“It’s taken a while to sink in that this is actually happening,” Black Pumas frontman Eric Burton admits, referring to his band’s Best New Artist nomination. He’s not the only one to be taken aback.

The Austin band’s self-titled debut album—released in June on ATO—has been showered with raves from critics and fellow musicians including Spoon’s Britt Daniel, who’ve been blown away by their taut, intricate take on classic hickory-smoked soul, a sound as accomplished as that of Danger Mouse and Cee-lo Green’s Gnarls Barkley. They made a big splash at SXSW before the album’s release and were named Best New Band at the Austin Music Awards. But they’ve been operating far under the radar in the larger musical world, even as they’ve been packing venues on the club circuit.

So it’s safe to say that nobody—Burton and Pumas co-founder/guitarist Adrian Queseda included—expected the BNA nod, pitting the two-year-old band against the likes of Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Lizzo and Maggie Rogers. To describe them as underdogs in this star-studded field would be a gross understatement. Nonetheless, here they are, with seats at the table.

“Being nominated for Best New Artist is truly an honor, especially in such a strong category, with such amazing artists that we respect,” says Queseda, who produced the album. “We’ve worked really hard, from writing and recording the album to our nonstop touring, so to be recognized helps us stop and appreciate that people are responding so well to our music.”

Quesada, it turns out, already has a Grammy on his mantelpiece. He snagged it as a member of Latin funk band Grupo Fantasma, which won the Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album for the 2010 LP El Existential. But now he’s vying for one of the Big Four.

Burton puts his unlikely ascent in perspective. “Early on, as I was busking or skating to solo gigs at restaurants or bars, pursuing a music career for accolades became more and more daunting of a dream to even conceptualize,” he recalls. “I get more out of playing to my own heart—using the sound to whisk me away to a place where everybody wins.”