Tank And The Bangas On What It Takes To Become An 'Overnight Success'

·8 min read

Tank and The Bangas are a fan-favorite band across the globe. With funk-infused jazz and pop vibes, the fun-loving, high-energy performers leave their all on stage every time. Musicians Joshua Johnson, Norman Spence and Albert Allenback join frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball, to infuse their entire beings into the songs and transform them into full experiences at concerts. Their flight to international acclaim seems like that of an overnight success, but even if it looks like the group won NPR’s Tiny Desk and took off from there, that’s not exactly the whole story.

In honor of Black Music Month, Blavity sat down with Ball and Allenback to talk about their new album, things they learned during the pandemic shutdowns and why it’s problematic to assume success is achieved with ease.

There's no such thing as an overnight success

Tank and The Bangas won NPR’s Tiny Desk contest in 2017, and the rest is the stuff dreams are made of. As more and more people began to celebrate the band’s alleged overnight success, they sought to remind people just how long it takes to have that kind of win.

So crazy how people think we woke up, won Tiny Desk and that’s when life began for us. Life for us started right in this city,” Ball wrote in a Facebook post shortly before becoming first-time festival headliners by way of headlining at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April.

The group officially banded together in 2011 and has worked tirelessly to build its name. First in New Orleans, then branching out regionally, nationally and later overseas.

“It took years of traveling on the road without getting much money in return but going out there because you believe in your music and you want your fans to hear it,” Ball said. “And, you were definitely willing to sacrifice many things to get there, like comfortability, car, money or gas, all that stuff. And that’s serious when you’re riding with a bunch of people — everybody not gonna be down with that struggle, that journey. It’s handing out flyers and seeing your flyer in the mud one block up, which hurts your soul. It’s having crazy hairstyles and having the band use you as an advertisement, ‘look at her hair! Come to the show!'”

The band even risked getting arrested to perform guerilla-style shows in the streets to drum up traction. 

“Honestly, it takes a huge amount of belief and not just believing in yourself, but believing that the good things people say about you are true,” Ball said. “I would have done it for free, and many times we did, because we were just on a journey.”

She thinks it’s dangerous to allow people to believe things just happen overnight.

“It has to be known because people will literally think that you can win Tiny Desk or any competition and your life will change just like that,” she said. “There’s so much work that happens on the backend before that happens — before you even feel comfortable enough to send in a tape. It really does take a team. And, we still have so much to go.”

Allenback said that people need to know it’s not easy.

“People need to know how hard it is to create and live a creative life and the effort that it takes,” he said. “Because of the spoils of YouTube and TikTok and everything at our fingertips all the time, whatever you want is there and you can get it and the demand is on the artist to produce — it is insane. We cannot just cast aside years of development and practice and all of the things that happen when there’s no one else with you. People need to understand how long this stuff takes.”

You might have missed the "Red Balloon" Easter eggs

The band released their latest album Red Balloon in May. Not exactly a tribute to the previous project, Green Balloon, but more of a project they were not so discreetly forecasting for fans.

“The flavor of the day is red…” Ball said in one of the songs on the Green Balloon album.

That was one of the Easter eggs. Another was in the “Colors” intro of the album when green is stated multiple times, but so are red and purple. The group also mentions the phrase “colors change” toward the end of the album.

“We were just letting you know that it is coming,” Ball said. “We were intentional about it. We knew what we were doing.”

The red balloon symbolizes passion and alertness, among other things.

“Stopping in moments to look around you,” Ball said. “This album is honestly a surprise to all of us — how it sounds — we never knew it would sound like this. It’s beautiful to see the growth. I listen to the album like it’s not even ours.”

Allenback said he thinks the new album is the perfect project to translate to performance.

“This is our best recording of us playing together,” he said. “I think [Red Balloon] can amplify what people can expect from a live show and amplify this feedback loop that goes between recorded music and the live show because we’re closer to that feeling than ever before.”

Ball said this album is the first time all of the members were together in one room for recording. Before Red Balloon, they worked by sending tracks back and forth to each other.

“It just made it special,” she said.

Tank and The Bangas
Photo Credit: Jeremy Tauriac

Remaining an individual is essential to being in a group

Last year, Ball penned her first poetry book and took off on a tour to showcase the writings. Other members of the group have also done outside projects that both Ball and Allenback say are essential to coming back together as a band.

“The group kind of represents one voice,” Ball said. “When we stand together on that stage, it’s showing you ‘this is all of the music that we like, this is what we agreed upon, this is what it is.’ When you’re an individual you have to make sure that you’re feeding other creative parts of yourself because we weren’t born a group. It’s important to maintain being an individual and make something on your own and then come back to the collective, come back into the fold.”

Allenback said that there are always other things artists need to express, and sometimes those things don’t fit the work the band does.

“In a group setting, you will have to put some of those things to the side because you have to make concessions and eventually you have this thing that hopefully has the best parts of what everyone has to offer,” he said.

And sometimes some of those side projects find their way to the Banga stage. Ball has been including some of her spoken word poetry roots in shows, including at the band’s headliner performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. She likened the inclusion of her former slam poetry teammates at her show to Beyoncé bringing on Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams at the Superbowl.

“Just like Beyoncé knew she wouldn’t be there without them, I know I would have never gotten to this moment of headlining my first big festival in New Orleans if it wasn’t for Team SNO (Slam New Orleans),” Ball said.

Lessons from pandemic shutdowns

Everyone learned at least one thing about themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, so it’s no surprise that Ball and Allenback each took in some serious lessons during their rare period of quiet.

Ball relearned life in New Orleans.

“I felt like I was dating the city,” she said. “For someone who is never consistently in their own bed, because we live this lifestyle — fast living, hotel rooms, on stage, but you never realize what type of lifestyle you signed up for until you pause.”

She said she started to realize how interesting the lifestyle she’s chosen truly is.

Allenback joined the group very soon after graduating from college. His time away from the stage allowed him to fully process his adult life.

“I basically learned everything about adulthood that I could,” he said. “I didn’t know that certain flowers in the neighborhood bloomed twice, I didn’t know about all of this normal stuff that has to happen.”

He said that for at least three years, none of the members spent more than two weeks at a time at home. 

“It was interesting the skills that I had to learn,” he said.

Connecting with fans

Making music is something the band enjoys, but taking that to another level up close and personal with fans is what drives them. They’re out on the road with Trombone Shorty and Big Freedia for a lengthy tour that features shows across the U.S. with some European dates.

“It’s always a bang!” Ball said. “It’s always big and cool, and our fans love it.”

Following this run, the band will be headed out on a world tour, although details have yet to be released.