Unboxed Vol. #38: Black Pumas Are On a Mission To Redefine Soul Music

The critically acclaimed, psychedelic soul group earned a 2024 Grammy nod for Best Rock Performance for "More Than A Love Song.”

Black Pumas are one of the most highly regarded acts in music. Comprised of singer/songwriter/producer Eric Burton, a native of Los Angeles, Calif., and Grammy-award winning guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada of Laredo, Texas, the ground-breaking group melds psychedelic soul, rock, folk, and blues that has captivated audiences across the globe.

In 2019, the group released their self-titled debut album on ATO Records, and the deluxe edition of the project was nominated for Album of the Year at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2020. Their song "Colors" also received two nominations for Record of the Year and Best American Roots Performance.

On their sophomore album, Chronicles of a Diamond, built upon the success of their previous effort, they received their seventh Grammy nod for Best Rock Performance for "More Than A Love Song.” So far, the track has amassed 3.5+ million streams and landed at #1 on Triple A Radio, #1 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Chart, and #1 on Americana Radio. 

Combining creative ingenuity and musical dexterity, Black Pumas are the standard bearers of modern psychedelic soul music. caught up with Burton about discovering his musical voice, his biggest influences, and the creation of the group.

Burton recalled growing up in Los Angeles around artists and musicians and how that environment was the impetus for him to express himself creatively.

“As a kid growing up in the 90s, my parents and family members played music all the time and we always watched BET and MTV,” Burton said. “So anything that was coming on in the 90s and the early 2000s, I was tuned into it. We grew up listening to gospel acts like The Winans and Kirk Franklin to name a few.”

Earlier in his childhood, Burton recognized that he had a gift for writing and that songwriting “spoke to his soul.” 

“I probably wrote more music than I listened to. We used to play competitive melody games for the last popsicle in the freezer,” Burton laughed. “We were encouraged to create and more than we actually listened to music.”

Continuing his journey as a creative, Burton expanded his musical palate, which would later serve him as a master of multiple genres.

“I didn't start gaining my own sense of likability of music until I was a little bit later on with R&B like Usher. When we moved to a new city, a lot of my new friends were playing folk music and got into Neil Young and Bob Dylan,” Burton explained. “Then I started realizing that my tonality as a singer was similar to Otis Redding and Al Green.”

Devoted to his craft, Burton became involved in musical theater, was a street performer at the Santa Monica Pier, and studied music at New Mexico State University. Eventually, he relocated to Austin, Texas, where he would meet Quesada and his artistic trajectory would be changed forever. Burton shared how and met Quesada through his circle of friends.

“We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend when Adrian was looking for someone to complete songs over some instrumentals that he had made. At first, I was a little apprehensive but our mutual friends spoke so highly of him that I entertained it,” Burton said. “Adrian sent me some music that put me in the mind of some of these old greats and I couldn’t wait to complete them.”

“When I get excited about creating music, I love calling my friends and I'll play what I’m working on over the phone. So that's what I did with this stranger,” Burton laughed. “He was moved by the excitement and we ended up in the studio for a couple of days to have our first session.”

“I think that there was some nerves in meeting someone for the first time but I do believe that we kind of had just a certain level of chemistry, right off the bat. The first day we got together when we finished “Fire” and “Black Moon Rising.”

A few years after the first meeting, Black Pumas released their self-titled album to critical acclaim. Burton spoke about the feeling of having the project being so well-received after trying to find his way on the margins of the music industry.

“It felt amazing to release our album to the world. I've been doing it for long enough that I had a fairly realistic outlook on the probability that it would happen but at first, it felt like I was just helping someone else finish their project,” Burton said. “But then it very quickly turned into also sharing my own music with Adrian and songs that I had written. It was amazing how quickly it happened and how well we gelled with our band.” 

In addition to garnering acclaim from their music critics and the groundswell of support from their fans, the Black Pumas received a historic invitation to perform at President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris’ inauguration, which he described as “absolutely amazing.”

After a four-year hiatus, they became one of the most exciting bands. Black Pumas released their sophomore album Chronicles of a Diamond where they earned their seventh Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance for "More Than A Love Song.” Although he would love to get a Grammy finally, Burton said that the group will still create the kind of music they love and share with the world, whether they win or lose.

The success of Black Pumas is due to their unwavering dedication to being their authentic selves. They have curated their aesthetic without compromise, and their future is immensely bright in the music industry. Burton said that he wants Black Pumas to be known for high-quality musicianship that breaks barriers.

“I want Black Pumas to be known as a band that represents unity and love in a way that comes from our own souls, as human beings,” Burton shared. “It's important for us to properly represent what psychedelic soul and soul music should sound like in 2024.

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