With “Quick,” their stripped-down, deliciously funky track about liquor and vengeance, New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas beat out more than 6,000 other submissions for NPR’s 2017 Tiny Desk Contest. Watch the first five seconds of the band’s entry, and you’ll understand why: Tightly packed into a high school classroom, the septuplet reels off each other’s energy in a theatrical, jazzy performance that blends hip-hop and spoken word. The whole thing bursts at the seams with joy.
When I speak to her on the phone, frontwoman Tarronia “Tank” Ball is happily cruising around New Orleans, which she says “actually feels like a special thing, because I don’t feel like I’m even home that much these days.” Ever since the win, they’ve been travelling nonstop with NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest on the Road tour.
“There’s a lot going on,” Ball says, “but you get rejuvenated the moment you hear somebody sing the entirety of ‘Quick,’ or, you know, can’t wait to hear ‘Rollercoasters.’ The only thing that gets on my nerves is taking off my shoes in the airport.” She lets out an emphatic laugh—something that happens frequently and contagiously throughout our conversation.
When she’s on the road, what Ball misses most about New Orleans is the food. It’s what she and background vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph first bonded over at college. “I can’t even explain it,” Ball says of their connection. “It’s just a natural chemistry, because there’s a friendship that goes beyond the stage. So when we get up there, you basically just get to see how we are when we’re in private. We laugh, we joke, we just be dancing all the time, singing, killin’, eatin’ all the time. And when we add music to that, it’s kind of awesome.”
Before she tried songwriting, Ball channeled her creative energy into slam poetry. The switch didn’t come easy at first: “When I was doing it alone, it was so much easier for me to say what I wanted and just hope that everyone understood it,” she says. “Now I have to be true to myself, but expand myself so that others can understand some of the things that I’m writing. That’s a process because, you know, I’m just naturally a backwards person... I am the frontwoman of this group, but I in no way do this alone. I couldn’t do this alone. It wouldn’t even have the same impact alone. The Bangas are really important—every single person on that stage.”
Tank’s onstage movements and voices surprise even herself. She laughs, “I get up there, and I don’t even watch some of the videos because I’ll be like, ‘Girl, you crazy!’ It’s something else. It’s someone else.”
Though she started with slam poetry, for Ball, growing up in a musical house set the stage for her singing career. “My dad could sing really well,” she says. “He was a disc jockey and he used to entertain all over. He’s the one that actually gave me my nickname, Tank. He died really early [after] his pancreas burst inside of his body, but he was a singer and it makes me feel like I’m pretty much finishing out his dream. This is what he wanted to do. This is who he was. I don’t even know where all of this really comes from, but it must come from him.”
Ball describes Tank and the Bangas’ live shows as “a rollercoaster experience. It really goes up, it goes down, and there’s the calm after the light.”