Tank and The Bangas: On how to connect and spark hope.


“Well, that sounds positive,” were the first words out of Tarronia “Tank” Ball’s mouth after we described Happy to her. I already knew I liked her. Tank and the Bangas, a New Orleans based band, take a fresh look at New Orleans Jazz, introducing elements of R&B, funk and spoken work that draw on Tank's history as a slam poet. After a stunning NPR Tiny Desk performance, the world turned their ears and eyes to Tank's power, her vulnerability, and her story. And like most people who’ve had a taste of her magic, we can’t get enough. Recently she opened up to us about her songwriting, the community of fans she has built, and how we can connect with each other to spark hope in our communities.

Jeremy Fischbach (CEO of Happy): Music is rooted in struggle and storytelling, and it's pretty clear that in some of your spoken word and songwriting you use music as a way to process struggle. What's that process like for you?

Tank (of Tank and The Bangas): In my childhood, I always wrote about other people going through stuff . . . when I got older I started painting my own picture. Sometimes I think about something I’m going through at that time, mostly it's something that I’ve been struggling with, and I just decide to write it down and get it out of myself, because writing and expressing is always therapy for me. It’s just whatever I’m feeling at that time, whatever I’m struggling with, whatever I’m going through or thinking about, or whatever I just need to get out.

JF: You’ve been performing your original music and poetry for a while now, but you're drawing out more fans than ever. How do you connect with all your fans?

Tank: Well first off, I don’t look at them as fans, they are people. People who were all doing something completely different earlier in the day, but all literally had the same mind to drive to the same place and experience the same thing. That/s connected, that's magic, that’s beautiful. And to look out at an audience and see all these people there all together, listening to the same song and feeling the exact same thing that I felt years ago when I wrote that song — that’s special. We’ve always had people who come out and feel connected to the album, even if it was 2 or 3 people, but these days to see a whole audience of people singing your words, and feeling the same things — that’s crazy!

JF: That must be an exciting experience. And it must feel great to look out and know that you're helping people.

Tank: It feels amazing. It feels amazing to know that you’re not crazy, there are hundreds and thousands of people who are feeling it too. They are going through the same things, they’ve had the same feelings and the same thoughts, but unlike you, they didn’t always know how to express it. And the fact that you gave them an avenue to feel and express, you gave them a page to write on - and all because somebody gave you a microphone. It's amazing to know that you’ve helped somebody, and to just see the look of gratitude on their faces.

JF: Happy is about giving and receiving support - do you feel like that’s similar to what you do when you perform - give support?

Tank: Oh yeah and I just do it naturally... sometimes people just need someone to tell them to keep going, that they are a lighter, that they have to spark something - we were not put on this earth to just pay bills and die. And just hearing that alone, they catch it and roll with it, for the rest of the night, for the rest of the week.

JF: What song of yours has been surprising in how it resonated with your audience?

Tank: I’ve always known that “Rollercoasters” was really special. Everyone I’ve ever met has ridden on that rollercoaster at some point - has actually been in love or been afraid to fall in love. I wrote it so innocently and people just responded really to that vulnerability.

JF: What do you see as your guiding purpose - besides making music that people love?

Tank: It's not just the music, it's the fact that you're making it, it’s the fact that you are doing something that you’re called to do. When you see somebody out there doing their thing and literally trying to move themselves through this world just by their gifts alone, you are inspired, you are encouraged, and that's really the goal of it all. It’s not that a song touched you, but that another human that's made of all the things that you are made of, nothing less, nothing more, is doing what you can do.

JF: What do you see going on in this country now? It feels like people are disconnected, need more support, especially at this moment.

Tank: People need so much more love, and they need it on a constant basis, and not just through the internet... they need it through human interaction. I’m working on a poem right now that literally says “when someone touches someone they touch someone.” True change begins as a personal thought that trickles out to the community and spreads. After that the hope becomes contagious, and the things we want for ourselves and our communities start to happen.

JF: Do you think music can change our culture in the way you want?

Tank: Yes. We see it done everyday, we see the teenagers dancing the dances, changing the conversations, changing the way they look, something is guiding that and it’s music. Music is more influential than politicians, you just have to say something and mean it. You just have to say something important.

You can listen to Tank’s powerful music here, and see her live in a city near you!

Pam Soffer