Tarriona Ball’s stage name is fitting, as Tank is a force to be reckoned with. She is quirky, smart and strong. Her beliefs are her core, and she voices them through her musical poetry. Though this band has been around for a few years, playing at smaller venues and festivals, they were the focal point of the November edition of The Joy Theater’s This Is NOLA showcase. Dressed in school uniforms, Tank led her classmates through many fun songs, tossing her scarf about, before bringing the mood down for more serious pieces. Each song was as unique as the last, and you can hear such texture on their new release, The Big Bang Theory. I caught up with Tank and sax player Albert Allenback to discuss the group’s roots, their singular style and what lies ahead.
WYAT: How did the band come together?
Tank: We were the Liberated Soul Collective, and we decided to see if we’re loved in another place. We saved up our money, rented an RV and went traveling through the South. After that, [some band members moved away] so we became Tank and the Bangas. We combine spoken word and music in every set because it’s something that I grew up loving. I was on a slam team.
WYAT: Let’s go back even farther. How did you get into spoken word?
Tank: I believe it all started in two places. I opened up my sister’s poetry book, and I read all the poems and knew them by heart, and I was really excited about that. The second was at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary, and my cousin gave me a poem to read that she gives to her students called “A Great Somebody” by Adrienne Hardesty. After that, I went to my first high school poetry slam, and for an auditorium full of my peers to stand up for me, the girl they barely noticed in the hall, that’s when I knew I had a voice and I had to do something with it. It’s one of the scariest, most exciting rollercoasters ever, only rollercoasters end at a certain point. When you follow your dream, you don’t know where it’s going to take you, and that’s one of the scariest parts of it.
WYAT: How did you become a Banga?
Albert Allenback: I was going to go to Berklee, but I came here first to try it out. I was getting discouraged with the scene, cynicism and seeing people burned out, and not playing the music I wanted to play. Then I started playing at our bass player, Norman Spence’s, church and one day Tank needed an extra sax player for a gig. I played a show at Tipitina’s with them, and told them they needed to take me with them. I did my homework, and I came and showed them.
WYAT: What is the dynamic of the band? How do you relate to each other to make this sound?
Albert: We all work in different ways compositionally. Josh Johnson and Norm are more [spontaneous]. I like to compose something alone and bring it in fleshed out. Merell Burkett, we feed him ideas, and he spits them out like a machine. We all understand that we need each other. That’s how we approach music: positive energy, collective talent, and it comes out as serious music that’s positive music, which is important in today’s climate.
WYAT: Where do you hope to play in the future?
Tank: New soil. I want to breathe the air of and take a piece of grass home from another country. I want to see how those ears will receive us. We’re planted right here in New Orleans; it is our roots. But it’s not my branches; I’d like to go everywhere, but come right back home. Look forward to us, and speak good things for us.