A wild ride for Black Pumas gets even wilder as they head on a world tour
By now you likely know the Black Pumas story.
It’s a wild ride. Whether you know it or not, here’s the short version: A few years ago, Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada didn’t even know each other. Quesada was a Grammy-winning producer and guitarist. Burton was busking on the pier and writing his own songs. Eventually Burton moved to Austin, Texas, where Quesada was making new music and looking for a singer. He got in touch with Burton.
Magic was made.
Now, as Black Pumas, they’ve been nominated for four Grammys. Played a fire performance at the ceremony. Toured around the world. Released several versions — deluxe, expanded, whatever — of their debut album, Black Pumas. Sold out five nights at Stubb’s, the legendary Austin venue.
And now they’re ready to tour again, playing festivals like Hinterland, Summerfest and ACL and stopping at places like Brooklyn Steel in NYC, The Paramount Theatren in Seattle and Waiting Room Outdoors in my hometown of Omaha. (Check out a full list of their tour dates.) Many of these shows, by the way, are multi-night stands at sold out venues.
So right before they set off for a whirlwind fall tour of the U.S. and Europe, I caught up with Eric Burton to talk about all of it. Meeting Adrian. The music. The shows. Being back on stage. Writing Colors in his bedroom. How it feels for fans to be singing it back to him now.
Read the Q&A or check out the Pops and Hisses podcast below.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kevin Coffey: Hey man. How you doing?
Eric Burton: Oh good. I just got back from the the studio not too long ago.
KC: Are you working on some new music?
EB: Actually, I left the orthodontist, and I realized that Adrian was in the studio recording a friend of ours. So I kind of snuck in to say hey.
But to answer your question, we are recording second album.
KC: Right on. Right now, are you guys doing a lot of touring? You have some festivals and stuff coming up Are you excited to get out there and play some shows?
EB: Oh, yeah! Are you kidding? Are you kidding, man? We are so pumped, man.
I mean, I feel like at this point, I don’t care who you are, if you’re on stage anywhere where there’s people at the venue, they’re going to be excited to see you for the fact that it’s been 15 months or so, since we’ve really seen a live performance from anyone. I know that people will be that much more excited that we’re fairly new bands, and people people have shown to dig our music.
KC: You just played some shows at Stubb’s in Austin not too long ago. And I’m sure a lot of those people in Austin had seen you guys before but was what was that like? Was the crowd electric? Excited to be out and at a concert?
EB: It was enchanting. It was nothing short of enchanting. It felt like it felt it felt like an out of body experience for how big of a deal it was to observe people shoulder-to-shoulder, sweating on each other, dancing and whooping and hollering and drinking Black Pumas beer. You know, it was it was out of a fairy tale book. And I felt like King Puma that night.
It was cool.
KC: Is it cool to play that large of a show in Austin to?
EB: It was it was amazing to play that larger venue for the fact that it’s it’s sold out quite quickly. We ended up adding two dates. It’s seen as a legendary or historical event. They’d never sold out for band five nights in a row. And so it was an honor to to make that historical mark for Austin. And it was brilliant that after we had done the shows, I was surprised by the city. They came on stage on an encore and made me an honorary Texan.
It was it was beautiful, man. It was it was such a beautiful experience for all parties involved. I don’t know man. I feel like the entire band cried, if not on stage, in the green room every single night. It was that it was really intense.
KC: I was wondering what are you guys playing at the shows? I mean, imagine a mix of the first record some covers. And I’d read you guys were playing a couple new songs that aren’t out yet.
EB: We fortunately have had some time to get together now that everyone’s vaccinated and we can spend some intimate time together to kind of revitalize and revamp older material from the very first album. We’ve learned some covers over time. I mean, I know, we’ll revisit Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. I know that we’ll we’ll do our tried and true songs, you know, Colors and Black Moon Rising.
One song that I’m looking forward to potentially performing in Omaha, Nebraska, — I actually have a friend there — is Politicians In My Eyes by the band called Death.
We were kind of tasked by our publishing company to do a punk song. And Politicians In My Eyes wasn’t on the list. So they were like, “Oh, well, let’s not do that. Why don’t you pick something else that’s on the list?” And Adrian and I were like, “Dude, that would be like, the least punk thing to do.” (laughs) You know? Yeah, so. So that’s definitely a song that we both look forward to, you know, bringing out. It’s a pretty fun one.
KC: I love the covers. How have you picked those songs to record? Are they just favorites? Or do you say, “We should try this?”
EB: I feel like the songs that are on the album that that aren’t ours are actually ours to the degree that, for example, I was busking on the Santa Monica Pier playing Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, and just over time, you know, borrowed the affection of her fans in my own connection with that song as I performed it. And Politicians In My Eyes is a is another one that I brought up to Adrian about doing. And Adrian introduced me to The Beatles, Eleanor Rigby.
I’m definitely looking forward to performing that one as well for the fact that we’re just huge fans of the music that we play. It’s not like this random happenstance that we would do. These are songs that we’ve been fans of for a very long time, .
KC: You said, you’ve been working on second album. How’s that been? How’s that been going? You’ve had some free time over the last year or so.
EB: Yeah, yeah, I’ve had I’ve definitely had some time. And I think that it’s going pretty organically enough. For the fact that we’ve just never stopped writing since we put out the first album. We started this band because we enjoy making music together generally. And while we were, you know, kind of campaigning, the first album across the country in the world.
I always say to the band, “Maybe we should like stay behind five to 10 minutes after soundcheck.” And, “Geez, man, I really like that pretty shuffle that you’re doing right now. Just keep playing. Let me see if I can work out a guitar part.” Or I’ll hear Adrian just fiddling around, and I’ll say, “Play that again.” And I’ll try to play something.
It’s just that we’re always constantly creating. And that’s just how I am, especially on the road. So with that we have we probably have a little over 20 ideas in various stages of completion based on what we’ve gathered over time.
KC: That’s awesome. That’s really cool you have that attitude because a lot of groups after their first album, you’re just so into promoting it. You seem to never have time to make new music. So it’s really awesome you guys have kind of carved that out while you’re doing other stuff.
EB: It’s scary. You’re exactly right. And it’s terrifying for the fact that it can be it can be not terrifying or scary, but it can be a daunting task to contend with an album that you might have written 10 to 12 years ago. I wrote Colors like 11 years ago when I first started playing guitar. And you know, maybe two or three of the songs on the on the album were like songs that I’ve written from a long time ago. And so it feels as if we’re starting quite fresh.
We’ve had the handshake between Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada. That is our first record. And now we’re really in the sandbox, discovering and exploring each other there.
KC: That’s really cool. Speaking of Colors, what’s it like to see that song in particular just kind of grow and be embraced by so many people? And it’s just because it’s such a unifying, great song that people love so much. And I wonder what that was like to see somebody singing along with something that started out as just you and your guitar a decade ago.
EB: It almost it almost feels like winning the lottery, you know. I moved around a lot as a kid. And for any kid, that’s really tough. There’s a lot of loneliness, and a lot of just stress that comes in that being interjected into different cultures and different people from different walks of life. And I think that over time, I just got really good at just being kind of a chameleon with people. I almost became popular for not being in one town for my entire life.
Now as Black Pumas have seen has seen some of the successes that we have, it doesn’t feel too weird. But it does feel uncanny that a band, the way that we were formed, would see this the amount of success that we’ve seen as quickly as it’s happening, so that part of it has been like, really kind of crazy to observe, especially as it pertains to the songs that people really enjoy, like Colors. It’s kind of a crazy thing, because I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t think that was going to happen.
It baffles me. I wrote that I wrote that song in my underwear.
KC: And now you’re standing on stage and everyone’s singing with you.
EB: I’m gonna keep my pants on onstage. (laughs)
Adrian, I think, said it best: We’ve gone around the world and, one of the most brilliant things that we’ve seen, and we’re being interjected into these rooms where people may speak a different language and may not even understand all of the lyrics in the songs, but still are mouthing and, you know, emoting from their heart and soul. These lyrics, my lyrics, Wow, these people are actually singing the songs from France, to Germany to England to the Netherlands. It’s been really uncanny to see the world singing with us.
I don’t even I don’t know how to articulate how that feels. It’s just it feels it feels like a big church, and I’m going back to home. A home that I’ve never been. Yeah.
KC: Those are the best kind of shows. I imagine it’s got to feel amazing when you’re at the center of all of it.
EB: I don’t really feel like I’m at the center of it. I feel like we’re all at the center of it, and it’s why I look forward to the conversation that is performing on a stage. I hope that people don’t mis-perceive the fact that we’re all on the same level, even though I’m physically elevated on this stage,
KC: But one I’ve loved to see you do is get down in the crowd. I haven’t seen you guys live, but I’ve seen live videos, and I’ve seen pictures and stuff and like you always love get down in the crowd. Because it’s a community thing. You’re down there with everybody.
EB: Yeah, man, I’m a people’s person. And I really enjoy just connecting with people. I feel like it makes me really nervous to have to put the mask on, you know, and act as if I’m as if I’m not as human as the next person, you know.
KC: Right, right. I also love the collaboration you and Adrian have had, especially being people who didn’t know each other, and how well it’s come together. So I kind of wonder what that was like. He’s a little older than you. He’s got a little more music industry experience and stuff. So what was that like? What was that like when you guys met or the first time you’re in the studio? Did you did you have that feeling of like, “Oh, hell yeah, this is gonna work. This is really great.”
EB: I think we were both kind of nervous to be honest. From my knowledge, Adrian was working on some instrumentals that for whatever reason that he ended up needing a vocalist to help him finish those tracks. And I was conceptualizing my own album, and like really stepping outside of the studio. I was at a point where I needed to find my own sound. I needed to, you know, learn about how to produce and record my own music.
And so while I was building my own little home recording studio, Adrian hit me up through Bryan Ray, who’s the producer here in town, and he said, “Hey, man, I, I’ve got some tracks I need a vocalist for and maybe we can do two or three songs.” I don’t remember not leaving Adrian hanging for two weeks, but that’s the story. Like, I just left him hanging.
I finally I got some of the music. And I listened to the music. And I was like, “Wow, this feels very vivid. And almost cinematic.” It felt like the music was kind of writing itself is as far as the lyrics and the melodies go, I was just quite moved by the music visually. And so for that, I was really happy that there was a chemistry already, before even meeting him in person.
We finally got to the studio. I walked into the studio and he’s behind this big baffle. He’s at the computer. I can see him a little bit through the window of the baffles. So I felt like I had to walk into a studio twice, which made me nervous, that much more nervous, you know? This little space? Yeah. Then we shared a few words. He shared his intentions for what we were doing that day, I shared my intentions, and you know, where I was coming from. And as soon as he pressed record, I didn’t know if I was doing well or not. I never sang like this way on this kind of material. I come from singing folk music. I like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I was just hoping that I could, you know, put some colors on the canvas that was Adrian’s brilliant productions and at least, maybe have a friend I really wasn’t expecting to be as successful as we’ve become.
I had some lyrics for a few songs. The first songs we recorded were Black Moon Rising and Fire. As soon as we recorded the first couple songs, we were pretty stoked, and we were having fun and eventually two turn into five turned into 10 turned into 17 songs. And we said, “Man, we would be remiss not make a band.” And so, you know, we put a band together.
We went to our friend Steve Wertheimer at C-Boy’s (Heart & Soul in Austin). He said, “Hey, yeah, I like the song Black Moon Rising. You guys can come play a month, and we’ll see how it goes. We played every Thursday night. And by the third week, we had lines wrapped around the building. And we became Austin’s favorite dive bar party, so to speak.
KC: I’ve been to South by Southwest a bunch of times, and while I know that’s not how Austin usually is, I can visualize exactly what that was like. I’m excited to see you guys in Omaha. I haven’t been able to catch you guys live yet.
EB: I can’t wait, man!