Life is about weathering storms.
When a cold snap parked over Texas a few weeks ago, Eric Burton was one of millions affected.
No power. Water was running slowly. And the heat was scarce.
“For the last couple of days, I’ve been at a friend’s house,” he says in an interview from Austin, Texas. “The power is coming back slowly, and life will move forward.”
Burton’s “no frills” attitude is what has helped the musician keep a level head over the years.
Burton is one-half of the Grammy-nominated band Black Pumas. Adrian Quesada is the other member.
Black Pumas formed in Austin, Texas, in 2018, when the pair met.
In 2020, the band received a Grammy nomination for best new artist – one that would catapult them into mainstream media.
Black Pumas performed as part of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. They were featured in a Super Bowl ad for YouTube and are part of a YouTube Originals documentary in which they performed a cover of The Kinks’ “Strangers.”
Black Pumas pulled off the unlikely feat of raising their profile in a year without touring – in the past year they’ve performed on every late-night show – twice on some of them – as well as put on a concert for National Public Radio’s “Tiny Desk” series.
This year, Burton and Quesada are nominated for three Grammy Awards: album of the year, record of the year and best American roots performance, for the song “Colors.” The Grammy Awards will air on March 14 on CBS.
“It’s been really cool to observe it happening,” Burton says of the band’s success. “You can’t predict how things are going to turn out. You do things from your heart and hope it moves people.”
The story behind “Colors” has a strong New Mexico connection.
Burton wrote the song after getting inspired while watching the sunset from the roof of his uncle’s house in Alamogordo.
“Colors” has been streamed 150 million times across all platforms and has become an anthem with its message of unity.
“It’s been 12 years since I wrote ‘Colors,’ ” Burton says. “I couldn’t have predicted or have guessed that the song’s relevance would kind of uphold to what it is today. It’s how people are relating it to current events. That’s the most beautiful thing. Creating that song in such a wonderful place as New Mexico and Alamogordo. It’s a home away from home for me. It’s the place where I find inspiration.”
Burton says that at the time he was writing “Colors,” he was leading worship at a Presbyterian church.
He dived in deep to figure out what he wanted to say.
“What does a hymn with a different perspective sound like?” he asks himself. “What does it sound like coming from Eric? It was a song that came out from a yearning to find and encapsulate my highest self. A lot of people don’t get to know my story beyond the degree of being in Austin. My story starts with making music at my uncle’s house in Alamogordo.”
Burton decided to continue his education at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, where Burton became part of the local music scene.
Burton remembers one of his first festival performances in Las Cruces with Chicano Batman in 2013.
“I remember doing a few performances with Soul Verse, and we would play near the Taos (dining hall),” he says. “Soul Verse would put on a poetry slam/open mic once a week, and I would do that. Outside of campus, I would play neighboring breweries. I would make music videos and create film projects with the Creative Media Institute.”
Burton wanted to make a splash in the music industry, so he moved from Las Cruces to California, where he would busk regularly at Santa Monica Pier to make enough money for his family.
After a few years, he decided to move to Austin, where he met Quesada.
“The rest is a story that continues to be written,” he says. “We never intended to make anything but music that resonated with us.”
With four Grammy nominations, Burton is grateful for the attention but is quick to add that there’s no added pressure and that he chooses to remain balanced.
“To be honest, there are a lot of things going on, and pressure can be placed on us,” he says. “What keeps me grounded is knowing how long it has taken me to get where I am. I’ve been at it longer than most people.
“I remember those cuts to the skin when people didn’t show up to shows or a critic didn’t like my music. Then I remember the reason why I started playing music. I remember what music means to my own personal health. What it’s meant to my family growing up in the church.
“The impact of music to me is bigger than any award, though I am grateful that our music is being acknowledged. I give all the credit to my uncle and mother, because they helped me learn that music heals.”