Last year — just weeks before the pandemic put the world on pause — retro-soul sensations Black Pumas were rubbing shoulders with Cardi B, Billie Eilish and Tyler, the Creator at the Grammys.
Now, singer-guitarist Eric Burton and guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada have friends in even higher places — namely, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — after performing for their inauguration in January.
“It was pretty crazy,” said Quesada, 44, of appearing on the star-studded “Celebrating America” special that aired on inauguration night. “It was really short notice, but they just reached out and said that they wanted us to play. We didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of what we were doing when we taped it. We didn’t grasp how big the event was or how big the day, the moment, was until we saw it, and it was just such a good feeling of optimism and unity and people coming together. It’s been a long time coming that we needed something like that.”
The Austin, Texas-based duo played their all-embracing anthem “Colors,” which is nominated for Record of the Year at the 2021 Grammys on Sunday, March 14. They are also up for another top award, Album of the Year, for the deluxe edition of their 2019 self-titled debut, as well as Best American Roots Performance (“Colors”).
“I don’t ever expect to be nominated for something as big as this,” said Burton, 31. “We just play music, we make it because we really love it, and we’re so glad that people are connecting with it … I imagine that the feeling that we’re feeling right now is somewhat like winning the lottery.”
These cats certainly felt like they scored winning tickets as Best New Artist nominees at last year’s Grammys. “I couldn’t believe how far into the building we were walking with our tickets, where I’m like, ‘Is this right?’ ” said Quesada “We were in the fourth row! I just kept thinking some security was gonna grab us and be like, ‘No, actually, you guys are up there in the nosebleeds.’ It was wild, man.”
Returning to Southern California for the awards, Burton — who used to busk at the Santa Monica Pier — had a full-circle moment. “It was a bizarre thing to experience Los Angeles again from the perspective of being an elite performer as part of an elite band,” he said. “It felt like rediscovering Los Angeles for me from a completely new perspective. That was really cool.”
Not so cool, though, that Burton has any regrets about moving to Austin on his birthday, Oct. 7, in 2015. “To then, a year and a half later, meet Adrian Quesada, make an album, and a year later we’re nominated for a Grammy … it’s hard for me to believe that this kind of a story would happen anywhere else,” he said.
Longtime Austin resident Quesada — who was previously a member of the Grammy-winning Latin funk band Grupo Fantasma — found the “yin” to his “yang” when Black Pumas formed in 2017 and went on to break out of the city’s vibrant live music scene.
“I think we balance each other out,” said Quesada, “because if I was in a band with another person like me, I’d be fighting with them all the time. If it was another me, I’d hate that guy!”