Artist Spotlight — Tank and The Bangas
Tank and The Bangas don’t go anywhere quietly. Sitting around a dimly lit room in London’s neighborhood of Camden Town, vocalist Tank Ball, bassist Norman Spence, drummer Joshua Johnson and saxophonist Albert Allenback can’t go mere minutes without bursting into play fights, or talking over one another, or laughing from their deepest guts. They are a beacon of life. And it’s that life that you hear in their music. That’s what makes this fivepiece one of the most thrilling, unpredictable and sonically diverse bands on the planet; a unit where jazz meets hip-hop, soul meets rock, and funk is the beating heart of everything they do. Their new album Green Balloon is on the horizon, and it’s their first release now they’re signed to major label Verve Forecast – a deal that came after they won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2017, beating out hundreds of other acts. They admit that it was a moment that has entirely changed their lives. This resulting record is set to prove their pizazz and their staying power. It’s everything they’ve worked so hard for so far.
Green Balloon is a multi-faceted title for their first full-length release since Think Tank in 2013. Think Tank was a case of throwing all their creative juices and ideas to at the wall to see what stuck. It was a DIY project. This album process was a world apart from that. “Green Balloon is a sister to Think Tank,” says Tank. “Think Tank was 12, and Green Balloon is 16 and having sex. She’s out there.” Made in New Orleans, Los Angeles, London and Florida, the band’s newfound critical acclaim and global notoriety meant they were able to call upon producers such as Jack Splash, Mark Batson, Zaytoven, Louie Lastic and Robert Glasper. Some of these names were on their bucket wishlist, others were new discoveries. “It was truly a dream to us. We’re so lucky,” says Tank. Green Balloon and many of its lyrical themes may seem to revolve around money and material (“money, look at all my money” starts ‘Spaceships’), but it’s far more complex than that. The color is explored throughout the tracks.
It’s not quite a full concept album, but there are interludes and a story arc. Tank explains that in New Orleans a common phrase is “she’s as green as a blade of grass”. “Green is about being naïve,” she explains. “You could be immature, new to life and experiences.” Green is also a reference to marijuana, which is vital to the band. “Feeling high, feeling out of yourself, feeling different,” she continues. Take the track “Too High,” which is almost two minutes of Tank just talking about weed consumption. In terms of wealth, Tank is as interested in what it means to not have money as she is with knowing what you do with money when you’ve never had it. It’s fitting too, that the idea of naivety pertains to the experience of Tank and The Bangas in the past few years while elevating from underground treasures to internationally renowned professionals. “It’s been a learning curve and a journey,” they admit. “We went to a whole different dimension.”
The founding members of the band (Tank, Josh and Norman) met at an open mic night in New Orleans in 2011 called Liberation Lounge. Tank had wanted Josh to write out songs she’d already written for a poetry album. Eventually they met Albert. A family of musical lifers, none of them ever thought twice about quitting through years and years of grinding it out on local live circuits. That time gave them the best foundation for their onstage chemistry and dexterity. As a result they’ve been heralded the best live band in America and for good reason.
It was the NPR contest that turned their world upside down. They were already accustomed to winning competitions but they had no expectations for their entry. Their submission is an example of their need for more discipline – they did it at the very last minute. “We weren’t expecting to win or not to win. We did something we thought was really cool and we thought everybody would vibe with it, but we didn’t know it would change our lives. It was our moment. They picked us unanimously.” They went from traveling to the likes of Chicago to play to three or four people, to touring all over the world, and getting to enjoy downtime at home in New Orleans. It led to the album-making process.
“We’re really vibe-y as a band,” they explain of their approach to studio time. They’d arrive to sessions with an idea of what they wanted but it was never strict enough to derail them from jamming and going with the flow. Their songs come whenever, usually during rehearsals and sound checks. It’s purely organic. “It’s a puzzle and everybody needs to be there to solve it,” says Tank. Their mixture of rock, funk, soul and hip-hop is unlike anything else in the ether right now, but elements are close enough to Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Flying Lotus, Kendrick, etc, that the hope is they can infiltrate the mainstream. They don’t connect with the idea of genre, which is thoroughly modern in itself.