Adrian Quesada of Black Pumas: Q&A
Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15, FUV focuses on Hispanic/Latine musicians we admire via a series of Q&As, including Pachyman, Kiltro's Chris Bowers Castillo, Omar Apollo, and Black Pumas' Adrian Quesada (below):
Black Pumas are speeding ahead to their second album, Chronicles of a Diamond, which arrives on October 27, releasing soulful and searing early singles ("Mrs. Postman," "More Than a Love Song") and announcing 2024 tour dates across North America, the UK, and Europe. That itinerary includes an impressive New York headlining gig at Radio City Music Hall on January 19.
The duo — guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada and singer, songwriter and producer Eric Burton — debuted with their eponymous album in 2019. That dazzling first album swiftly snagged them a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist in 2020. They earned even more Grammy nods in 2021 for the deluxe edition of Black Pumas (including Album of the Year). Two more nominations followed in 2022 for Capitol Cuts: Live from Studio A, a live album. (Quesada was already a Grammy winner in 2011 with his Latin funk band, Grupo Fantasma.)
A native Texan of Mexican-American heritage, born in Laredo and now based out of Austin, Quesada has also released solo albums and multiple collaborative projects. He has produced or engineered other artists too, including Jesse Baez, Rudy De Anda, Deer Tick, Israel Nash and most recently, Jaime Wyatt.
Black Pumas became fast friends of FUV, playing a SXSW set in 2019, a Studio A session that same year, and a 2021 remote session during the pandemic. We've been keen to chat with Quesada about the forthcoming album and his life as a multitasking musician — and recently caught up with him over email for our Q&A series:
What makes you most proud looking at where you've landed with Chronicles of a Diamond, which you and Eric Burton co-produced?
I'm proud of us being able to top ourselves with hard work. We avoided repeating any formula and really challenged ourselves to get outside our comfort zone.
Did your two 2022 solo albums, Boleros Psicodélicos and Jaguar Sound, inform any aspect of how you saw the potential of what you and Eric were bringing to new Black Pumas music? Or do you tend to compartmentalize what you do, project to project?
My two solo albums were both done in early 2020 as a result of the pandemic so they were pretty compartmentalized and separate. The work on the new Pumas album had already commenced but didn't really kick into high gear until late 2022.
"More Than a Love Song" was the first Black Pumas single released this summer. What do you like about your production on this particular track, and how was the track conceived between you and Eric?
A lot of this new album is rooted in live performances in the recording studio but then sometimes looped, sometimes chopped, manipulated, and sometimes with programmed drums replacing live drums — oftentimes a combination of both. "More Than a Love Song" is a good example of that approach as it has live elements but also completely looped elements like a hip hop beat. It also is a song we used to play live for a couple of years so the arrangement overall was informed by our live show and how people reacted to the song live.
You also recently produced Jaime Wyatt's forthcoming album, Feel Good, which comes out on November 3. What did you like about working with Jaime and what do you most enjoy about producing an array of artists?
Working with every artist is a learning process and each presents their own approach that is needed. Musically, Jaime was a little out of my comfort zone, but her vision was so strong and her talent is through the roof, so it was a matter of helping her execute and give it a timeless aesthetic. It was a really fun process to help bring her amazing songs and vocals to life, we really wanted to create a vibe that hopefully you feel throughout — somewhere between rock and roll, soul, and country music.
As a guitarist, you're incredibly versatile and you bring a rich blend of technique and emotional textures to your playing. Do you have a favorite guitar for songwriting versus one for live performance?
My favorite guitar for live performance is a Custom Shop Fender Telecaster that the Fender team surprised me with a few years ago, they designed it while listening to our album and trying to match the tones. I haven't been able to put it down! I use a lot of other guitars but always come back to that one. I'm a big fan of rhythm guitar and anyone who treats that art as seriously as they do guitar solos.
We're in the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month — is there a particular Mexican musician or writer that has influenced you whom you don't believe has gotten the accolades that they deserve?
I have a friend and contemporary named Carlos Icaza (aka Tropicaza) who is an incredible drummer/DJ/music historian who has turned me onto so much good music and history from Mexico that has had an impact on my appreciation for underappreciated and left-of-center musical history from Mexico.
If you could structure your perfect day off in Austin, how would you spend that day?
A perfect day in Austin would start with a long bike ride, either along the Hike-and-Bike Trail or a good bike trail like Southern Walnut trail. Depending on the workout achieved, it would follow with either a smoothie from Juiceland or some great breakfast tacos — among my favorites: Pueblo Viejo, San Juanitas, Taqueria Fenix, and Trippy Tacos.
Is there a non-profit organization or charity that's particularly important to you and why?
Austin has some great non-profits that do a lot of work in the music community providing healthcare and mental health services: HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) and Sims Foundation. My wife recently co-chaired an event for Planned Parenthood that I performed at and that is another organization that is in need of our full support at the moment.