Tank And The Bangas – From Tiny Desk to the Masses: An Artist Development Story That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen This Way
By Deborah Speer
Tank and the Bangas are living what seems an artist development fairytale come true. Their success story gives credence to the premise that there is no one path for artist development.
After five years of self-booking and performing around their home base of New Orleans and the Southeast, the band’s manager sent a tape of its song “Quick” to NPR’s “Tiny Desk” concert and it was invited to perform. Tank and the Bangas went on to win Best Of Tiny Desk 2017, which instantly thrust them into the national spotlight.
“We were hoping to win, but it wasn’t a really big deal to us,” Terriona “Tank” Ball tells Pollstar. “We didn’t know how big a deal it was, but it really did change our lives.”
Their compelling backstory could open with “Once upon a time.” Tank and her family were among those displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Moving to Indiana as a teenager changed me,” she said. “I graduated from high school with different kids than I knew, wearing different clothes than I would have worn.” Tank began to express herself in poetry.
She returned to New Orleans, found new friends and experiences while writing and performing as a slam poet, eventually adding musicians at clubs around New Orleans.
Future manager Tavia Osbey, of MidCitizen Entertainment, was still a college student needing to write a paper about a live poetry experience and only went to a show because her sister was a fan. “I kind of went on a mission to find Tank for my sister,” Osbey said of the start of their relationship. “Somewhere along the way we became friends and me becoming her manager was kind of a joke that became real.
“But I always thought she could use NPR as the platform for people to hear her,” Osbey says. “I used to go to the open mic every week just to see her and for the feeling I would get from experiencing a performer and a poet.”
Many others would feel Osbey’s same jolt of wonder and discovery upon hearing TATB’s amalgamation of spoken word, hip-hop, rock and jazz. More Frank Zappa whimsy than jazzy noodling, the band is anchored by Tank’s emotive voice that can range from a dulcet whisper to a Mack truck and everything in between. The Bangas, which began to gel as a collective in 2011, would eventually settle into a core of drummer and musical director Joshua Johnson; Albert Allenback on sax and flute; Norman Spence, bassist and synths; and Merell Burkett, keyboards.
The massive chain reaction to the Tiny Desk results took Tank and the Bangas completely by surprise.
“It was like seeing 6,000 leaves on the ground and picking one up and finding it has your name on it,” Tank says. “We were always traveling all the time but, after that, every show sold out. People are screaming. It’s never been like this.”
Then the record labels came courting. “We wanted to do something with the music and travel with it,” says the 29-year-old Tank of the band’s pre-NPR life. “We never thought about that because we’d been independent for so many years. We’d fund our own tours.
“To get to the next level, we knew we couldn’t do it alone. Tavia works so hard; I wanted someone to relieve the pressure and get a machine behind us.”
Verve Label Group – with its historic catalog of jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Billie Holliday and progressive artists like Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground – was one of those labels seeking to win the hearts of Tank and the Bangas.
“We were persistent without being obnoxious,” Dahlia Ambach-Caplin, VP of A&R for Verve, who ultimately signed the band, tells Pollstar. “When we sign the gems, because they are rare, we will use the full-court press.”
Tank and the Bangas, along with its team of agents Meredith Kluger and David Rowan of High Road Touring, has in 2018 made a huge splash at Sasquatch! BottleRock, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival among others.
In the past, TATB has opened for Big Freedia (also a MidCitizen client – a show in 2016 at Brooklyn Bowl grossed $18,856, according to Pollstar BoxOffice reports) and Alabama Shakes (a Shreveport Municipal Auditorium show in April 2017 grossed $124,000). More recently, the band headlined an April show at Austin’s Scoot Inn, grossing $16,575.
“Their live shows are incredibly powerful, captivating, compelling and dynamic. Beyond anything this band is joyful, and bringing a message of hope, positivity, inclusivity, and love, which is what draws the fans to them, and keeps them coming to every show,” High Road’s Kluger tells Pollstar.
The band embarks on a European festival tour in June before returning to the States for Newport Jazz Festival and a headlining spot at Colorado’s Red Rocks in late July.
“We’re really in love with what we are doing right now. I don’t think we could do anything else,” Tank says. “For anybody coming on after, I hope they’re prepared to have as much fun as we do.”
So what would she want to do if she couldn’t perform?
“I always wanted to be a Disney voiceover character for something, I don’t know what doing that would be, but it would be pretty freaking cool.”
If she couldn’t live the fairytale she currently seems to be living, she certainly could voice one.