In the two years since the New Orleans-based funk and soul band Tank and the Bangas burst onto the national scene, the group has made the most of their newfound name recognition by traveling the country.
That recognition came thanks to an underdog win during NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2017, an annual musical competition that shines a spotlight on acts the public radio station deems underrated.
Expanding their fanbase didn’t come without its cost, however, as time on the road also meant they couldn’t concentrate on recording.
The wait for new music from the Bangas has come to an end by the time. The group released “Green Balloon” May 3, the group’s first major label studio albums. Wednesday, Billboard reported the album debuted at No. 3 on the Heatseekers Album chart and the group hit No. 34 on the Emerging Artists chart.
For saxophonist and flutist Albert Allenback, the holdup in new material from the band will have been worth the delay, once their fans have a chance to listen to the new tunes.
“Yeah, it’s hard to sit down and be able to write really really good music while traveling,” Allenback explains on a phone interview with The News & Observer during a break in the Bangas’ hectic tour schedule.
“Good music takes good production, and any musician that creates wants their recordings to be done really, really well,” he said. “That takes a really long time and a lot of focus, and being able to be really technically focused to create work that produces artistic feeling. Being on tour, and being on the road for essentially two years now, has made it where we have crammed a lot of studio work into a lot of very short [breaks from the road] to get stuff done.”
The News & Observer had a chance to discuss the Bangas’ whirlwind of a past two years since their prolific win with Allenback, as well as the collaborative relationship within the band.
Q: The band has a new album out, “Green Balloon,” that features 17 songs recorded in almost 10 separate studios. Is the length of the album due to the band having a ton of thoughts on what should go on its first new studio album in six years, or was it more case of taking advantage of the group’s newfound name recognition to record in some of your dream studios?
A: This was a case of intentional — and very specific — creative direction, because each song was treated with importance and craftsmanship, so we recorded in many places with many different people. This album is the product of almost 30 different creative souls; they’re all our friends on this. Each song is dreamed up each time, conceived and then worked on, in a very focused manner. We had to go to different places to do that, take them to various places and execute it.
Q: How much of a collaboration is the creative direction of the band? I think a lot of people would just assume that Tank, as bandleader, makes a lot of those decisions for everyone.
A: Tank is the leader; our name is Tank and the Bangas, not The Bangas and Tank.
Tank is a force, and has creative impulses that she directs and paints in these majestic broad impressionistic strokes. [The other band members] make and put the frame around the painting, and put some details in the painting, but she is the leader and we follow her creative direction.
Q: What led to a six-year gap in between the release of the band’s two studio albums?
A: The six years came because nobody in a broad audience at the time knew a Tank album [”Thinktank”] ever came out in 2013. As with most things we do, we did something a little unusual, and instead of putting out a bunch of new music, we rode that first album until the wheels fell off. We rearranged each song four or five times, recorded different versions of the songs, until there were three or four versions of each of those songs. It’s kind of spectacular how one album was so beneficial in creating these beautiful, blooming arrangements.
Q: A lot of people found your music through that NPR Tiny Desk win, but when it comes to performing onstage, how often do you look at an audience and realize that they may not be familiar with any of your music outside of what was played for that win?
A: I think one of our strengths is that our shows can range from feeling like performance art, to feeling like a theatrical production almost. We look out and we know that people are familiar with [our Tiny Desk songs]. But what is so cool now is that newer songs are getting recognition. The song called “Ants” [on “Green Balloon”] is pretty new, and people seem to remember the hook after a couple listens, so we know that a lot of the audience have checked it out before the show.
This album was an emotional journey and has these great songs, and we see people respond. It’s really amazing to see how people grow with you. Some people have grown with us, from only knowing the songs we played on Tiny Desk, to now knowing the songs on this album. It’s really one of the most gratifying experiences I think I’ve ever felt.
Who: Tank and the Bangas with Adia Victoria
When: 8 p.m. May 21
Cost: $20 in advance, $22 day-of show
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh
Info: LincolnTheatre.com or 919-821-4111