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Marching to the Beat of Her Own Drum

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Tank and the Bangas front woman Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball talks music, poetry and her inspirational journey.

By Lydia Gregovic, Photos by Gus Bennett Jr.

Tank and the Bangas’ hit song Rollercoasters opens with the reflection “I’ve always wondered why people rode roller coasters.” But if the New Orleans-based group’s rapid rise to fame is indicative of anything, it’s that front woman Tarriona “Tank” Ball is in for the ride of her life.

Like the coaster rides she sings about, Ball’s artistic journey has been long, winding and anything but linear. Despite her role as Tank and the Bangas’ lead vocalist, the singer’s roots lie in a different form of performance art altogether.

“Spoken-word poetry has always been a really big part of my life, ever since I was a little girl,” Ball says, recounting the influences that have shaped her musical career. “It was always there for me, for a long time.”

And when she started performing, it was spoken word that called to her most. As a teenager, Ball appeared in HBO’s Brave New Voices, a poetry-slam contest open exclusively to American youths. And as an adult, she continued to express her passion for the art form by competing in the National Poetry Slam competition.

Her background in poetry is apparent in Tank and the Bangas’ music, which has been described as a mix of everything from poetry to rock and even folk. But to Ball, the group’s sound surpasses genre.

“It’s life music,” she insists. “We talk about everything in it…getting your arm broken, riding a bike, learning how to color, how to skate. Anything that anybody experiences is probably in our songs. It goes beyond, you know, race or religion or anything, and it touches something in the corners of your heart.”

For Ball, many of these experiences relate back to New Orleans, where both she and the band itself were born. As Ball explains, creating the group wasn’t so much an intentional goal as it was the product of a chance meeting at an open-mic night at New Orleans restaurant BlackStar Caffe.

“Open mic would be every Monday night. It was pretty amazing,” Ball says. “We just sort of met other people in the group along the way.”

After performing together for several years and releasing a debut album, the group was encouraged to enter NPR’s 2017 Tiny Desk Contest by Ball’s close friend, a move that Ball originally resisted.

“She literally had to set it up like it was a gig,” Ball laughs. “She finally pushed us forward and made it happen. We picked the song. We picked the space that we wanted to film it in, which was a New Orleans classroom that I had been in before, with lots of art and big old desks. I was like, yeah, this is the place. It’s been history ever since.”

The group’s subsequent Tiny Desk Concert on NPR has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube, and in April, Tank and the Bangas embarked on a nationwide tour with NPR Music. Since then, Ball and her musicians have performed at music festivals throughout the country, and will notably appear at Austin’s own Austin City Limits Music Festival this month.

“NPR put us on a platform so that people could really see us shine,” Ball says of the impact the contest had on the band. “We’ve been like a night-light inside of many people’s rooms, and now it’s like we’re the main light turned on in the house.”

So, what’s next for Tank and the Bangas? Ball confirms the group is working on new music, although it may sound a little different from what fans are used to.

“The music changes and grows, like I change and I grow,” she explains.

But no matter what form the songs take, one thing is clear: Ball’s roller-coaster ride has just begun, and, so far, there doesn’t seem to be a drop in sight.  

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