Rising Pride: How a Former Amazon Driver Took Black Pumas National

Jody Domingue
Eric Burton (right) and Adrian Quesada are Black Pumas.
Singer and guitarist Eric Burton was delivering Amazon packages three years ago when he met producer Adrian Quesada in Austin, Texas. The two started making music together, and just a year later released an album as Black Pumas. Success was quick: Four Grammy nominations were followed by a live performance of the hit song "Colors" at the 2021 Grammy ceremonies and a gig at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Burton, who had been busking on the Santa Monica Pier before moving to Austin in 2017, says that he and Quesada were excited to work with each other even before meeting in late August 2018.

“Adrian first got excited to meet me upon hearing about me at a lunch or brunch with another producer,” Burton says. “He told me he immediately got kind of excited when he saw YouTube videos of me playing music, and he liked my voice.”

Quesada, a former guitarist for Grammy-winning Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma, was also intrigued by Burton’s unorthodox approach to guitar, so he sent Burton some tracks. Burton wrote lyrics for about fifteen of them, sending Quesada ideas for songs as well.

“We were both taken by the fact that my material just fit the aesthetic that he was coming to the table with as a producer, and that made us excited,” Burton says. “We both told each other, ‘Let's just do this. We're having so much fun, and we should do this until it's not fun anymore.’”

When they first began working together, Burton was under the impression that he’d just help finish Quesada’s tracks. But he gradually started introducing his own songs and ideas for production, and the bandmates were able to get a “yin-yang of a balanced effort for the first album,” he says.

Dubbing themselves Black Pumas, Burton, Quesada and other musicians played their first show in February 2019. After the gig, the two founders pulled each other aside, and Quesada said, “Hey, man, I think this is really dope. I think this is really something that may fly." From his experience touring, playing the festival circuit and working with various labels and managers, he knew Black Pumas had a shot.

Audiences agreed. About three weeks into the band's two-month residency at Austin juke joint C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, lines of fans were wrapped around the building.

“We became this little dive-bar party that everybody wanted to come to,” Burton recalls.

Black Pumas released its self-titled debut in the summer of 2019, and Burton and Quesada continued to work on material for the band's followup.
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Black Pumas' self-titled debut was released in 2019.
Black Pumas
Then the pandemic hit.

“It's been crazy, man,” Burton says. “I feel like life just has not stopped. It's been a little bit of a challenge, to be honest, to stay homed in and focused on the new record while also managing my own physical and emotional and psychological health generally with everything that's been happening. I feel like it's hard not to be affected by what we're seeing right now.”

Amid the pandemic, months of social and civil unrest and new leadership in the White House, surrounding himself with musicians has been a comfort.

“I started seeing a therapist,” Burton notes, "but the biggest therapy for me has been just knowing that I have a family of musicians who are on a mission with me through this pandemic.

“I don't live with any of the musicians in my band, but we're still kind of in the same boat as far as trying to make music work for our well-being and livelihoods," he continues. "So that's been the biggest thing. It's just the community, whether we're making music or eating food or we're out drinking beer or just sharing music. It’s really kept me sane. To be honest, I don't know what I would be doing otherwise.”

If the band's debut album marks a time and space in the group's life when its members were still getting to know each other, the next album represents “where we are as of late, as it pertains to our relationship,” says Burton. And through touring, that relationship has solidified. On the road, Burton and Quesada have learned to understand each other's idiosyncrasies.
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Black Pumas will headline the Mission Ballroom August 11 and 12.
Jody Domingue
“I kind of know what Adrian is looking for from me, and vice versa,” Burton says. “Thankfully, we still work very well together. It still feels like the first day in the studio. That excitability has definitely been carried over to now. It doesn’t feel like something that is old to us. It feels like something that's still brand-new. For that, we're still excited, and look forward to seeing what the other is going to bring to the table.

“We both have a healthy level of confidence. I mean, we get in our own heads about what people might like and what they might not want. I think that it's been amazing to kind of level with each other before the fact that we've been experiencing a lot more outside of just music. It feels like the relationship is constantly growing to be more personable as opposed to jumping into the studio for a session as a songwriter to finish someone else's instrumental, or vice versa.”

Burton, who was raised by artists, says that when he was younger, making music and art was a way of coping with life for him. And once Black Pumas went on the road, he kept writing, too, not wanting to rest on the band’s newfound success. It made him want to write more, always thinking about new ideas he could bring to life with the band — even if it meant coercing bandmembers into staying on stage during sound check for an additional five minutes to practice something new.

“I always had my notebook, and I always had my headphones,” Burton says. “And [I was] trying to get the band to just kind of jam with me. I’m like, ‘Hey, guys, let's jam on this song for a little while.’ I would do that from venue to venue to venue — and I ended up with fifteen ideas.”

Some of those songs are among those the band is fleshing out for its next album.

“We’re just constantly working,” Burton says. “I think that's what's going to carry us.”

Black Pumas will be at the Mission Ballroom at 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 11, and Thursday, August 12; Neal Francis opens. Tickets, $50-$75, are available at AXS.