Editor’s Note: The interview was conducted over the phone, so some of the audio had to be cut due to poor connectivity issues.
Norman Spence plays the keys for Tank and the Bangas, a spoken word, funk, soul group from New Orleans fronted by Tarriona “Tank” Ball. Tank and the Bangas formed in 2011 and released their album “Think Tank” in 2013. Since then, they have gained immense popularity from winning NPR’s Tiny Desk contest and stunning crowds with their exciting live performances.
Story by Gabrielle Sanchez and Zoe Judilla
Photo courtesy of Gus Bennett Jr.
The group played shows at this year’s South by Southwest and just started a new tour. They will be playing in Austin this Saturday at the Historic Scoot Inn. ORANGE Magazine had the chance to talk with Spence about their upcoming album, tour and how they develop their infectious energy.
With the start of your April-May Tour coming up in a few days, what should audiences expect from Tank and The Bangas specifically in this string of shows?
It’s gonna be a lot of fun, hopefully everybody’s excited. Come ready to party, we’re gonna have fun whether you’re ready or not.
What’s your favorite part of touring?
Some of my favorite parts of touring have to be all the bands that we meet at music festivals, you never know who’s going up. That’s one part, the other part is traveling, I love to travel. I can see a lot of cool places because of touring, so that’s always a plus as well.
What exactly goes into that unique, almost improvisational live show?
They’re all different, most of the time. You know the songs are the same, but we try to keep it fresh musically since that’s fun. Also, we rehearse, we know the music, it’s a part of us now and we get to share the joy that we have in the music with the audience and I think that’s why they love it. I think they feel our love through the music.
Tell us how you got involved with Tank and the Bangas.
I’ve been with [the band] since the beginning. When I met Tank, I was actually playing for another artist . I moved to New Orleans in 2008 and started playing with this rock band called Snuff Sugar and I met this guy named Norman. I met Tank when she was featured at this open mic, eventually I stopped playing with Tonya (another artist) and just started playing with Tank. I met Tank and Josh (drums) on the same night at this open mic when Tonya featured there. There was no Tank and the Bangas at that point, it was just the Black Star Bangers, which was the house band at the open mic. We became part of the house band that started, and Tank was a part of that group. Tank had an album out before I met her, it was mostly poems, she had a couple of songs and somebody gave her a track or two. She had a trumpet on one song and a guitar on another song and that was the album. She didn’t need us, but we kind of fit right in because she didn't have instrumentation you know what I mean? We came together and it was definitely divine.
It’s been quite a while since “Think Tank” came out, and your most recent release online has been the studio version of “Quick.” What can you tell us about the status of the next album, and how it differs from your first?
Well, the next album, we’ve been working really hard on it. I say hard work, but it’s actually been a lot of fun. We’ve been at it every day, in the studio this week between touring. As soon as we get off the road, the next day we’re in the studio. But the thing is, it’s sounding amazing. You know, Think Tank, is beautiful for what it is. In our minds it was unfinished. We had a deadline for this album release and I won't even tell you how late we were trying to get it out. But hey, we finished the album. Once, we finished it, it wasn’t exactly where we wanted it to be but people loved it. We dropped the live album in 2015, and that’s a taste of our live experience. With our new album that’s coming out now you’re gonna enjoy when you hear the professional production, you get a better glimpse of us. I think it’s gonna be exciting and people will really appreciate it. It’s hard not to dance to a lot of the tracks and that’s the cool part, that’s when you know you’ve got something special.
Do you plan on playing anything new on this leg of the tour?
We actually perform one of the songs, but that’s pretty much the only one that we played. Everything else is kind of a secret right now. But even aside from “Quick,” there are some new songs that aren’t on the album, like poems that Tank has that we put music over. So there's always something new to hear even if it’s not new from this album.
With as many members as you have, how do you ensure that everyone is spoken for creatively?
Whatever we feel, we bring it to the table. Tank might send out a voice recording and we’ll get four different ideas. But when we all bring it together it becomes something great. Sometimes it will just be one of us that says ‘Oh I think we should do this, or this is what I think,’ and there’s nothing wrong with that but it’s all organic. It’s an organic process for sure, there’s no ‘we better do it like this or it’s not gonna be right.’ Whatever feels the best we try to go with.
It’s been a little over a year now since you guys won the NPR Tiny Desk Contest. How much would you say has changed for the group since then?
Oh man, everyone knows us now, everywhere, it’s so cool to see how international NPR is. The people that come up to us randomly, they’re like ‘aw I saw you on NPR, I saw your Tiny Desk, changed my life even.’ I’ve been hearing all kinds of things, ‘it’s inspiring, .’ Bob Boilen said before our concert at South by Southwest that we’re the best live band in America. He must have never seen Bruno Mars for sure, I don’t know, but Bob said that. He’s the Tiny Desk Captain for sure and for him to say something like that, of all the Tiny Desks he produced and witnessed, that’s gotta be something special. Everywhere we go now we sell out, people know the songs already and they know our names sometimes, it’s pretty cool. Thank god for Tiny Desk. It’s funny though, we’ve been pretty much doing the same thing, and having the same type of impact since the beginning.
What did you personally enjoy about being here for South by Southwest, and how the city overall has treated you guys as a band?
I think Austin was beautiful. The weather was kind of perfect and the people were amazing, everybody treated us pretty good. Performing on the same stage with Common was cool.
What is your favorite song to perform on tour?
It’s tough, because I have fun on “The Bradys.” But I love to see the impact “Rollercoasters” has so it’s between those two.
As Tank and the Bangas continue to grow as artists and continue to reach wider audiences, what do you hope your music translates to people in the long-term?
I hope whatever good feeling they feel initially when they listen to our music, I hope that either grows or continues to stick with them. I just always want them to feel a genuine vibe from us and I want it to last forever. That’s what I want our fans to get from our music.