Black Pumas’ Eric Burton and Adrian Queseda Explain How Two “Rhythm Players” Unintentionally Found a Retro Sound

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The 2021 Grammy Awards, which took place in Los Angeles in March, was, like everything in the past year, an atypical production that only vaguely resembled its non-pandemic past.

That said, the show still managed to kick off with a double of performances from very Grammy-like artists – pop phenomena Harry Styles and Billie Eilish.

Also on the shared stage that night? The Black Pumas, who were up for three awards, including Album of the Year for the Deluxe Edition of their self-titled debut album in 2019, and who brought a bit of retro-soul flavor – and a much needed guitar-forward jam – to the stage with a dazzling performance of Colors (This song, by the way, won the group’s two additional nominations, for Recording of the Year and Best American Roots Performance).

Black Pumas, which is built around the duo of singer and guitarist Eric Burton and guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada, stood out from most of the other fare (with the exception of the pop-rock trio Haim) on the show this that night – just like their mates, a 1967 Fender Coronado for Burton and a new Fender Jaguar for Quesada that “sounded so cool with the fuzz pedal I was using,” he says. “And I tried it on with my wardrobe and it looked cool too. So, deal done.

However, they felt a kinship with their fellow musicians. “Everyone was definitely showing love,” Quesada continues. “Harry [Styles] actually came to tell us that he really liked our record. So it’s a great time to have artists supporting other artists.

Burton adds, “It was nice to play on the same stage as some of our peers who are doing really well and representing their genres with a lot of enthusiasm. ”

It should be noted that Black Pumas have also represented their own genre with great enthusiasm. “We make music from our hearts and luckily it resonates in the hearts of others as well,” says Burton. But how they got here is different from the route most groups take.

In a story that has now been told and retold (it’s a good story), Burton, who grew up in Southern California singing in church and involved in musical theater, and with minimal exposure to the secular music, cut her teeth at Santa Monica Pier, developing her singing and guitar playing – and playing performances – for the crumpled dollar bills of passers-by.

Eventually, he traveled the West Coast with musician friends before landing and staying in Austin, Texas. It was there that he met Quesada, who, 13 years his senior, had grown up in hip-hop and hair metal, spent time in a local punk-jazz band and spent more than a day. dozen years with the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk orchestra. ”Fantasma Group.

During those years, Quesada had the opportunity to play alongside Prince (“His lead guitar notes were, like, through the roof,” he recalls. “It was pretty intimidating”) and also participated in a Grupo side project, Brownout, which recorded a series of Black Sabbath covers as Brown Sabbath and performed them, at one point, for Ozzy Osbourne himself.

“We ended up being booked for festivals, and we did a private show for Ozzy and [his son] Jack. It all took on a life of its own.

In 2017, Quesada left Grupo Fantasma and was looking for a singer to add vocals to new instrumentals he was preparing in the studio. At the suggestion of a mutual friend, he called Burton, a virtual stranger in Austin – or anywhere else, for that matter. The couple turned out to be prophetic.

“Eric fits like a glove on these instrumental tracks,” recalls Quesada. “And then he started showing me his songs that were before we even knew it, it was like, ‘Oh shit, that fits perfectly with this sound that I’m making…’”

One of the songs Burton had in his pocket was Colors, which, says Quesada, “Eric wrote over 10 years ago. But it still touches that place in people’s hearts all these years later, on different levels.”

Indeed, Colors, with its puffy, almost hymnic melody and social-minded lyrics (“All My Favorite Colors / My Sisters and Brothers / See Them Like No Other,” Burton sings in a honeyed and emotional voice) has, like most of the material on Black Pumas, led the band to be tagged with a retro-soul label.

One day we’re gonna really geek out on an old soul song, and the next day we’re gonna geek out on a Mobb Deep track.

But there is more to it. “We never really decided to make retro music,” says Quesada. And while he admits that he and Burton “probably listen to older music more than we listen to newer music,” he also says their sound “sits somewhere in between. One day we’re really going to have fun playing an old soul song, and the next day we’re going to have fun playing a Mobb Deep track. And then the next day, we switch to rock’n’roll. It’s everywhere. ”

From the point of view of the guitar, Burton and Quesada define themselves as “rhythms at heart”. Although it is Quesada who handles most of the main work and the one-note melodic lines.

“I love solo guitar and I love solos,” says Quesada, “and I’ve been playing for so long that there’s a certain amount of muscle memory that persists. But, he adds, “and I’d scream that from the rooftops, Eric is a dumb guitarist, man.” There’s stuff on the record that people assumed was me on guitar, but I’m like, ‘No way, these are Eric Burton’s hands.’ I like people who play in interesting and unique ways, and Eric is one of those guys.

Regarding his approach, Burton says, “When I started playing guitar it was like a troubadour style on my own, where I hit the guitar to show percussion, play bass notes, do major minor tones in rhythms. So with my unorthodox guitar playing coupled with Adrian’s sensitivity, we have an interesting dance that we do together.

Burton and Quesada embark on this interesting dance in an effort to create the sequel to Black Pumas. But it’s still unclear when the new material will be released, or what it will look like.

“We have over 20 ideas that are in various stages of completion,” Burton said. “Some who started on acoustic, some who started on electric, some who started on the keys. We respect each other musically, so we have the opportunity to follow each other in places we don’t know, so to speak, soul being a bit of a beacon.

Quesada agrees. “I don’t remember a time when Eric showed me a song and I was like, ‘Oh man, I can’t hear it …’ My wheels always start to spin immediately – ‘I could do it. “I could do that. ‘ There is a synergy between us, and it has been like that from the start.


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