Grammy-nominated Black Pumas Are Taking the Music World By Storm — And Just Getting Started
The neo-soul band has had a banner year, rife with accolades
By Bryan C. Parker
No band has had a more exciting two years than Austin’s own Black Pumas. After a Grammy nomination in 2020, the neo-soul outfit returned in 2021 to perform live at the Grammys behind another nomination.
In the hours after the band performed their hit song “Colors” on the television broadcast, it rocketed up the iTunes sales charts, moving from outside #1,000 to inside the top 10. More recently, local brewery 4th Tap named a beer after the group’s song “Stay Gold,” and Torchy’s Tacos teamed up with the band for a Black Pumas taco.
The band toured Europe and the U.S. throughout the fall, bringing the gospel of Austin music to international audiences, including an opening date for The Rolling Stones in Minneapolis. Everyone wants to hang with the Pumas.
“I’m speechless; it’s nothing short of surreal,” frontman Eric Burton says about their billing alongside the rock legends. The front man recalls that he was busking for money on the Santa Monica Pier just a few years ago, and calls his band’s success “craziness.” Guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada notes that the show with the Stones marked the band’s first time performing in a stadium.
“I remember when anything bigger than C-Boys felt like a stadium to us,” says Quesada in reference to the small South Austin club where the band first rose to renown.
Burton and Quesada have been thrust into roles as de facto ambassadors of music for Austin, a job that comes with the weight of responsibility. Burton says he’s comfortable bringing everything he’s learned from Austin’s music scene to the world and that his primary goal as an artist is to stay true to himself. Built around Burton’s powerful voice and Quesada’s impeccable approach to recording, the Pumas’ distinct sound has an allure that’s easy to understand. The band’s songs manage to be both fresh and timelessly classic.
As the primary producer for the Pumas’ lauded debut album, Quesada says he sees Austin becoming a coveted spot for bands to record. Over the years, he has produced music for bands like the Grammy Award winning Grupo Fantasma and heavy metal group The Sword, among many others. But he’s not just talented behind the control board. As a guitarist, he also played with Grupo Fantasma when the band served as Prince’s backing band for a pre-Super Bowl party in Miami in 2007. But even with all of his flirtations with fame, Black Pumas is Quesada’s first project to go stratospheric.
Despite being booked for live dates months into the future, Black Pumas have already begun to think about material for their sophomore record.
“We have a ton of ideas,” said Burton, adding that we might hear new music as soon as this time next year. Quesada says Burton has taken on more of a role in production conversations, as the two approach their new material more collaboratively than before.
The Pumas have quickly become music industry movers and shakers, but Burton takes the phrase to a literal level with his electric onstage dance moves. Drawing on a background participating in theatre arts in high school and a childhood spent around the exuberance of a church congregation, Burton’s live performances vibrate with a joy that’s contagious for audience members.
“What we bring to the stage is a conversation,” he says, “and you can’t have a conversation without the second party.”
Known for climbing down from the stage and scrambling out into the sea of concertgoers, Burton first started that practice to get fans engaged. Now playing to swarms of fans, he says crowds can sometimes be too enthusiastic, which has curtailed his straying from the stage. But Burton knows that his energy means something special to those who watch him perform.
“People are liberated by our freedom onstage,” he says.
Meanwhile, Burton is finding some freedom as he begins to adjust to the pace of his life in a world famous band. Amid the fervor of the group’s first few trips overseas to tour Europe, Burton says, “It was overwhelmingly magical; now, I feel like I’m settling into absorbing more.” For him, getting to travel the world has benefits beyond sharing his music. “I’ve always been very attracted to delving into different cultures and understanding people,” he says. That tendency toward intimacy shows up in how immediate and passionate the band is during shows.
Quesada says that when the band is out on the road, they always measure a crowd’s level of enthusiasm with Austin as a barometer. The Pumas played two dozen or so festivals in recent months, but Quesada says none were better than playing ACL Festival right here in Austin. The group had just wrapped up their first string of post-pandemic shows at that time. Reflecting on playing to a sea of Austinites in Zilker Park, Quesada says, “It felt like a homecoming.”