Tank And The Bangas
Photo: Gus Bennett Jr
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominees: Tank And The Bangas' Leader On 'Green Balloon,' Chilling With Michelle Obama & Quitting IHOP To Make Music
Since even before their 2013 debut, Think Tank, New Orleans hip-hop/soul/everything outfit Tank And The Bangas have been coloring outside the musical lines with their boundless creativity, generous groove and unique spoken-word-meets-scat soulful vocals. Led by Tank herself, the group landed in earnest in 2019 with thier major label debut, Green Balloon, with a trio of features by Robert Glasper and more than enough quirky hooks to go around.
At the top of 2020, the band finds themselves up for Best New Artist at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, an honor they may have never expected, but one that makes sense considering the menu of genres their music offers while still tasting like a gumbo of the Big Easy's best influences.
"We don't sound like what typical New Orleans is supposed to stereotypically sound like," Tank explained. "But we feel like what New Orleans feels like, and that's just plain old good."
Having watched Tank And The Bangas grow and bloom like a supersonic fleur de lis in years past, from their nacent live performance on our Buzzin' series, to winning the NPR Tiny Desk Contest, to absolutely crushing it with their performance of "Nice Things" on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon," being recognized as one of the year's Best New Artist resonates with Tank and her teammates as something bigger than themselves.
"People like us can win a GRAMMY, regular people, chill people that did not come from this amazing legacy of other famous people or whatever," Tank said. "It's not a gimmick, that you can do your thing, that you can make your music, and that people will, they'll get it."
We linked up with Tank over the phone to ask her more about the nomination, their first major label album, rubbing elbows with Michelle Obama, her love for "Frazier," and a few more surprises...
Congrats on your GRAMMY nomination! What was your first thought when you found out you were nominated for Best New Artist?
My first thought was, "I wonder what category it is." That was my first thought because we put ourselves in so many considerations. So I was like, "I wonder which one." And it was very early in the morning, so it was kind of unbelievable, and you don't understand the full weight of what's going on because it's so early in the morning. But as the day went on, it was just an incredible day, and I felt like the city [of New Orleans] rejoiced with us.
It's funny you say that because when I listen to Tank and the Bangas, I feel like anything is possible - rhythmically, melodically, stylistically. Where does that fearlessness and freedom come from, musically?
I think it comes from being in a group among so many different people and everybody having these different backgrounds, different experiences with different family members, and a different culture, honestly. And you come together, and nobody turns down anybody's idea… unless it's just not cool, you know? You're like, "Aw, that's not cool." But for the majority part, we just kind of create and we don't make somebody feel bad about the idea that they're bringing to the table.
That's beautiful. Can you tell me a little bit about how Green Balloon, your major label debut, came together?
It was really years in the making. I mean, when we went to go live out in London for three months, I wrote there, and I kept a journal. And so, those journal pages in between, my interludes, are true pages from my journal that I kept when I was living out there. So, that was a lot of influence right there alone.
"Happy Town" was about Amsterdam. It was about my first time in Amsterdam. Yeah, many don't know that, but that was a happy place, people riding their bikes and the swans... like, what? This is crazy out here. It's so freeing. And Robert Glasper, that was a dream come true. Joshua, who is my drummer, he always wanted to ask... He said, "Man, it would be great if we got Robert Glasper on this." And I'm like, "What are you talking about? We can't go get Robert Glasper on this song. What are you talking about?" And for us to be at an NPR party for the anniversary and we all in one room, you know? I'm in a room with Bilal, Black Thought, and Robert Glasper. And I see him, and I say, "Josh, don't forget that this is your moment. Go tell him what you always wanted." And that's how we got it.
I love that story. Anything's possible, right?
That's how it feels.
You've had so many breakthrough moments, from winning NPR's Tiny Desk Contest, to your performance on "Fallon" this summer – there are so many. Does any moment stick out to you from this year when you thought, "Wow, this is really taking off"?
Man. I had an amazing year. And I've had an amazing year [every year] ever since I began doing this music full time and living out my dream. I think, quitting IHOP, I feel like it's been pretty freaking amazing ever since then. But this year touring with that album, and the crowds knowing the music, and performing at Afropunk in Brooklyn and in Paris, and meeting Michelle Obama at the Library of Congress and her telling me what her favorite poem is on my album. You're having conversations with Jill Scott and Lalah Hathaway on a regular basis, having somebody like Robert Glasper in my phone, and having two songs come out with Norah Jones and Mickey Hart, it's been an amazing year. I don't work with a gazillion people, but the ones I work with are hand-picked and very special. And they pick me. And it just really counts to me. Not too many people can say they chill with Michelle Obama, bro. Not too many people can say these things. It's crazy.
So your first album, Think Tank, just turned six years old. What do you hear now when you listen back to Think Tank? How does that make you feel?
I love to listen to certain songs, like "God Push Me," "Themeparks"… I don't know, it just feels like a part of the journey. It doesn't feel like anything that's surreal. Sometimes you just got to do it. We felt so unprepared to put out that album, and it came out, the CD's came to our house, we was working through disc makers online and just trying to press stuff ourselves, and had the album release party at one of the biggest clubs in Nola, and we were so nervous because we didn't know if the albums were even going to come that day. We waited outside all day for UPS. We were so scared.
It makes me just tell people just to do your thing even if you don't think that it's coming out right or it's the perfect time, and you're waiting for all your ducks to be in a row. They may not ever be in a row, but you got to still swim. You got to do it. You don't want to... What's worse, doing it or regretting it? Just do it because we weren't extremely proud of that work, but it connected to people on so many levels. I'm happy that we put it out.
You mentioned your hometown, New Orleans - how has that city helped shape what Tank and the Bangas are?
It's a vibe. It's not even the music. It's the fact that... everybody knows that we don't sound like a typical what you think New Orleans is… But we come from the underground of New Orleans that had all these artists just like ourselves, but not quite like us. So, it's not a sound that we cultivated that was from New Orleans, it was a spirit and a feeling that we brought with us everywhere we went. And people connected to it. Because we don't sound like what typical New Orleans is supposed to stereotypically sound like, but we feel like what New Orleans feels like, and that's just plain old good.
One of the things I love about being around you and the band is you all feel like friends. So, outside of music, what are some things the band all like to do when you're not on stage?
Well, sometimes it can be hard to go out to eat because a lot of the Bangas have stopped eating meat lately, and you already know that I still like my meat. So, when we go out to eat, we got to pick a certain restaurant, make sure they got vegan options. We like to explore cities together sometimes. And I found most days in that car is a laugh, you know?
Everybody really has their own personality and their own thing that they like to do in every city. Me, personally, I'm either eating food, writing a song, or really sleeping, or watching "Frasier" on Netflix.
Who knew, Tank's a Frasier fan!
Oh man, that's all I watch. It's weird.
Well, this has been such a huge year and a huge step to be nominated for Best New Artist. What's next for Tank and the Bangas?
What's next for Tank and the Bangas after I win this GRAMMY? [laughs]... We're just going to have a big old party, man, with everybody at home and everybody that supports us. And after that we're going to continuously make music and hopefully, what I would like, is for the videos to get crazier, but to really give people a look into Bangaville and what this was all about. I want to create this insane movement of free music that feels really good and be amongst the greats, like my favorites, like OutKast, like Earth, Wind & Fire or Funkadelic, and just remind people, people like us can win a GRAMMY, regular people, chill people that did not come from this amazing legacy of other famous people or whatever.
It's not a gimmick. That you can do your thing, that you can make your music, and that people will, they'll get it. And I think the GRAMMY needs something like that. They need a band like us, people like us to believe in again.