three upcoming shows at Stubb’s Outdoors, recently adding a fourth to appease hopeful fans—a run unprecedented at this institutional venue.
Reflecting on the local music scene, Quesada tells Tribeza, “Austin was the only place this band could have come together and had the trajectory we’ve had, from the deep talent pool, sense of community among musician friends and the culture that supports live music, both venues and audiences. Black Pumas are forever grateful to Austin, Texas.”
On what’s next for the duo, Quesada acknowledges a packed tour schedule—14 countries, to be specific—but provides hope to eager fans, sharing they are “slowly, surely starting to work on new music.” Stay tuned and stay gold.
Although not new to the Austin music landscape, Jake Lloyd is making strides with his eponymous band. His most recent album, “MoonLit Mornings,” received acclaim from NPR and this year garnered Lloyd an Austin Music Awards nomination for Best Performing Band in the R&B/Soul category.
The singer’s music knows no bounds of genre—a chorus of rap followed by a measure of R&B with rock undertones, a dynamic nature suggesting Lloyd’s willingness to experiment. “Austin has always been slow to embrace soul or hip-hop or ‘urban’ music, so adding other elements to my sound has become a necessity,” Lloyd shares. “Various rock and country aspects are things I have been playing with a lot recently.”
For inspiration, Lloyd looks to stories, particularly those found in film. “I love film almost as much as music, and my favorite movies inspire the imagery I try to portray in my lyrics.”
As for what’s next? Lloyd hints at an EP and a new single to drop in the coming months.
Pelvis Wrestley is not shy about redefining cultural norms. Spearheaded by Austin-bred Benjamin Violet, the group features a smattering of other local talent, including Santiago RD of Daphne Tunes and Sarah Schultz of Sun June. Their first single, “Susanna,” along with the yet-to-be-released record, takes an alternative approach to country, mixing in synthesizers, a nod to rock and lyrics that ring more close to home for modern listeners.
The group’s formation coincided with, and very much represents, Violet’s homecoming to Austin after a decade long Texas hiatus. Violet sings the city’s praises: “The community here has inspired me to dive into the craft of songwriting and performance in such tender and challenging ways.” Beyond the musical support found in Austin, Violet notes the magnetic spirit of the physical earth here. “Our record title, ‘Vortexas Vorever,’ is a reference to feeling the pull of coming back home to Austin and to the healing energetic vortex here.”
The group is currently pursuing an avenue to release its debut album.
Robert Ellis, the self-proclaimed “Texas Piano Man,” dons a crisp white tuxedo and a coordinating cowboy hat as he dances around a grand piano. Equal parts performer and musician, Ellis has embraced a new persona with his most recent album, the fifth in his repertoire.
Ellis’ opening line, “I’m fucking crazy, you know that it’s true,” sets the tone for an album filled with forthright commentary on life and love. “Nobody Smokes Anymore” urges listeners to stress a little less, embrace “the good old days” and take a drag now and again. “Topo Chico” pays tribute to the bubbly sensation that has Texans opting for sparkling over still.
Ellis’ fresh persona coincides with a reimagined sound. While his past albums boast tunes with heavy country and folk influence and an emphasis on the singer-songwriter’s heartfelt lyrics, the messages in “Texas Piano Man” are delivered with tongue-in-cheek humor and edgy piano ballads. You can catch Ellis enlivening stages with his pop-inspired sound at venues big and small across town.
Mélat is charting a course for female-led R&B in a city dominated by rock and countrified blues.
Her ethereal vocals and impressive pitch range are captivating, as are the deeply felt, self-reflective lyrics.
On growing up and remaining in Austin, Mélat shares, “I have always felt that who I have become is a result of living in this eclectic town and being a black, first-generation Ethiopian American woman.” But there’s more to the story, and more that she wants to accomplish here. “I have always felt underrepresented and misunderstood in my own hometown.” Rather than moving on from her hometown, Mélat is committed here so that she can “continue [her] craft to provide cultural impact,” which would be swallowed in larger entertainment hubs.
Featured on Billboard.com, her female-forward “After All” music video is evidence of the singer’s strides toward better representation for black women in Austin.
Texas native Sloan Struble made his way from Aledo to Austin to attend the University of Texas. Soon into his stint as a student, his self-released album, ”Fuzzybrain,” paved a new yet very clear path for the young artist, who launches a headlining tour this spring.
Struble, unassuming and optimistic, has grander hopes for how fans will interact with his bouncy tunes. “I want [fans] to make friends,” he says. “The impact of a show only lasts so long, but if you end up making a friend there, that impact can last quite a long time. I’d really love for people to share this whole experience in a way that goes beyond just the music.”
Struble expertly meshes his mature emotional intelligence with the reality of his youth, forming irresistible bedroom pop hits that offer a welcome change of pace in a recent flood of melancholic sounds from indie pop artists. If “Dayglow” didn’t betray Struble’s greater purpose already, he shares that “For as long as I’ve made music, it’s been my goal to use it to help people feel better.”
This past fall, Molly Burch could be found floating in front of denim-clad audiences with her ballad-filled album, “First Flower.” Her soft, warm demeanor and deep, resonating vocals entrance listeners with both their sound and lyrical quality. While defined as indie pop, Burch’s records offer more—hints of jazz and an ineffable uniqueness, qualities that have led to a burgeoning career.
After a West Coast upbringing and East Coast schooling, Burch took a risk and landed in the middle. Regarding the choice to build a career in Texas, Burch says, “I’ve grown so much as a musician in Austin,” sharing that the songs written upon moving here landed her at her current label. “The music community here is supportive, tight-knit and the farthest thing from a competitive environment.”
Burch will be supporting husband-and-wife pop duo Tennis on their spring tour, which arrived in Austin on February 29 and continues coast to coast through May 9.