Back in 2017, New Orleans band Tank and the Bangas went viral for winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest with dynamic flair. The group combined soul, funk, R&B, spoken word and jazz in an unforgettable and moving performance. Three years, 10 million listens, an upcoming EP and a Grammy nomination later, Tarriona “Tank” Ball unpacks the band’s trademark joy and wonder with YR Media’s Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner.
Merk: So, Tank, you’re here. Where are the rest of the Bangas?
Tank: I actually just left them. We were just practicing for all the shows that we have coming up, so they all scattered across the city right now. One of them is probably gardening somewhere. He's been really into that since COVID.
Merk: You bring so much fun, relatability and animation to your music and performances. And you've said that it's in part inspired by the dolls you used to play with while watching Disney Channel!
Tank: Oh, I love the Disney Channel! I used to play with dolls with my sister for years. And even after she stopped playing with dolls and had a little doll of her own — she had a baby — her dolls became my dolls. I would play with all of them, at least until I was maybe 17 or 18, which gives you a wild imagination and so much wonder.
Merk: How would you describe the inner child that you have? We all have one inside of us that we carry into adulthood. Who is she? And how does your music nourish her?
Tank: Wow, that's such a good question. As I'm adulting these days, you know, it's an interesting balance to feed my inner child, because I think another way I was able to stay so youthful, you know, in my spirit is because I had no responsibility! Which is a major way that people can stay in the mode of childhood, because you don't have responsibilities as much when you are a kid.
Honestly, over the last couple of months, I've been doing adulting. So all that's on my mind right now is comforters, pillows, curtains. I feel like such an adult, but I get this kiddie enjoyment, excitement, child-like, when I get anything new. (laughs) It's something that you definitely have to nourish. And I am nourishing the adult, responsible side of myself in this particular season.
Nyge: In "Friend Goals" [the title track of your upcoming EP], at the beginning of the song, it feels like you're hyping up your group of friends that you have today, and how amazing they are and how happy you are to have them. But then you start a verse with, "Hey, loner.” And you have a line later in the song that says "Me, myself, and I/I think I should start a new trend/a club where all the loners go." That part made it sound like close friends weren't always easy to come by. So, all that being said, who was Tank in high school?
Tank: Definitely not with the cool crowd, for sure. Definitely with the nerdy loners. I didn't have any problem begging and hoping and wishing to be popular, because I was happy with the friends that I had made, and the friends that had found me. You know, I was fine with them. I was a poet. I was a choir nerd, because I loved choir. I used to walk around the hallways, like, my big curly hair, my lil’ uniform, my lil’ eyeliner, my lip gloss, and I'm thinking, "Today's gonna be the day I meet my boyfriend."
He's gonna notice that I’m pretty. That there's nobody else like me. You know, he's gonna think I'm unique. Like, "Wow, who's that girl with the big hair?" But that never happened. (laughs) That did not, ever.
Merk: So what have you been doing to find joy during quarantine?
Tank: Shopping for pillows.
Nyge: Yo, pillows are expensive!
Tank: I found some for, like, $35. When you're adulting, you figure out that stuff actually costs money. And you didn't know that before because you shopped at Family Dollar forever. So that's what I'm discovering.
But other than that, I just love those moments when I'm with my band and we create something extremely fresh and foreign to all of us. After we finish creating a new song, we literally say, "We just created magic," because we made something that wasn't there before. Right now, we're creating magic. This conversation wasn't there before. We're literally creating it, making it happen.