Smoke and Chill with Tank and the Bangas

By Justin Caffier on May 4, 2018

Originating when some of its members met at a slam poetry open mic in a New Orleans lounge, the soul funk mega-group Tank and the Bangas has spent the better part of the past decade slowly building its audience. This slow boil finally landed the band a booking at the two-weekend signifier of undeniable success that is Coachella. PRØHBTD spoke with frontwoman Tarriona "Tank" Ball between those two performances to chat about the festival experience, how patience pays off and the band's new single, “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.,” which dropped on the stoniest of holidays, 420. 

You just finished playing your first weekend of Coachella, a dream for most musicians. Do you have any highlights—on or off the stage—that you'd like to share?

So many little things here and there. Just to see Chance the Rapper… he was really glad to see me and gave me these huge hugs. I saw Justin Bieber walking around! (Laughs.) Just to be among people who see you the same as you see them, as somebody who's important and special. It's so cool to actually be a part of [something with] the first African-American woman to headline Coachella. Just being part of that is so monumental.

What are you going to do between the two weekends? How are you going to spend your time?

At the moment, [going] straight back in the studio working on this new album, with shows in between. Shows and studio basically, and then we get ready to go back. I can’t wait to go back. I can't wait to be in the artist compound. It was just so dope because you never know what you are going to see. That's the cool part.

I saw a video… I wasn’t even there [that night], my house was so far away from the event and all the way up in the mountains. I saw Nicki Minaj there, and I saw Kylie Jenner and spotted Tyler, the Creator. It’s really cool to be in the artist compound. It’s so cool, you’re like, “Wow, I’m amongst the cool kids.”

You also kicked off a big tour as well. When did that wrap up?

I feel like that tour has never ended.

It's still going?

The big tour was when we were in Europe. It's like we've never stopped. Since we’ve been in town, we've been going non-stop.The really big tour was when we were in Europe. We were everywhere for a moment. Stops in Australia, New Zealand, and Africa.

What did you learn about your band mates, for better or worse, in such a contained space for all that time on tour?

We've been traveling together for a long time, but it's never been for a tour before. We waited a long time to do this, but we lived in London for three months in a three-bedroom apartment, and that was seven of us. I know them pretty well when it comes down to travel.They're pretty laid back. Nobody likes to be on a plane for hours at a time, but for the most part, they’re pretty laid back on the road. They carried their own little snacks, and the only time they complain is when the airplane food is shitty. Other than that, we have a pretty good time together.

Like you said, you guys have been playing together for a while—the better part of the decade—and only recently started to break into the mainstream. Were there moments in those early years where you considered throwing in the towel? Did you always anticipate that people’s tastes would catch up to your sound?

I honestly thought that I was going to be performing in little clubs for all of my life, but every year things changed. We would take home $17… $20… $50 a person, and then it started getting like, "Ooh, it's $100 dollars a person now!" It's like something was changing. We've always been in little bitty clubs all over America, like little gospel tents. We've always had a really good time. My manager—who happens to be my best friend—always used to tell us that all we needed was a platform for people to see what we've been doing for the longest time. Rolling Stone called us “a well-kept secret” that now everybody knows about.

But those who knew, man, they really knew, and they supported us. Every time we came through that little town, they would be there, and the club was on fire. It's cool to play huge stages like Coachella and Bonnaroo. It's basically everybody getting to see what we've already been doing for a while. It's just cool, man.

Your songs clearly pull influence from your slam poetry background. Did the music evolve from your poetry, or was there a concerted effort to pursue an entirely different kind of art?

I was so happy that I was a part of the poetry slam world. People in slams judge you before you get on stage, from a scale of 1 to 10. It was freeing to be part of that world because I had already been judged, so I got to do my thing no matter what. I was happy, but I was stupid overall. It made me vulnerable.

You also often draw inspiration from unorthodox sources like cartoons and anime. Your song “Oh Heart” landed a spot in a cartoon, Bojack Horseman, because of that. In a world where everything seemingly influences each other, do you have any artistic inspirations that you’d love to be involved in someday?

We're having so much fun creating new music! We really feel that the music comes from the words, the feelings and the instruments that we play. We're having so much fun in the studio, and it's just so carefree and light and fun and young and spirited. I love when I listen to the rough mixes of all the songs, I just enjoy it so much. I just want to listen to us. I don’t want to hear anybody else’s new record.

You have a new single out, “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.” Ironically, you don’t smoke yourself, but it’s surely no accident that it was released on 4/20. What’s the impetus, then, for getting involved in this space? Do you think it’s the right time politically, or do you see an opportunity that you’d like to be involved in?

It was actually one of my own band members’ ideas to put it out on that date. The fact is, [cannabis] helps a lot of people come together and feel like talking! That's how a lot of guys actually open up, and girls feel comfortable when a guy actually listens when they open up. So, the song’s a story. It's a girl's perspective about a relationship that went south. When things were cool, they would smoke, and they would watch TV, and they would chill. When things weren't cool, he would stop showing up. They don't smoke no more. It represents a moment in time where everybody wants to let go of everything that is going on around them and create a situation where everybody is on the same equal playing field.

Everything just sounds political, but what they really want is to be free—everybody wants that. Everybody don't want nobody telling them what to do with their lives and their minds and their lifestyle. That's what everything is about. We hope that everybody could feel that when they listen to this. We have this old school vibe, and we want to bring them back to a time where things just felt better and more honest with yourself.

How do you straddle the line between making songs that are fun and commercially viable, while simultaneously speaking your truth and using your platform in the best possible way?

It's just my life. If your life happens to be political simply because you're black, or your life happens to be political because you're gay, that's your life. You absolutely cannot help it, you can't escape it. If it happens to leak into your music, that’s just what it does. It’s not a choice to make it political, but because of all the things that are around us, it makes it political, but it's still my life.

I am still black. Somebody still smokes around me and all those things sometimes can literally feel like it could be illegal even when it’s not. And that seeps into the music. It's only just life music. It's yourself that people like to make political. It's your life. 

They can smoke what they want, they love who they want, they wear what they want, they speak about what they want, and, for some reason, it's political. So if I'm writing about it, I'm writing about it. I am not even thinking about the politics of it, but because politics is a part of life, that's what the music is.

Photo credits: Josh Cheuse and Gus Bennett, Jr.

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