Since winning NPR's Tiny Desk contest in 2017, Tank and the Bangas frontwoman Tarriona Ball has seen her life change drastically.
The soul-funk band's media success catapulted it into the spotlight and onto the road, resulting in a tour spanning the entirety of North America and taking the group all the way to Europe and back. Ball, who will be performing with the band at Old Rock House this weekend in light of LouFest's cancellation, says this hectic lifestyle is made palatable by the small but precious moments in between the bad food and cramped vans, moments when she's on stage and hundreds — or thousands — of strangers sing the words she wrote back to her. "That's when you get your reward and things become a little magic for you," she says.
The New Orleans native has been manipulating language from a young age. Listening to the band, Ball's singing voice and quick-witted lyricism almost seem to be one and the same — her myriad styles of voices acting as different personalities, telling a range of stories within a single song. Ball says she's been experimenting with different voices since she was a child, and it all probably goes back to playing Barbies with her sisters.
"We did a lot of pretending," she says. "You watch a lot of Disney and you watch a lot of Nickelodeon, all these childhood shows, and my sisters, they really fed my imagination. That's the only way I can describe it because I don't know when I started doing this, I'm not going to lie."
Things really started when a cousin enlisted her to read the poem "A Great Somebody" by Adrienne Hardesty at her grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary.
"I practiced it all night. I had it in my heart. I was so ready. Then when it came down for me to do it, I choked so bad," says Ball.
Even with that mess-up, though, Ball says that her grandmother saw a potential for writing and performing in her, and had her start reading poetry before her grandfather's sermons in the church.
"Children would be laughing at me and everything, but every time I did it, I became more and more confident," Ball says. "And that kind of became the love... I didn't know what it could do for your confidence."
Ball's journey as a poet continued. She wrote her first poem at age twelve and participated in poetry slams at school before becoming a part of HBO's Brave New Voices, and finally, a regular at an open mic where she met some of the musicians who would make up the core of her musical project. Ball says the open mic was much more than a chance to perform; it was a sacred space.
"It was our church, it was a place you had to be," she says. "No matter where you were you would make your way to that open mic; you just knew that's where all the feels were, that's where all the good vibes were."
This particular open mic was a fusion of poetry and music that led Ball to perform her metered words to music for the first time, backed by the Black Star Bangas. It's hard to believe after hearing Ball's captivatingly strong voice that she didn't originally think of herself as a vocalist.
"I'd been in choir since I was a little girl, but I believed way more in my words than my singing voice, so I nurtured that more," she says. "But now I kind of love them both equally."
Though Tank and the Bangas has been riding the success of its incredibly versatile debut album, Think Tank, Ball assures us that the band has squeezed some time for recording in between a packed tour schedule. While a date hasn't been announced yet, Ball says a new album is very close to being released.
"We've been surviving off of one album for so long," says Ball. "Fans are like, 'That's their baby,' but I'm excited to see this baby. This thing is a teenager now, this thing has breasts, and I'm ready to wear a low-cut top if you understand what I'm saying. We're ready to put this music out."