After two years of endless club shows in Austin and festival performances on both sides of the Atlantic, Black Pumas have finally released their first album of addictively upbeat psychedelic- soul music. Labelled “Austin’s must-see new band” by the Austin Chronicle in 2018, Black Pumas started making music together in 2017, when producer-guitarist Adrian Quesada was told by a friend about Eric Burton, a busking soul-singer on the streets of Austin. Quesada reached out to Burton, and soon enough the two were in a studio creating the irresistibly catchy funk heard on songs like “Fire” and “Colors”. We caught up last week with Adrian Quesada as he was gearing up for the release of Black Pumas’ debut self-titled release (ATO Records) and the start of a massive North American headlining tour.
Northern Transmissions: You’ve been promoting the singles “Colors” and “Black Moon Rising” for a few months now, how does it feel to finally be releasing the first Black Pumas album on Friday?
Adrian Quesada: It’s kind of surreal. We’ve been listening to these songs so much that sometimes I forget that other people haven’t heard the album yet. Sometimes I have this feeling of not wanting to show it to people because I internally imagine that everyone’s already sick of it, even though no one’s heard it yet. We started in 2017, so it’s been long time coming.
NT: What’s been the reaction so far from people hearing it with fresh ears? How does it feel to rediscover these songs two years after finishing up the album?
AQ: Honestly it makes me appreciate the songs a lot more, I kind of listen differently when I’m playing it for other people. When it’s just me listening in the studio I’m always very critical of my work and notice things that I wish I had done differently. But watching other people react to these songs is when I find I actually get to enjoy the music in a weird way.
NT: The project began with just yourself and Eric, but now on stage you play in a septet. How have Black Pumas evolved since you two first met?
AQ: When I first started working on Black Pumas I had actually not met Eric yet, I had a bunch of instrumentals recorded and was hoping to find a singer. I’m not a singer or a lyricist, so I was hoping to find somebody and I started asking friends if they knew anyone. I was asking friends in Los Angeles, London, and across the world if they knew a singer for this music I was working on, and people would send me different names but I never reached out to anyone. It was strange, like I knew what I wasn’t looking for in a singer, but I didn’t know what I was looking for either. Then a local Austin friend introduced me to Eric and he ended up coming in. We had no real agenda when we started, he just came in and wrote all these songs. As we became a live band outside the studio, we decided to arrange the band more around his style rather than try to
have him match my instrumentals, and I think that’s what really took our sound to the next level. At that point we more or less realized we had a sound and a direction that we could follow as a band. Eric and I together are technically the band, but there’s a large group of musicians who helped us put the album together. We just added another back-up singer to the band, bringing us up to seven people on stage.
NT: What did you hear in Eric’s voice that made you realize he’d be the perfect vocalist for the tracks you created?
AQ: Before meeting him I was surprised that I had never heard of him. I’ve been in Austin for twenty years and I pride myself on having one degree of separation from most musicians in this city because I produce a lot of local acts. I watched a couple of his videos and the first thing that struck me was that he was out there performing solo with a guitar, and it wasn’t him leading any sort of soul revival band. It was riveting, like this guy is not pretending to be someone who he’s not. He was actually a busker at the time. The next thing that struck me about Eric was the fire in his voice. He called me up and started singing over the phone. I could barely hear him to be honest, but I fell in love with the energy and passion that he had. Eric has a way of really being in the moment that appealed to me.
NT: Sounds like you both meshed musically right away, but when did you know this was someone you wanted to spend a lot of personal time with and go on the road together?
AQ: Originally we had no plan to go on tour or anything, we were just having recording sessions for fun and we piled up a bunch of songs. We had a stockpile of tunes, but never said “let’s take these songs around the world” or anything, we grew by baby steps along the way. We didn’t know each other too well, but started by playing a couple of shows around town to hear what these songs sounded like live. People seemed to genuinely enjoy our music, and we ended up getting a two-month residency playing every Tuesday at C-Boys here in Austin. We kind of just took it one day at a time and have gotten to know each other pretty well. At this point I consider him a good friend, but at the same time we still don’t really know each other. There are musicians who I’ve been playing with 10-15 years who I’m still getting to know. You end up getting really intimate with people once you hit the road.
NT: Eric’s voice evokes some of the great soul singers of the 60s and 70s. Who are some influential soul and funk singers that you had in mind when you were putting together the tracks before you met Eric?
AQ: I was listening to a particular period from The Temptations where they were adventuring a little bit into their psychedelic side. That was definitely a production style that I was influenced by when I was working on this music. There was also stuff by Syl Johnson, who Eric definitely has a musical connection to. They both have that folk influence where you can tell that their songs were written first on guitar, giving them a little bit more of a laid back vibe.
NT: Your debut album will launch on Friday. What are you most looking forward to at the album release show on Friday night and the upcoming tour?
AQ: This Friday we’re playing a couple of tunes on the record that we haven’t tried yet live. We’re going to try being faithful to the album for those ones, but we usually don’t do that. I’m definitely looking forward to getting up to Canada on this tour and playing the Montreal Jazz Festival, and seeing Toronto and Quebec City again. It’s been years since I last played there. We get pretty excited about most of these dates. One of the first places we did last year when we started touring was the Mid-West and the reception was incredible, so we decided to go back this time. In November we’ll be starting a pretty intensive European tour. We just got back from there and the response overseas has been amazing. We generally have a great time everywhere we go.
interview bt Stewart Wiseman
6/28 – The Kessler Theater – Dallas, TX
6/29 – Crystal Bridges – Bentonville, AK
7/2 – Summerfest – Milwaukee, WI
7/4 – Drake Hotel – Toronto, ON
7/5 – Festival International de Jazz de Montreal – Montreal, Canada
7/6 – Festival D’Été De Québec – Quebec, Canada
7/7 – Nectar’s – Burlington, VT
7/10 – Spirit – Pittsburgh, PA
7/11 – WTMD First Thursday Festival – Baltimore, MD
7/12 – The Basement – Columbus, OH
7/13 – Headliners Music Hall – Louisville, KY
7/14 – 3rd and Lindsley – Nashville, TN
7/16 – The Raccoon Motel – Davenport, IA (sold out)
7/17 – 7th St Entry – Minneapolis, MN
7/18 – Shitty Barn – Spring Green, WI (sold out)
7/19 – Space – Evanston, IL (Chicago)
7/20 – El Club – Detroit, MI
7/23 – Brighton Music Hall – Boston, MA
7/27 – Lincoln Center (Out of Doors Festival) – NYC
7/29 – Mercury Lounge – NYC
8/23 – Mohawk – Austin, TX
9/7 – Spanish Moon – Baton Rouge, LA
9/11 – The Southern – Charlottesville, VA
9/12 – U Street Music Hall – Washington, D.C.
9/13 – StageOne – Fairfield, CT
9/14 – Iron Horse – Northampton, MA
9/18 – The Foundry – Fillmore Philly – Philadelphia, PA
9/20 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY
9/21 – Sea.Hear.Now. Festival – Asbury Park, NJ
9/23 – Barley’s Tap Room – Knoxville, TN
9/25 – Off Broadway – St. Louis, MO
9/26 – Pygmalion Music Festival – Urbana, IL
9/27 – Growlers – Memphis, TN
10/9 – Blue Light Live – Lubbock, TX
10/11 – Globe Hall – Denver, CO
10/14 – The State Room – Salt Lake City, UT
10/18 – Neumos – Seattle, WA
10/19 – Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR
10/22 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
10/24 – Lodge Room – Los Angeles, CA
10/25 – Soda Bar – San Diego, CA
10/26 – Rhythm Room – Phoenix, AZ
10/27 – 191 Toole – Tucson, AZ
11/7 – Le Fuzz’yon – La Roche-sur-Yon, France
11/8 – La Boule Noire – Paris, France
11/9 – Aghja – Ajaccio, France
11/10 – Le Plan – Ris-Orangis, France
11/12 – Frannz Club – Berlin, DE
11/13 – Helios 37 – Cologne, DE
11/15 – Ancienne Belgique – Brussels, BE
11/16 – Cinetol – Amsterdam, NL
11/17 – Le Grand Mix – Tourcoing, France
11/19 – The Louisiana – Bristol, UK
11/20 – Dingwalls – London, UK
11/21 – YES (The Pink Room) – Manchester, UK
11/22 – Audio Glasgow – Glasgow, UK
11/23 – The Grand Social – Dublin, IE