Adrian Quesada discusses making the new record and their upcoming return to C-Boys
(Scroll to the bottom to watch the entire performance from C-Boy’s in Austin, TX)
By Jeff McCord
It’s hard to stop a speeding train. And very few were interested in slowing the unprecedented momentum of Black Pumas and their triumphant debut album. Both the industry and fans wanted more. The band, on the road almost constantly since their debut’s release, finally applied the brakes. They needed time, to rest, to create, and to think about what was coming next.
Next is Chronicles of a Diamond, the band’s sophomore album, released October 27th. But it didn’t just appear by magic. It was the result of many months of hard work, under intense pressure, recorded in studios around the globe when the band could grab a few hours, when vocalist/lyricist Eric Burton had a concept, or the band could take a riff born in soundcheck and expand it to an actual song. The puzzle pieces didn’t assemble into a finished record, though, and that, as always, is when Adrian Quesada works his magic. As the band’s producer, guitarist and aural sculptor, he has once again spent untold hours in the studio working his magic.
With Black Pumas about to return to the tiny stage of C-Boys on November 2nd, (a show that will be broadcast live on KUTX), where their residency catapulted the band to Grammy nominations and the worldwide stage, I spoke with Adrian about the pressure they were under.
“It was so new to us to have any peer pressure. There was literally no pressure on the first one. We weren’t even a band when we made it, so hardly anyone had even heard it. There were good days and bad days. I think overall we had to, you know, there’s days where you definitely feel it. But overall, we had to put our heads down and tune out the noise. We always said we wanted to make something we wanted to listen to, that doesn’t feel like you try too hard to write a hit or to write something because of the pressure or because of the expectations, [beacause] it just doesn’t feel sincere. And Eric has such an incredible gift for making memorable music, memorable lyrics. The most important thing we had to do was tune out all the noise and keep making something that we thought we liked and that we wanted to listen to. That’s what worked on the first one, that that’s what should work on this one.”
There’s that adage about sophomore albums, that you have all the time in the world to make your first, and if it has any success, there’s an immediate demand for more. As seasoned musicians, they were realistic about the deadlines they were under. To a point. Who set the deadlines, I wondered? The band or the label?
“They did, Yeah. Just logistical stuff. Like, you know, if we wanted it out this year. But it was good because otherwise, we could have continued picking at it for a long time. We kind of picked at the album for a few years, but starting beginning of this year, through when we turned it in May, towards the end it started picking up momentum, and [we were] completely immersed in it. Sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective. So they were there, checking in often and giving us feedback and stuff. But ultimately, I think they have always been really good about not forcing anything or not asking us to do anything we’re not comfortable with the deadlines.”
We talk about the amazing variety on Chronicles Of A Diamond, and how the band seems unafraid, excited even, to explore new territory. Towards the end, knowing Adrian’s work ethic, I expect there came a time when he barely left the studio.
“I was just talking to Eric about that recently. [The album] was recorded all over the place, at probably five or six studios this time. So many cool different directions, like you said, “Ice Cream”, “Rock and Roll”, stuff like that. But the hard thing was making it consistent or making it feel like one body of work, because it was really all over the place. And yeah, I just spent hours on hours on hours tweaking everything to bring it all into one cohesive place after the fact. At the end of the process, Eric was still finalizing some lyrics and some vocals, and he took off to L.A. to work with John Congleton, a producer, who helped him record the final vocals in the final lyrics. We were in major crunch time. So I simultaneously took the hard drive and went down to Mexico City and posted up in a studio down there. And we both just completely immersed ourselves. He was finishing the lyrics and I was finishing all the tweaking and that’s when a lot of the all the little ear candy came together. We both kind of divided and conquered.”
Why Mexico City?
“I just love the city and needed to get out of Austin. I was actually going to go to the desert, to Sonic Ranch in Cornwall, and then I was thinking of going to Marfa or somewhere like that to have no distractions. But I thought, I could immerse myself and then go eat amazing food and drink Mezcal after the studio. So instead of going to the desert, I went to one of the biggest cities in the world and pretty much didn’t leave the studio for days. I would take breaks to go eat amazing tacos and all that. Funny enough, Eric and I had been texting when I was down there and he remembered that when I came back from Mexico City from a trip in 2017. [That] was actually where the concept of black pumas and the jungle cat thing all came from. So it was like kind of full circle.”
Speaking of full circle, on November 2nd, the band returns to C-Boys.
“We’ve been rehearsing the last couple of weeks because, you know, most of the stuff we haven’t really played, performed live or we’ve, you know, kind of recorded it once and got out of the way. And now we’re learning stuff off the record. But it’s going to be incredible. The one place we want to do it. Most people at some point started at C-Boys. So it’s a fun challenge to get back to doing that.”
So the train is starting up again, and all that comes with that – many long hours out on the road. Is he excited or apprehensive?
“I feel excited to play the music. We rehearsed late last night and the night before and all and a couple of days last week. When we did touring off the first record, every tour was getting bigger than the last. We were still building the momentum to a point where it just seemed like the tour dates kept getting added and added and added, and we would have just been on tour forever if we hadn’t like stopped and made a new album. I think now we’re at a point where the ticket sales and everything are a little more consistent and we’re getting to be more residency style in certain cities like where we get to do three nights in Chicago, a few nights in New York, few nights in L.A. and that kind of thing. And that kind of touring is less grueling than waking up in a different city every day for a year. So we’re at a good point now where we can favor it a little bit more and not beat ourselves up. So I’m excited about that for sure.”