When we connect with Tarriona “Tank” Ball, the bewitching lead vocalist of New Orleans soul-funk collective Tanks And The Bangas, she is fresh from a live recording of the band’s forthcoming EP, Friend Goals. She only has a few hours to eat and sleep before she and the gang are back on the road at 2 a.m. This time, they’ll be performing at a drive-up show in Texas. “I think we’re about to do our fourth one,” Ball says over the phone. It’s a far cry from the packed theater venues that outfitted last year’s Green Balloon tour, and if you ask the sociable songstress, the alternative performances are fun, but don’t quite hold a candle to playing in front of a clear and present crowd. “There is definitely this other aspect of it that is missed and needed,” Ball shares. “You want to be with your people.”
And if there’s anyone who understands the power of making connections, it’s Tank And The Bangas. The group has tapped into its Rolodex of equally talented buddies for its highly collaborative, six-track collection of full-bodied jams that offer up equal parts lo-fi funk, comedic storytelling, and bouncy grooves. Incorporating a little help from favorites like CHIKA, PJ Morton, Duckwrth, and Pell, Friend Goals is a potent quick-shot of Ball’s sunny magnetism, which drives the thumping, flute-laced hip-hop jaunt “Self Care” and the hilariously relatable “TSA,” an old-school R&B tune rife with lament over airport drama. The band even finds time to squeeze in some homegrown bounce with “To Be Real,” an unrepentant New Orleans bounce track featuring local gems Hasizzle, Keedy Black, and Big Choo. Much like albums Green Balloon and Think Tank, Friend Goals soars with personality and unpredictable musicality. It’s also a testament to Ball’s ability to gel with just about anyone. She offered us some insight on creating and performing an EP during a pandemic, the inspirations for her storytelling, and the friend goal that she wants to achieve the most.
The A.V. Club: One of the defining marks of Tank And The Bangas is this enchanting way that you all connect with your audience. With live shows being largely on hold, how are you finding ways to connect with your fans?
Tarriona “Tank” Ball: You definitely have to find those alternatives with the [social media] lives or giving away some type of cool merch or giving some type of virtual experience. But I was just telling my friend that these virtual shows are hard. You’re used to feeding off of an energy. It’s a giving and receiving-type process and when you’re just relying on yourself or your band, there’s nobody in the audience yelling, “GET IT, TANK, BITCH!” [Laughs.] It’s hard! I can do it for the most part because of something in me. My daddy was a performer, and he died early. I believe I’m living out his dreams for him, so something in me definitely turns on when it’s time to get onstage. But there is definitely this other aspect of it that is missed and needed. Some of these virtual shows are freaking amazing, but as a whole, in terms of moving forward, it’s wack. You want to be with your people.
AVC: Have you all done a drive-in show yet?
TB: Oh yeah, a couple. I think we’re about to do our fourth one. We just did one in Mississippi—crazy weird. It was weird because it was the day that Trump lost, so they weren’t very happy to see these very Black happy faces, I don’t think. And then we did one in Shreveport, which was a lot of fun but still inappropriate because a lot of people weren’t wearing their mask, and they were having a good-ass time. [Laughs.] New Orleans was very safe, so that was okay to me. It really depends on the crowd. As much as fans want to come and see their favorite artists, you have to know that you are 50% of that job. It’s a true transaction, and you better come ready to scream or sing along.
AVC: You mentioned that you just did the live recording for your upcoming EP, Friend Goals. A Tank feature is always a nice surprise, whether you’re working with Jacob Collier or Fantastic Negrito. What made you all decide to release your own collection of collaborations?
TB: It started years ago with this thing you do with the children called Sing Me A Story. So these children draw anything they want, and you have to write a song about what they drew. I saw a child who drew a picture of himself—it said “Me, Pedro”—and in the space next to him he wrote “friend.” And in my mind I thought, “Oh no, he doesn’t have any friends.” [Begins rapping the opening verse of “Friend Goals.”] “Everybody wants somebody they can kick it with (kick it with).” And as I’m getting more and more into this industry, I started realizing, “Man, I’ve got some friend goals.” I’m the type of person who writes the name of a new celebrity friend down on a notepad. [Laughs.] Jill Scott, Lalah Hathaway, Norah Jones, SZA… I just write it all down, and one day when I was looking at the list, I was like, “Dang, these are some friend goals.” And for all of us to be able to share each other’s music and fan bases is awesome.
AVC: For you, which Friend Goals track felt the most rewarding to create?
TB: It’s gotta be “To Be Real.” To get all these New Orleans people that you’ve always admired and loved and to be from New Orleans and finally have a bounce track—that’s so important to New Orleans people here. I had so many people messaging me, saying, “I love it, Tank,” in their New Orleans voice. When I heard that, I felt like I did my city good. We feel good doing it. I’m from here, so I’ve got to do it right. It wasn’t somebody else doing it that isn’t from here, you know? It was us, and we got all these local heroes on it.
AVC: So much of your music is driven by your penchant for storytelling. Do you have a storyteller who has inspired you the most?
TB: Probably Stevie Wonder. That would have to be one. Also, I used to work at a nursing home, and I would read a lot. They had a lot of romance novels, and I would just read for hours and answer the phones.
AVC: It’s interesting that you mention romance, because I always thought there was a unique brand of intimacy with your music. So much of your discography feels similar to sitting on the porch with a friend and just shooting the breeze. How do you replicate that kind of closeness with your music?
TB: I think it’s from actually writing my experiences down while I’m actively having those experiences, whether I’m happy or super mad about something. Mostly when I’m super bad, I write about it. I’ve written down some mean words that can’t nobody hear. But a lot of times when I do write, the guys are working on some pretty little groove, and I’ll just bring out those lyrics from way back when and make a melody.
AVC: Has the pandemic bolstered or placed a strain on your creative process?
TB: One of our members actually caught COVID and had to quarantine away from us, so we had to kind of make music through voice memos and email. And we definitely had to mix some things through a live Zoom, which was different. All you can do, honestly, is be grateful for the technology makers who make stuff like this possible, that allow you to do it in real time. We’re the type of band that is so busy on the road that we really benefited from a quarantine-type time because we needed to sit down and create. When you’re on the road, it’s hard. It’s nothing but stages, KFCs, and gas stations. We had a lot of fun and created a lot of music.
AVC: Did this time teach you anything new about your creative process?
TB: I guess it taught me that I need my guys when I’m stuck. Writing is like a muscle. You have to use it quite often, and when it gets time to write, it can be like, “Oh goodness, what am I going to say right here?” Josh wrote a lot of “Mr. Insta,” and even if I’m missing out on a line, Norman or Albert will help me. I think we all had a pretty good time. We literally made studios! Since we couldn’t go to any studios, Albert and Josh bought a lot of stuff, and they made studios at home, and we recorded right there. It just let us know that we could do a lot of it ourselves. Once we got signed with a label, they introduced us to all these producers, and that’s always great, but we put that extra trust in ourselves, because I don’t want us to ever lose our sound and what we can create when we’re alone, like we did before we ever met anybody.
AVC: What’s your favorite song to perform?
TB: I just finished performing “Mr. Insta,” and it went hard. It felt so good. Of course Chika wasn’t there, so I just doubled the hook during her part, but I don’t think it will be that fly. I thought “TSA” would be the dopest to perform, but this one went hard. It was really fun. I had two little girls next to me in cell phone costumes dancing next to me. [Laughs.] Everything else is pretty even. We have a new part on “I’m A Poet” that goes pretty hard. It gets really intense, especially in this time of Trumpism. It’s such a political song-poem-rap. It’s really crazy to perform right now, so I have a good time performing that one.
AVC: When it comes to your performances, a song that I think about a lot is “Quick,” which Tanks And The Bangas actually performed in The A.V. Club’s Chicago studio three years ago. What’s interesting about that song is that you cannot watch two performances in a row and see the same performance. You change it up every single time.
TB: You’re right about that. That song is so thick. It’s like thick hair: It’s full of so much, and it could go so many different ways. And when I first used to perform, I used to hate it because my MP told me to perform it like I was Janet Jackson. I was like, “God, I can’t do it like that. I’ve got to rap-sing it.” The moment I changed it, it became much more fun to perform. It used to be really hard.
AVC: So with the EP almost here, what is your ultimate friend goal? Whose name would you like to write in your notepad and possibly work with one day?
TB: Kendrick Lamar and Stevie Wonder for sure. I really love Kendrick Lamar. I know I’m going to meet him one day because I’ve just spoken it in existence too much to not. So I’m gonna meet him. We’re gonna become great friends.