New Orleans-based Tank And The Bangas beat more than 6,600 entrants to win NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest this year. Fronted by the inimitable Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball, the band have been favorites in their hometown, since starting out in 2011. Over the years, they have been steadily increasing their profile; touring in their van across state lines, appearing on magazine covers and winning local awards.
The Bangas consists of Joshua Johnson (musical director and drummer), Merell Burkett (keyboardist), Norman Spence (keyboardist and bassist), and Albert Allenback (saxophonist and flutist). They are accompanied by a number of other musicians and back-up vocalists, including Angelika ‘Jelly’ Joseph and Kayla Jasmine.
In 2015, they took the plunge and bought eight plane tickets to London for a three-month sojourn. They toured, performed at open-mics and allowed themselves to be inspired by the new sights, sounds and friendships. The following year, Ball, a big fan of Norah Jones, got to meet and perform with the multi-Grammy-winning artist. She also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as Jones' back-up vocalists, together with Joseph. More recently, Jones appeared as a surprise guest of Tank And The Bangas at one of their New Orleans shows.
Winning this national contest however, has changed the game for them. It has brought them, a new, willing audience instantly and exposure beyond their wildest dreams.
The competition is the brainchild of Tiny Desk Concert host, Bob Boilen. At the recent, Tiny Desk On The Road with KCRV show, he said: “It is meant for unsigned musicians to find their audience.” A 10-city road show that brought the winners, and a handful of top contestants from member stations across the country, its stop at the Lagunitas Tap Room in Azusa, Calif., also brought to the stage L.A. bands Timotha Lanae and Clear Soul, Smoke Season, Meilur and Leather Tramp.
However, there was no doubt that the headliners stole the show. They brought the house down with their winning song “Quick.” It bounced with energy, an insouciance and Ball's animated presence. She held the audience spellbound as she recounted the story of an independent woman who delivers to her male attacker, the ultimate comeuppance. But it was "Rollercoaster" that truly showed the band's originality. The improv quality of the musicianship; Ball and Joseph's vocal interplay; the telling of an empowering tale; and ability to connect with an intimacy that appeared effortless, over the course of seven-and-a-half minutes.
We caught up with Ball before her set in Azusa to talk about how the band got together, their evolving sound and what 'making it' feels like.
AXS: How did Tanks & The Bangas come together – I understand you were already a vocalist and put it out there that you wanted to work with other musicians?
TTB: I wanted to make music. I wanted a band. I wanted an album. I never called out for these things so when I did, it surprised me that it just kept coming like this. (snaps her fingers) I met Norman at a Nina Simone tribute that I did. Jelly, I met her in college. Kayla, at a show. Albert came through Norman. Joshua came through Tavia (Osbey, band manager), an extreme divide.
AXS: Did you have a moment with Tank And The Bangas when you realized that this was it, you had something special?
TTB: I think it was literally just a progression of who we were. When we first started we were just like ‘let’s do this type of music because everybody’s gonna like this type of music. Let’s just stick to soul.’ Then before we know it, ‘let’s branch out to different types of music. And then let’s really take time to cultivate our original music.' It was a journey of finding ourselves, each other, and the music literally.
AXS: You’ve been recording independently for a while, what do you have in your musical collection that would surprise us?
TTB: People will be surprised that I have a sexy song, because I am so silly. (laughs) It’s called “Come & Go” And they might be surprised that before I met Norah Jones, I had covered one of her songs, along with a song-poem that I wrote, called “Random Love.”
AXS: And now you’ve met and performed with Norah Jones.
TTB: Yes, and swam in her swimming pool.
AXS: You’ve made it already?
TTB: Yes, that’s how I feel what I’m swimming in her pool. (laughter as she pulls a fish face.)
AXS: So Tank & The Bangas were already on the way up when you guys won the Tiny Desk Contest?
TTB: I guess so…(hesitates) we have been traveling for years and every year, it’s been getting bigger. And this happens to be the biggest opportunity we’ve ever got. “Quick” was a great song but Jesus still... I’m scared. It’s an exciting, scary ride.
Tank And The Bangas Tour Dates
June 18 – Evanston, IL – SPACE (Sold Out)
June 23 – Los Angeles, CA – Levitt Pavilion
June 24 – Mountain View, CA – ID10T Festival
June 25 – New York, NY – Blue Note
June 26 – Manhattan, NY – Summer Stage Concert Series
June 27 – Petaluma, CA – Lagunitas Brewing Co
June 29/30 – Quincy, CA - High Sierra Music Festival
July 1 – New Orleans, LA – Tiptina’s
July 9 – Pittsburgh, PA – Hartwood Acres
July 11 – Philadelphia, PA – World Café Live
July 13 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Academy of Music: Rhythm & Blues Fest
July 14 – Portsmouth, NH – 3s Art space (Sold Out)
July 15 – Greenfield, MA – Green River Festival
July 16 – Hamden, CT – The Ballroom at The Outer Space
July 18 – Dunellen, NJ – Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse
July 19 – Boston, MA – Museum of Fine Arts Concerts
July 20 – New York, NY - Brooklyn Bowl
July 21 – Washington, DC – Songbyrd Music House (Sold Out)
Aug. 3 – Omaha, NE – Hullabaloo Festival
Aug. 5 – Portland, OR - Pickathon
Aug. 6 – Portland, OR - Pickathon
Sept. 2 – Chicago, IL – North Coast Music Festival
Sept. 3 – St Paul, MN – Minnesota State Fair
Sept. 4 – St Paul, MN – Minnesota State Fair
Sept. 8 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge