Tank and the Bangas formed in the early 2010s, when vocalist and poet Tarriona “Tank” Ball (frontwoman, lead vocals) met musicians Norman Spence (keys) and Joshua Johnson (drums) at the New Orleans open-mic night Liberation Lounge; Albert Allenback (alto saxophone, flute) came on later, firming the band’s core lineup. “We met in 2010,” says Norman. “Around 2011 we got a little more serious, and then by 2012 it was official. And we’ve been going.”
They grinded for years in their hometown, playing local venues like Gasa Gasa and The Blue Nile while also lighting up the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with their explosive live sets. One local critic called them “untraditional, yet absolutely adherent to the New Orleans heritage of experimentation and invention that pulses through the veins of the city’s music” in 2016. Then came the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest, a nationwide talent competition inspired by the Tiny Desk Concerts beamed out of NPR’s offices in Washington, D.C. Tank and the Bangas’ entry, an intimate rendition of their song “Quick,” delighted the judges, and they beat out more than 6,000 other bands to take that year’s title. Their win brought their blend of poetry, R&B, gospel, pop, and whatever else struck their collective fancy to a worldwide stage.
In the past five years, Tank and the Bangas have become widely beloved for their lauded live shows and kitchen-sink approach to making music. They were a Best New Artist nominee at the 2020 Grammys and toured the world extensively, playing major U.S. festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. “We’ve managed to expand our Tiny Desk moment into a lifetime of amazingness,” says Tank. Red Balloon, Tank and the Bangas’ third studio album and second major-label release, came out of something rare for
the band: a pandemic-ordered break from their rigorous touring schedule. That gave the individual members space to breathe and double down on who they were as artists, and it allowed them to reunite as a more unified group. “We needed a time to be away from the road so that we could cultivate something new, and cultivate who we were,” says Tank.
The result is a marvelous modern soul album, one led by Tank’s commanding vocal presence but also firmly rooted in the musical chemistry conjured by the band being back in the studio and letting the vibes flow. While guests like Wayne Brady, Questlove, Jacob Collier, Lalah Hathaway, Trombone Shorty, and Alex Isley add dimensions to Red Balloon. “This has been one of the best attempts thus far at capturing what happens when we’re all playing at the same time,” says Albert. Its lyrics run the gamut of human experience, taking on the ills of America while also celebrating the beauty of Black life, revelling in sensuality while also talking frankly of heartbreak. Or, as Norman puts it, “Red Balloon is coming straight for your heart and your neck at the same time.”
Tank & The Bangas have been hailed as one of the “Best live bands in America” by NPR Music, and with Red Balloon they build on their rapidly growing legacy in exciting ways. “That’s the dope thing,” says Norman. “We get to keep on going and riding the wave—and whatever vibe we’re feeling, we get to go and create it. Man, it’s a blessing.”
A standing show.