“We kind of jumped into a time machine and, you know, a pandemonium…” Black puma leader Eric burton thinks when he catches up Live for live music by phone at the end of September.
Black Pumas, directed by Burton and guitarist / producer Adrien Quesada, are in the midst of a string of high-profile festival dates, and Burton can’t fathom just how big the crowds have become. “Before the pandemic, we weren’t such a big band, and we hadn’t played for about a year, a year and a half, to see the growth and evolution of the project has been amazing.”
Throughout a pair of Grammy campaigns behind their eponymous debut – for “Best New Artist” in 2020 and for “Album of the Year” / “Record of the Year” in 2021 – the Black Pumas have relied heavily on on their cinematic origin story: a busker from Santa Monica Pier and a Latin rocker / producer form an unlikely duo that rapidly ascends the stratosphere, going from weekly concerts to Austin’s C-Boy’s at prime-time slots at major music festivals.
But Eric Burton is not yet tired of telling this “origin story”. In fact, he still appreciates the ability to make his own narrative his own. “I know the importance of telling a good story, the importance of being able to tell your own well the story.
[Photo: Keith Griner – Black Pumas at Mempho Festival]
While much of Burton’s current storytelling work goes through his music, he also has a history with acting and theater activities that predates Pumas by a decade.
” I was in [acting] at a young age, ”says Burton. “I grew up in a family of musicians and dancers. My mother was a dancer, my uncle is a musician and songwriter. I immediately have another uncle who writes novels and scripts. So I kind of grew up in and around people with that kind of disposition towards art and entertainment. I started [acting] as a younger person in church productions, and entering high school and attending acting classes. Then, studying theater a bit at university, I took my only theater class per semester.
This connection with the theater ended up influencing his musical endeavors. “I was hanging out with the music kids and hanging out with the theater people, all while I was going to school for primary education. I was going to teach the children, ”he reveals. “I think I view music and perform in it as an extension of my love for acting and creating characters and telling stories.”
Years before joining Quesada in Black Pumas, Eric Burton was a main extra in Restart, the 2013 romantic drama starring Keira knightley and Marc Ruffalo about a singer-songwriter and a moron A&R man.
Burton laughs remembering his big screen debut, which only lasted seconds of him singing into an open mic. “Yeah, it’s me, man. My little little afro, hole in my jeans, playing the acoustic guitar… ”
“Do you know what’s funny?” He mused, “This process was my first time in a movie production as an actor, and I’ve been reminded that this stuff is a process, it takes time.” It’s in a great hurry to wait and be in your seat when you need it.
But waiting has never been Burton’s strong suit. “To be honest,” he continues, “between shots I would take my guitar just outside the building and start playing the street. I took a plastic cup and set it up. and I started playing street. The director, when he told me to get back on set, he came out and he was looking for me. He was like, ‘where is this guy?’ And I’m out playing the streets, it was a fun thing.
[Screengrab: Eric Burton in Begin Again, 2013]
Burton cherishes acting as an integral form of artistic expression, and he recalls his experience as a teenager on the set of a community production of Guys and dolls as a moment of training for his point of view on the subject. “I was in the choir singing and playing without words,” he explains. “Here I am, this super bubbly, very funny and expressive kid, [and] I would almost be part of why the choir would sort of steal the show, because I was just “great energy”, so to speak. “
This “great energy” was, in some ways, the catalyst for his latest acting project, Devexity, a sci-fi film noir short film directed by a friend and collaborator Luc Lidell in which the Burton leader begins to question the nature of his reality.
As Lidell explains to Live for live music, he had been friends with Eric for about a year when he started writing the conceptually dense project. “I pretty much figured it out for the role immediately. … I wasn’t sure at the time if Eric would even be interested, but I wanted someone who had his presence. … Costs [is] the best word for it. You know when you meet someone and you can tell the gears are turning behind their eyes? “
“I can be pretty pensive and deep in thought,” Burton adds. “I like to observe the poetic aspects of life. I like to take in reality and find the poetry there to enjoy more of the beauty of it all.
After the workshop of Devexity script with his group of writers, Lidell eventually brought it to Burton, who had his own notes. Together, the duo rewrote the script over and over again, striving to make Eric’s character more robust and engaging.
“I’m very careful with how I treat and take things and then reciprocate something that will really resonate with everyone’s familiarity,” says Burton. “I think it’s so easy to do when we get out of our own way. I always feel blessed by the people who have the ability to do that – to actually take and reciprocate something digestible and palatable for people who maybe need a nice refresher.
Devexity (with Eric Burton) – Official Trailer
This most recent foray into cinema with Devexity represents just the first of many creative hats that Burton plans to wear in the near future. At the top of his to-do list is a documentary about the Black Pumas, which he hopes they can incorporate into the promotion of their next second album. Calls are also starting to pour in for the band to start writing music for films.
As for Eric Burton, the actor, however, he’s content to immerse himself in the craft, slow things down, and soak up the poetry he can of his recently charmed situation.
He offers some proper advice before hanging up – the same advice he would offer to anyone, the same advice he plans to take on his own: take a acting class.
“I remember I took acting class with my girlfriend and it was so therapeutic,” he notes. “It was so cool stepping aside, right?” To see ourselves in a different light as we sort of work towards a common goal. It was cool. In general, it’s so cathartic to act and be in a classroom where everyone around you fully supports your vulnerability.
“I can’t wait to be inundated with the classes that are around,” he continues, “because more than I want to be in a movie or a TV show and then, maybe, be this big star and be known for my acting, I really consider it a lifestyle. I just find a lot of comfort in the sanctuary which is surrounded by actors and playwrights, comedians. There is a feeling of enchantment that comes with it. I just can’t wait to get into some classes and get to know myself through the eyes of the theater, so to speak.
Devexity, director Luke Liddell’s new sci-fi noir short starring Eric Burton, will screen at a private media event on Thursday, October 7, Burton’s birthday. The first event, which will take place in Austin, Texas Native Youth Hostel Bar and Lounge (807 East Fourth St.) at 7:00 p.m., will also feature a question-and-answer session with the cast.
For RSVP for the Devexity first as a working medium, e-mail Juice advice here. For more information on Devexity, go to the official website of the film here.
For a full list of dates to see Eric Burton on tour with Black Pumas, click here.