Deeply engrained in Adrian Quesada is an ardent pride of being Latino. This shows nowhere stronger than on his latest album, Boleros Psicodélicos. A project long in the making, the album was released in June but not without its fair share of obstacles.
Triple threat Quesada is a producer, songwriter and performer — a member of bands such as Brownout, Grupo Fantasma and Black Pumas. During his time with the Black Pumas — which formed in June 2019 — Quesada and his partner, Eric Burton, garnered a Best New Artist Grammy nomination just four months after the band’s formation. It wasn’t his first, though. The eight-time Grammy nominee had already realized the dream of being a Grammy-winning artist with Grupo Fantasma in 2011, winning Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album for the highly acclaimed El Existential.
An enticing aspect of Quesada’s style is how easy it is to find yourself lost in the music. Varying rhythms and vibrations pulse through the listener’s ears and make their way through the body, providing an almost transcendental experience. The unique blend of sounds trace back to his childhood in the ’90s on the Texas–Mexico border. The influence of rock and punk during that psychedelic era, as well as traditional Tex-Mex sounds, would create the inimitable style heard in Boleros Psicodélicos.
You moved from Laredo to Austin. What was the influence, if any, on your musical style?
Both cities — Laredo and Austin — left an imprint on me, but Austin is a town with a culture built on live music. It opened my world to a million things. The music I grew up hearing seeped into me and was important, but Austin was an education on what was available in the musical world that allowed me to explore different genres.
Your Latin roots and South Texas upbringing permeate your music. Was that inspiration always there, or was it something you came into with maturity?
As I matured, I appreciated my roots more. As a child, I just wanted to play Nirvana and rock out with my friends. When I got to college, I was introduced to jazz, funk and soul. Funny enough, that’s when I really got into Latin music. With it being around me all the time, there was a level of obliviousness with what was around me that in Austin I reconnected to and had a newfound appreciation for. My curiosity just grew from there.
Today, a kid from South Texas can be just as musically connected to somebody thousands of miles away because of modern streaming services, YouTube and social media, making it easy to understand what’s happening culturally across the world. For that to have happened decades ago, before the internet was at our fingertips, was extraordinary. This revolution introduced me to Los Pasteles Verdes and other bands that left a strong imprint. I’m still discovering artists to this day.
How would you describe what a bolero is and how it’s represented in your new album?
That’s an interesting question. I was just speaking about that to band members — it seems people believe we’re the foremost authority on what a bolero is, and we laugh because that’s far from the truth. All I can speak to is what I grew up with, am into and continue to educate myself about.
Basically, a bolero is an old song form that has roots from Cuba all the way through Spain. I grew up with a type specific to Mexico. Boleros Psicodélicos is heavily influenced from a time when bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s started to use electric instruments to play these traditional, raw, beautiful songs. This led to a new wave of sound, where younger people were relating to it, weaving the acoustic sounds of the old-style boleros with the rock ’n’ roll sound of the day. I love the cycle of people taking old ideas and updating them to bring in new generations. Nowadays, there are a lot of younger people paying tribute to boleros, making it “not your grandparents’ music.” It speaks to how timeless and relatable boleros are. It may go through a thousand evolutions, but the roots are here to stay.
The first single of the album is “Mentiras con Cariño” [“Lies with Love”].
Funny enough, I was resistant to that being the first song because it is so different than the other ones on the album. It was one of the later ones, when I was trying to add variety to some of the same sounds I was using. I give a lot of credit to my manager and record label, because they pushed me to see it from the perspective of a first-time listener.
Giving myself some space to think, I realized if they went through the entire album and chose “Mentiras con Cariño” to represent the album, I trusted their feedback. It’s amazing what happens when you give yourself some space to think. The song is so strong out of the gate, now it seems like a natural fit.
The organ is prevalent in most tracks. With its uniquely haunting sound, I was curious if this was a traditional instrument in boleros, or if there was another reason for weaving it into the album?
It came from paying tribute to the original stuff that inspired me down this path. Organs used to be an affordable way to replace an entire string section in an orchestra; they were just so funky and cool sounding with so much character. It was a nod to the past and just plain and simple. The organ can be so versatile. In some tracks it adds somewhat of a techno sound, while on some tracks it adds more of a melancholy element. I love the texture it provides to a song.
Now, the inevitable — the pandemic. What was something positive that came out of that experience regarding Boleros Psicodélicos?
Without a doubt, time. I was gifted time that in normal circumstances wouldn’t have been available due to my hectic tour schedule. At first, I was driven to work on this album. As the pandemic dragged on, we all lost a bit of motivation, and it became a dark period for myself and others. We didn’t know what was going to happen in the world. That transformed into something that kept me focused and lifted up during the darkness. Some people made bread — I made music. It’s what kept me accountable.
Now, the challenges of recording an album during COVID is an entirely different story. It took a lot of dedication and collaboration, but we did it.
Being a producer and artist, you could move to L.A. or New York. Why is Austin your home base?
My roots run deep here. Having a family makes it to where you can’t just pick up and leave. Austin is constantly changing, though — especially now — but it’s home. I have a connection to it musically. This is where I got started. This is where I started my family. In my 20s, everyone was heading out to L.A. and New York, but now it seems to have flipped. The opportunities have grown exponentially in Austin to where this city is competitive. I’ve never lived anywhere but Texas — I’m Lone Star tried and true.
Is there a specific message you want people to take away from Boleros Psicodélicos?
I didn’t write the lyrics, but I did craft the music on the album. As far as a cohesive message, I wouldn’t say that’s the goal. It’s more about the bolero itself. In a world where we easily overcomplicate many things, it provides a certain comfort in simplicity. Love, heartbreak and those relatable themes are central to the human experience — which boleros have always been about.
Music has been so impactful in my life — often representing a pivotal moment or lasting impression. The fact I can now create something that can be the soundtrack to someone’s memories is what being an artist is all about.
Adrian Quesada promo photo by Dave Creaney