- Courtesy of Gus Bennett Jr
- Tarriona "Tank" Ball
Tank and the Bangas are having a banner year. Just days into 2017, the eclectic New Orleans band won National Public Radio's Tiny Desk Contest and landed an appearance in the ongoing Tiny Desk Concert series. The group was already well known in its hometown; the win catapulted the Crescent City 10-piece to international acclaim.
At the group's center is front woman Tarriona "Tank" Ball, a former slam poet. Her elegiac tendencies are prominent on the band's debut 2013 album, Think Tank. Tracks such as "Rollercoasters" and "Human" are sweeping, largely spoken-word musings set to lite-funk and R&B backdrops.
But that's just one shade of TatB's expansive sound. They drop lightning-speed hip-hop ("Quick"), hard-rock-infused soul jams ("Rhythm of Life"), and cuts that sound like they were lifted from Broadway. To wit: Ball and her right-hand woman Anjelika "Jelly" Joseph come off like Nell Carter and Armelia McQueen on recent cut "Drummers." The frisky ditty sounds like an outtake from the Fats Waller musical Ain't Misbehavin'.
Tank and the Bangas pull influences from across the pop spectrum, and Ball connects the dots with her frank and loving outlook. On "Human," a corporeal slow jam, she says, "You were born with 300 bones. When you get to be an adult, you have 206. Grow up. Grow out of things. When something doesn't belong, even our bodies know when it's time for it to be replaced. You gotta get over it. You have to continue to live."
The band performs on Saturday, September 16, at Waterfront Park in Burlington as part of the Grand Point North music festival.
Seven Days caught up with Ball by phone.
SEVEN DAYS: I thought your "What's Underneath" video for StyleLikeU, in which you spoke candidly about your struggle with body issues while stripping, was one of the most beautiful things I've seen this year. What was the reaction like from your friends, family and fans?
TARRIONA BALL: [People] were just really proud of me. Every time I meet a fan, they whisper to me, "I saw your 'What's Underneath.'" They say it quietly, because I took off my clothes. It's so funny, because the whole world has seen it.
It was a beautiful experience. The ladies of "What's Underneath" are so awesome and so body positive. They make you really sure of yourself.
SD: What were you thinking and feeling after that shoot?
TB: One part was, I can't believe I just did that. The other part was, I was just excited for it to come out so I could really see how I look and how I talk — and how I look in my bra and panties on camera. You get excited to touch and enrich people.
SD: In what ways is being a slam poet different from being in a band?
TB: The difference is that the slam world is much more serious. Even when you're doing a joking poem, you're always trying to have a point. You literally get off stage and somebody holds up a scoreboard judging your performance. And you only have three minutes and 10 seconds to express things.
I just feel like I have much more freedom now, and much more time to [say] what I feel is in my heart. And, because I was already judged previously, I don't care too much about someone judging me now. Me and my [slam] team took ourselves quite seriously, so it's fun to not.
SD: What can you tell me about the process of writing the song "Drummers"?
TB: [I was] in London, just sitting down wanting to write something funny. A lot of people think that [the song] is personal, but it's not. It's a silly song. And I really like that. There's a lot of words to it that people don't even know ... I've never put [them] out yet. We'll put it out later on.
In the music world that I'm in, a lot of people say, "Don't date a musician," [because] they stay on the road. If you're away from them, you find it hard to trust your mate. So the song is, like, just pointing out one [musician] in particular: the drummer. "Never trust a drummer / Because the beat keeps going on."
SD: There's a really theatrical quality to that song. Do you have any experience with musical theater?
TB: No, I have none. That's not really a thing I'm into, even though people assume that I am.
SD: Improvisation is a big component of Tank and the Bangas. Are there any particular songs that are the most flexible?
TB: It may be "Rollercoasters," only because I may not say the same thing every time. Sometimes it's different. You can play with [that] song a little bit. And "[The] Brady's" — at the end you never know what way it's gonna go.
SD: When you find yourself in that kind of open-ended situation, how do you know when it's time to wrap it up?
TB: When the band signals for it to end.
TB: They're like, "All right, we've been here for a couple of years now. Time to end this song. Wrap it on up!" Or, our manager literally comes on the side of the stage and says, "You've got three minutes left."
SD: Who are some contemporary poets you admire?
SD: Do they have a common element that speaks to you, or do you like them for different reasons?
TB: I think I like those people because they're so honest within themselves. When they get up and speak, there's not a different voice — it's themselves. They always [pull] from personal experience. G Yamazawa's always talking about growing up Asian. It's amazing to have those same people [show up] in my inbox every now and then just [to] say, "I'm proud of you." That's what you pray for: to become heroes to your heroes.
SD: Any instruments you love that are not currently represented in the band?
TB: Oh, I love a guitar. It's really hard to find and keep a good guitar player — especially in New Orleans, because they gig with everybody. I had [a player] before, like the one that made "Rollercoasters" with me. That's my favorite instrument, and it's probably the only one that I miss a lot. It'll be back soon.
SD: Can you tell us anything concrete about your upcoming album?
TB: It's gonna be special. Ha!
SD: What's something you could never live without? And it can't be related to making music.
TB: That's easy: getting my hair done. There's just something about getting out of the salon with your hair done. Then you go home and get all purtied up.