Tank and the Bangas' album tackles serious issues including the Capitol attack Tank and the Bangas' third studio album, Red Balloon, celebrates Black life and reckons with America's ills. NPR's Leila Fadel talks to lead singer Tarriona "Tank" Ball.

Tank and the Bangas' album tackles serious issues including the Capitol attack

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Tank and the Bangas have come a long way since they performed at NPR's Tiny Desk.


TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) I see him looking a mile away. He like my body, don't see my face. Hang with them girls...

FADEL: That song, "Quick," was the band's winning submission to the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest. Since then, they were nominated in the best new artist category in the 2020 Grammys. Tomorrow, they're set to release their third studio album. Lead singer Tarriona Ball says she started to write it after the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

TARRIONA BALL: I was just sitting on the porch in New Orleans. And it was, like, Day 1 of us, you know, really starting to craft this album together. I was thinking - I said, what if this album talked about what was going on with the current events, but you made it kind of tongue-in-cheeky, you made it kind of fun, the way we do?


TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) Hey, Mr. Bluebell with the soft, white skin, eager tone and your pretty blue eyes, I'd like to bake a big, round American pie. Grab a chair. We'll let you take a big bite. We'll have a conversation about the FDA, the Capitol, and how you got inside. This conversation won't go lightly (ph) if we refuse to look deep inside.

BALL: I love the words in it. I say, I miss the days when government was all to themselves, hiding aliens and acting weird (laughter). You know, it just makes me laugh. I just - we got to talk about these things. It's crazy, you know?

FADEL: Yeah, yeah. Do you see this as, like, holding up a mirror? I mean, because when I started listening to it, at first I was really just hearing the music, which makes you move and makes you smile. And then you start listening to the lyrics, which are funny, but also it's like, OK, you're making people think about and look at themselves.

BALL: Oh, yes. It's a lot of questions. I mean, if I'm honest, I'm literally - we're open up the album with the question to America, let's take a long stroll down memory lane and figure out how we got here. So we thought that they would all really connect in a really interesting way like that, you know? I'm not above America. I'm looking at it. I'm living in it. I am it.

FADEL: Yeah.

BALL: I'm a part of it. And I think it's good to talk about what's really going on.


TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) I miss the days when government was all to themselves, hiding aliens and acting weird. We'll take a long stroll down memory lane, figure out how the heck we got here. Inside ourselves there's so much left. There's so much there. You really don't care.

FADEL: You're a poet as well as a songwriter. How does poetry play into the music-writing process for you?

BALL: It's a big deal. I write a lot. I write a lot on the road mostly, honestly, and on a plane. I guess because you can't go nowhere (laughter). You can't go nowhere. So I guess I'll take a trip in my mind, and I'll just write down what's going on. And later on, when I'm with the guys, I'll turn those words into melodies.

FADEL: Yeah.

BALL: A lot of my songs are poems because I thought - when I first started to want to sing, I said, oh, my gosh, I don't have no lyrics. And then I thought, wait a minute. Aren't songs just lyrics with melody? I said, if that's the case, I have a million songs. I just have to make them a song.


FADEL: So let's talk about "Black Folk" because that song features your poetry. It starts with spoken word.

BALL: Yes.

FADEL: And it's this beautiful love letter.


TANK AND THE BANGAS: I love Black folk. Black look like a revolution, look like a family reunion in the park. Black look like it's a different world, sound like a crawfish boil in New Orleans.

BALL: Oh, it's so cool. I wrote this one definitely during our global break and - because I was just walking in my neighborhood. And I see the needles and I see the homelessness and I see the struggles at the local Family Dollar up the street. And even my own self, like, looking at how high stuff was getting at the regular CVS - I was like, oh, my goodness, this is crazy. But then I had moments where I would ride my bike in absolute silence and just get to enjoy the city and see beautiful people and see children learning how to skate.

You know, when the city slowly started opening up, seeing people on the corner selling sausages and crawfish, I was like, man, I love Black people. I love seeing what they've made themself out of in this country, even though there are moments that I hate what they've made themself out of in this country. So I wanted to write that - so "Black Folk" is extremely honest and it's - all its truth, all its glory, all its ugly and all its beauty.


TANK AND THE BANGAS: Black smell like crack and collard greens, sounds motivational, feels like church, look like big Sunday hats and ribbons. (Singing) Smile like your mama, eyes like the sun. Beautiful child, oh, you're the one.

FADEL: I think what's so incredible about this album is you walk away from it feeling joy, even though you do tackle things that are really hard.

BALL: That is such an amazing response. Thank you so much. And I never knew what I wanted people to walk away from, but if that's what it is, then I think that we've hit it on the nail.

FADEL: What song out of this entire album represents what you were going for?

BALL: There's so many, but it has to be "Stolen Fruit" for me.

FADEL: What's so special about it?

BALL: It's special because it's talking about literally waking up in America and still expecting to do something pretty amazing with your life despite all the odds against you being Black in America and being taken from your homeland. I don't think that people truly grasp the concept of what happened because everybody's like, you're free now. Live your life. Let's not talk about the past too much, when, in fact, we are a stolen people who language was beat out of us, taken away from family members, separated for a lifetime. They will never be able to meet again. And we have no original language in our minds and in our hearts.


TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) Your roots be golden. Your new springs ford. All that was stolen now can be reborn.

BALL: And then when we got here, what also happened? I don't think that they truly grasp what that did to us and what - how that still affects us today. And I wanted to sing about that in a beautiful way because - besides the downfall of it, of how horrible it was, but look at the resilience of the people and that it didn't break them.


TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) The visions of the soul need Stevie to see them.

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