Before they took the stage and rocked it at the So What’s Next? festival last November, we had the chance to have a word with Tank (lead singer), Albert Allenbeck (saxophone/flute) and Tavia Osbey (manager) of Tank and the Bangas. We spoke about the reason why they make music, the enormous dedication they put into it and band members becoming like family members.
What is the reason you make music?
Tank: It’s life music. We talk about everything. I like to connect to people in the most basic ways, that transcends race or anything like that. But I go there as well, I still live in this skin, in this world, I live in America. We’re like everybody else; we shop, we have to eat, we have to love, we have to connect and I like to talk about those things, because these are the things everybody in the world does. Countries are built different, but a lot of things are the same. People get on the bus and go to the market to take care of their family. I see people kissing everywhere and I feel part of that no matter what. That’s what the music likes to do, it likes to talk about life. And sometimes there is a political idea behind it.
I have a song that’s talking about Obama, that’s talking about Trump. We just did a show in New Orleans where we had a Trump mask and a Hillary mask on. Sometimes we like to talk about those things, because those things come up, it’s a part of social media. The politics literally affect what’s going on, but the true change for me happens on stage, when we’re affecting the hearts of people. That’s the world we like to live in, we like to live in the positive world where there is good food, good people, good vibes. That ugly world over there; we don’t live there.
Albert: We’re an optimistic filter. I’ve always called it ‘positive life music’.
Tank: You’ve got to shake your head!
Albert: It goes hard sometimes! It’s a lens through which to view ugly things. There is certainly a lot of shit that’s really dark, but we try to take life optimistically.
That sounds easy, but being optimistic is harder than being pessimistic, don’t you think?
Albert: Playing music with other people just gives you a natural high.
Tank: It’s true! When we’re on stage, we don’t feel negative.
Albert: You can feel negative three minutes before the show…
Tank: …And then you go on and feel happy. I’ve been high before, but this feels better.
Albert: Because your heart is in it.
Tank: Especially when it really feels good. Then you literally have these moments of ‘I’m fucking creating magic right now!’ Something that wasn’t there before is now.
Albert:…And won’t be here no more once I stop.
Tank: And that’s amazing! Those are the best times. That’s why I’m doing it.
I listened to several interviews you did lately and It strikes me how much effort you put into this group to make it work. Where do you think the dedication comes from?
Tavia: Me and Tank started years ago, it was just her and I. At that point she was mostly doing poetry. We really fell into a friendship.
Tank: We really did.
Tavia: It was a joke of me being her manager.
Tank: We’ve just been around each other walking around the city together and people kept asking me when my album was coming out and I never even thought about putting one out. For some reason I kept on looking at you! (looks at Tavia, MB) ‘When is it coming out?’
“We’re an optimistic filter.
I’ve always called it
‘positive life music‘.”
Tavia: During the time I met Tank I was just searching for my purpose and what I wanted to do with my life and this came kinda natural. It’s my personality, once I stick to something, I’m all in. That’s what happened here.
That’s why she looked at you probably, she felt you can make things happen.
Tavia: Yeah, yeah! Once I started managing Tank I gave up my regular 9 to 5 job. Tank quit her job and everyone here is 100% into music. There are no other jobs, so I think that’s where the dedication comes from. This has to work. I don’t know if anyone else has a plan B, but I don’t have a plan B. This has got to work out for me.
Albert: And we’re not equipped for much else. Have you ever seen Tank cleaning a toilet?
Tank: Oh my god! I cleaned toilets for a living!
Albert: Have you seen me trying to cook?
Tank: All you do is eat.
You’re together with 7 people. How do you make that work, staying positive and dedicated? What’s your secret?
Tavia: It’s not always positive, we have our moments. One thing is that we pray together, we all have this belief in a higher power, in God. I think that helps us. I think we created what we call a family, which helps us out.
Tank: The angle is better than what’s going on at that moment, even when it’s hard. Even after the argument is done, we always think about what the angle is and we honestly think it’s about putting up a show for these people. For them to really have an experience.
And what’s in it for you? Is it to get this natural high?
Tank: What’s in it for me… To get paid off doing something you love. And just to show your mum ‘I know I didn’t make you extremely happy when I didn’t finish school, but that’s not the only road to success and happiness.’
I can imagine that when you won the Tiny Desk contest, it gave you the confirmation you were on the right way.
Tank: I’m so happy it happened! We are doing this for a while and it was growing every year, but this took it to the next level for us and we needed that, we really did.
When you have an argument you feel it’s just a tiny thing because you’re on a larger move. Am I right?
Tavia: After we had an argument we always want to move forward.
Tank: I’m so blessed because I’m literally around people that forgive more than they hold on. That’s why I’m lucky. If I had ten people like me in this group, it’s a problem, it’s not going to work. But I’m so happy I have people that forgive so easily.
Do you think you’ve become closer because of the way you live, traveling and spending so much time together?
Tank: If you go home, after a while it feels awkward. You won’t even want to spend too much time away from each other, no more than two weeks.
So it’s even more family than your own family sometimes?
Tank: Sometimes, because you’re just not around them so much no more.
How do you combine this band life with your family life at home?
Tank: You can miss some special moments, but you’re like: ‘this is my job. I’m doing my call, I’m sorry’. I missed an important funeral this weekend, but I literally was like, ‘damn, I’ve got to do my call.’
Tavia: Before, I was working at 911 as an emergency operator and I spent most of my time there, more than with my family. So to me it’s like a transition of responsibility. But anyone who has a regular 9 to 5 job, spends more time with their co-workers than with their family. So, it’s kind of the same thing. The difference is we’re traveling with it. Other than that I don’t think it’s much different, at least in my situation.
Albert: When we started touring so heavily a couple of months ago, I broke up with my girlfriend after being together for 4 years. It’s really because when you travel so much, you grow and change. If the other person is still there, not growing, it’s like ‘oh shit, we’re totally different people now’. And that was my only attachment; I don’t have kids, my family is in another city already.
You’re not from New Orleans?
Albert: No, I’m from Alabama. This is not so difficult for me, I love this. I’d travel all the time. I would just like more time to practice, sit down and be able to make stuff. That’s hard to do on the road, because you need equipment.
“If I had ten people
like me in this group,
it’s a problem,
it’s not going to work.”
Are you already working on a new album?
Albert: Yes, we’re working on a new album. It should be out on the late part of 2018.
Is it much different or a logical next step compared to your debut album Think Tank?
Albert: I think it’s where we are now. Think Tank is from 2013 and we’ve grown and changed a lot.
In what way do you think you changed?
Albert: Tank, how have you changed since Think Tank? Oh, she is drinking water. She has got more rude, she lies way more.
Tank: I’m writing more, trying out different vibes of song writing. I’m more influenced by what’s going on around me other than just inside of me. Before I just wrote for myself and right now we’re connected to a fan base. I just wrote a song and I was like ‘I know they’re going to love this’ and I’m scared as hell at the same time. I’m so excited to make this next project, but I’m so scared too, because people have fallen in love with our debut album. It’s not a Lauren Hill album, but we’ve been travelling with just this one and we’re used to it. It’s like the pillow you lay on and I’m about to give you something else. I hope you’re going to love that too.
Is it hard to find time to write new music?
Tank: It’s hard. I had to delete my social media to be able to have time to write new songs. It distracts me too much. After I deleted it I got work done. And then I installed it again!
How do you write new songs as a group? Is it you who has the initiative?
Tank: I have the initiative, I just have something in my head. Or it’s at a sound check and Merell (Burkett, keys, MB.) will play it on the keyboard and we record it. And then I’ll make a song out of it.
So, it’s first the music and then the lyrics or is it also sometimes the other way around?
Tank: It’s both. It’s in my head 50% of the time and the other 50% of the time it’s me hearing one of them doing something on the keyboard and I’m like : “oh, that’s a song”.
Albert: Tank has a pretty natural ability for melody. I don’t know if she hears the whole bedding around it, but it’s definitely a little golden stream. You can build stuff around it, each of us has done that. We all had a little scratch vocal from her and build something around it and it sounds great.
You’ve just played at the So What’s Next? festival, so the logical last question is ‘what’s next for you?’
Tank: Next is in the future.
Albert: We’ll tour more and record more and grow.
Tank: What’s next is the future.
You want to keep it a secret?
Tank: What’s next is the future.