Tank And The Bangas: Tiny Desks And Disney Musicals

May 26, 2017
Originally published on September 22, 2017 10:39 am

According to NPR Music's Bob Boilen, this year's Tiny Desk Contest received 6,600 submissions from all 50 states. He joined host Ophira Eisenberg to introduce this year's winner: Tank and the Bangas, the New Orleans-based band that blends hip hop and R&B with poetry, humor, and storytelling. The band was the judges' clear favorite, because, as Boilen put it, "There's so much life there." He continued, "It takes care of the head, cause it's a lot of thinkin'. It takes care of the bottom and the feet cause there's a lot of dancin'." This combination has instantly resonated with audiences — since winning the contest, their 2013 album Think Tank surged to the No. 1 spot on iTunes' R&B/Soul chart.

However, vocalist Tarriona "Tank" Ball confessed to Eisenberg that the band almost didn't enter the Tiny Desk Contest! "I just did not think that we would win," she revealed. "But my best friend pushed it and I'm so thankful that she did." When the band heard that they had won, it was such a surreal moment that Tank said she was even "shocked at [her] own shock!" But the idea that Tank and the Bangas was an overnight sensation is largely an illusion. The band has been working hard and earning success for a long time, appearing on magazine covers and winning awards. Tank described the experience of being dubbed an overnight sensation as a "mix between knowing you've been a running, athletic racehorse slash people thinking you're a mystical unicorn."

The band treated the Bell House crowd to a performance of their Tiny Desk Contest submission "Quick." Then, Tank shed some light on the band's many and various musical styles, describing their sound as "soulful Disney." "Those were the soundtracks that got my heart pumpin'," Tank explained. Inspired by this, we challenged her and saxophonist Albert Allenback to a game of Disney Feud, in which they must name the most popular song from a given Disney movie according its number of plays on Spotify.

HIGHLIGHTS

Tank Ball on restarting her life after Hurricane Katrina

The fact that I was able to leave — it was the most amazing, most horrible thing that could have ever happened... when it changed my life, I was able to literally redefine whoever I wanted to be cause no one knew who I was.

Tank Ball on the early days of Tank and the Bangas

Very early we put all our money together and got an RV and was on the road. That was the dumbest, bravest, greatest decision ever... it let us know that with the support of friends and true community that you can really move. And that's what we did in that RV, we moved all around... We was in there for maybe two weeks — that was enough.

Heard On Tank And The Bangas: Tiny Desks And Disney Musicals

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ART CHUNG: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

(APPLAUSE)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thank you, Art. Before the break, our contestant Hudson won their way to the final round at the end the show. We'll find out a little later who they will face off against. But first, our special guests are the winners of NPR's Tiny Desk Contest.

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: And here to help me introduce them is NPR Music's own Bob Boilen.

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Hey, Everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Hey, Bob. So this year, 2017 Tiny Desk, how many submissions did you get?

BOILEN: Six thousand, six hundred from all 50 states.

EISENBERG: Wow. OK. And what is it about Tank and the Bangas that made them the unanimous winner?

BOILEN: Just there's so much life there. And there's great music. And there's poetry. It takes care of the head because it's a lot of thinking. It takes care of the bottom and the feet because there's lots of dancing, right?

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOILEN: Yeah. It does all those things.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOILEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And it was just like, this is the one.

BOILEN: It just kept coming up again and again. And you'd hear the words around the office - did you see the Tank and the Bangas?

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOILEN: Yeah. Yeah. That happened.

EISENBERG: Bob, I think we should meet them, right?

BOILEN: We all did good, right?

EISENBERG: Yeah. We did great.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Let's welcome to the stage from Tank and the Bangas Tank Ball and Albert Allenback.

(APPLAUSE)

TANK BALL: Wow. That's amazing.

EISENBERG: Well, hello.

BALL: Hello.

ALBERT ALLENBACK: Hey.

EISENBERG: Hello, Tank. Hello, Albert.

ALLENBACK: Hey.

EISENBERG: Congratulations. Now, I heard, Tank, that you almost didn't enter this contest.

BALL: What?

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: I never said that.

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: All right, you're right.

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: You're right.

EISENBERG: What happened?

BALL: I just did not think that we would win because there was so many people that was - that entered. But my best friend pushed it. And...

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: ...I'm so thankful that she did.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: What was the call like?

BALL: Received the call and already had an unreal, surreal, extremely excited moment of unbelief. It was - really, dude? Like, for real? Like, for real? Like, one of those...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BALL: I was shocked at my own shock.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Right. You're like, even I can't believe that I can't believe, right? Because, you know, you win this and all of a sudden people go crazy for your music. And your 2013 studio album, "Think Tank," goes to number one on the iTunes R&B soul music album chart.

BALL: What?

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Because this contest also creates this illusion that you're an overnight success. But the truth is you guys have been a hardworking band for a while and have done amazing things. You've been on magazine covers. You've won awards. So do you like this myth that you're an overnight success? Or do you want people to know, no, you were busting your butt for years making it happen and, you know, being a professional artist?

BALL: It's literally a mix between knowing that you've been a running, athletic racehorse slash people thinking that you're a mystical unicorn.

EISENBERG: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: I like to be both, so I'm a reindeer.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Let's hear the song you won the Tiny Desk Contest with. This is "Quick."

(APPLAUSE)

TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Rapping) Girl, I'm chill. Don't weave. Don't. Everything slick now.

(CHEERING)

TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) That, that, that, look at that, that, that. Down by the river where the green grass grow and the sun be burning hot, you took your pantyhose. Don't nobody know where you go, just know the block just got hot. When you see a trick, got to be slick, got to be quick, got to get, get, before you get got. Ooh, ain't no telling what I'm going to do tonight. Man, I showed up in the room. It was full of liquor and colors. Then I grabbed somebody's room, and he was curious and plastered. I took him by the hand. I slipped a mickey in his vodka. Next thing that I know, man, he was reaching for his wallet. On the road, driving real fast, tank full of gas, cash. On the radio, it played back so fast. I might pass, might crash. Play it smart, take it slow. Sipping on that sizzerp (ph), I was leaning and rocking. My car started swerving. Back that bass mixed with them sirens.

I see him looking, a mile away. He like my body, don't see my face. Hang with them girls, got to pay to play. My back is aching, my bra too tight, my booty shaking from left to right. I see him looking a mile away. You're trying to get me. Don't play to stay. Hang with them girls who run away. My back is aching, my bra too tight, my booty shaking from left to right.

(Vocalizing). I am not the sea. I am the ocean. I am not the water. I am the well. A big-mouthed, beaded black girl in the back of the class, I got a double-dutch dance, a AWOL glance and even my neck dance. I am insistent when I ride on, for what is a room to a car when I am the shotgun house with the roof gone? Like a New Orleans warrior with a fistful of holy water, been dripping since I got here. Don't know where I've been, but I've been here. Don't know where it starts, but it begins here for I am that balm in Gilead. I do what I say. Your wisdom in Solomon, the price of being great. It was a life led by fear or a life led by faith. I think damn, I want to be like Harriet.

You want to be like Harriet?

I want to be like Harriet. I want to be bravery, running through the woods with nothing but aim and (unintelligible). I got a shotgun. I got a shotgun with nothing but aim and (unintelligible). Been searching for something I only could find in the dark. Got a machine gun for a arm and a compass for a heart. That's why I don't know where I've been, but I've been here. I don't know where it starts, but it begins here. I live my life with no fear. I'm like the ship with no (unintelligible). Fear does not live here, God lives here. I see him looking from far away. He likes my body, don't see my face. Hang with them girls, I got to pay to...

My back is aching, bra too tight. Booty's shaking left to right. Look at the flick of my wrist. Look at the flick of my wrist. Look, look, look at the flick of my wrist. Look at the flick of my wrist. Look at the flick of my (unintelligible). Look at the, look at the, look at the, look at the, look at the...

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: So that was pretty amazing. Tank, I read that you said that your life really started after the storm - being Hurricane Katrina, of course. What did you mean by that?

BALL: When you grow up in a New Orleans school and you wear these uniforms, you begin to think uniformly as well. The fact that I was able to leave, it was the most amazing, most horrible thing that could ever have happened to a senior student. When it changed my life, I was able to literally redefine who have I wanted to be because no one knew I was. And I was able to dress however I wanted to dress. And I had to wear my personality on my sleeve because I needed friends. You need friends. Don't let anyone fool you. You need people to support you and love you and accept you. You need those people.

(APPLAUSE)

ALLENBACK: Clap it up for friends.

BALL: I have great friends. So I met these people, and I came back to New Orleans after that. Poetry changed my life once again. And after I - we - I was done with that that's when I met the band. That's how my life changed.

EISENBERG: So you were in the slam poetry scene, but then you decided, I want to go in a different direction.

BALL: I thought it was best to leave the game a champion.

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: You know, leave the game a champ. So very early we put all our money together and got a RV and was on the road. That was the dumbest, bravest, greatest decision ever. I don't know why we did it, but that - because that thing is a gas guzzler. It took all the gas.

EISENBERG: Right.

BALL: But it let us know that with the support of friends and true community that you can really move.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BALL: And that's what we did in that RV. We moved all around.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) And how long were you in that RV?

BALL: We was in there for maybe two weeks.

EISENBERG: OK.

BALL: That was enough.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: That was enough.

EISENBERG: Now, the sound of Tank and the Bangas - I don't know what most people associate with a band from New Orleans, but you guys cross a lot of genres. You've described it as soulful Disney, which I love. But can you tell me more about that?

BALL: We have discovered a lot of music along the way. We see no need, no reason to not include that in what we do because we love all kinds of music. And since I am the creator of - the writer of a lot of the music, I happened to watch Disney for a long time. Those were the soundtracks that got my heart pumping.

EISENBERG: OK, well, very good because Tank, we know that you're a big fan of Disney movies, so we've actually crafted a game for you and Albert called Disney Feud.

BALL: I'm afraid.

ALLENBACK: Oh, Lord.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I'm going to give you the title of a Disney movie, and you're going to buzz in and tell me the most popular song from that movie...

BALL: Oh, my God.

EISENBERG: ...According the number of plays on Spotify.

ALLENBACK: OK. All right.

BALL: Oh, my God.

EISENBERG: OK?

BALL: Oh, my God.

EISENBERG: If you guess the number one song you get the point, but if you guess a less popular song your opponent can steal by naming a song that's higher in the chart.

BALL: Oh, my God.

EISENBERG: Buzz in to answer first. Here we go. It's going to go great. We're here for you.

BALL: OK.

EISENBERG: Name the most popular song from "The Little Mermaid."

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Tank.

BALL: "A Whole New World."

CHUNG: "Little Mermaid."

BALL: "Under The Sea."

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: That is the most popular song, yes.

BALL: (Laughter).

ALLENBACK: Can I object?

BALL: Under the - shut up, Albert. You know nothing. Shut it. You know nothing.

ALLENBACK: So where the first song title from - so what movie is "A Whole New World" from?

BALL: That's from "Aladdin," actually.

ALLENBACK: All right, give me my point. Where's my point?

BALL: No, stop being so self-righteous.

ALLENBACK: You're disqualified.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I feel like I've been in two weeks of an RV with you right now.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Name the most popular song from "Frozen."

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Albert.

ALLENBACK: "Let It Go."

EISENBERG: "Let It Go" is correct, yeah.

BALL: I knew that one.

EISENBERG: "Beauty And The Beast," animated version.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Tank.

BALL: I'm going to be so wrong. Jesus. "Be Our Guest."

EISENBERG: An excellent song, very, very high. But there is one that is more popular.

ALLENBACK: Lord.

EISENBERG: Albert, can you steal?

BALL: I knew it.

ALLENBACK: It's the one where they're in the ballroom and that old woman and she (vocalizing). You know, she - and she's...

BALL: Oh, my God, "Tale As Old As Time" (ph).

ALLENBACK: You know - well, hold on. Let's see what it's called first. So - but I know it's not old woman teacup sings to anthropomorphic, like, porcupine.

EISENBERG: Albert, I want you to say the most obvious thing you can think of.

ALLENBACK: Is it called "Beauty And The Beast"?

EISENBERG: It is.

ALLENBACK: OK.

EISENBERG: All right.

(APPLAUSE)

ALLENBACK: Thank you. Thank God.

EISENBERG: All right, how about "Mulan"?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Albert, very quick and excited.

ALLENBACK: Is it the one with the - they're running around with the rice sacks?

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: Oh, my God. That's not the name of the song.

ALLENBACK: (Imitating song) Oh, ooh, yeah. Oh, no, it's the one with Christina Aguilera. She's looking in the water. That's all I can say. She's looking in the water. My reflection, when will I be the reflection I saw? I'm Mulan.

EISENBERG: The song is called "Reflection," but it is not the most popular.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Oh.

EISENBERG: There is one that is more popular.

BALL: Is that - is it the "Make The Man Out Of You" (ph) one?

EISENBERG: It is.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: This is your last clue. "Pinocchio."

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

BALL: Oh, my God.

EISENBERG: Albert.

ALLENBACK: Is that "When You Wish Upon A Star" comes from?

BALL: No.

ALLENBACK: Is that - who - Jiminy Cricket? Is that the same movie?

EISENBERG: I would like a definitive answer.

ALLENBACK: I'll say that. I'm not really - yeah, "When You Wish Upon A Star," final answer.

EISENBERG: That is correct. That is correct.

ALLENBACK: Oh, wow.

(APPLAUSE)

BALL: That's great.

EISENBERG: Yep. Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our special guest contestants, who are not competitive with each other at all...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: How did they do?

CHUNG: What a close yet confusing game.

(LAUGHTER)

CHUNG: Congratulations, Albert, you won an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

BALL: Oh, my God.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Thanks to Tank Ball and Albert Allenback from Tank and the Bangas.

(APPLAUSE, SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.