New Orleans-based band Tank and the Bangas have been blending together funk, gospel, spoken word, and hip hop since 2011. After winning NPR’s Tiny Desk concert in 2017, they accelerated to stardom and received universal praise for their 2019 album Green Balloon. That album, along with the reputation they’ve established for their extraordinary live performances,landed them a Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist.”
Now, the world is anxiously awaiting their next project: an EP called Friend Goals, to be released on November 20th. In a virtual press conference, the band shared some details about the upcoming album.
When asked to describe the album in three words, the band agreed it’s “friendly, featureful, and fantastic.” Tariana “Tank” Ball, the lead singer, added “It’s got a sexy lil vibe to it… It’s sure to keep you moving.”
The new album features contributions from Duckwrth, CHIKA, and PJ Morton, among others. “The reason it’s called Friend Goals is because it’s a collaboration with all of our friends,” Tank said. She especially loves the “creative funness that you get when you hear somebody else’s unique, fresh voice on your project.”
Tank described one of the songs on the new album, “TSA,” as “an essential New Orleans song that everybody could bump” and recalls having “so much fun” creating that song with the band’s three other collaborators: Joshua Johnson, and Norman Spence, and Albert Allenback. The band viewed quarantine as a welcome break from touring. “It’s hard to be on the road constantly… so we needed this time at home to create,” said Tank, adding “We got our covid tests so we could create with each other!”
The album’s lead single, “Self Care,” is a bouncy, trilling song; driven by a bass-heavy beat. The lyrics detail the joys of what you can get away with while spending so much time alone in quarantine. The song features Jaime Woods, a vocalist known for her work with Chance the Rapper, who sings “put a dress on, maybe less on / take a bath for no reason” and later announces “boutta make some bacon then I’ll roll one / so fun.”
In addition to writing songs for the new album, the band members have been making time for their own self care practices. “Self-care for me this quarantine, personally, has been having time to step back and take a look at the type of person I am. You know, refuel spiritually,” said Norman, “It’s important, and I was neglecting it.”
Tank and the Bangas have been hard at work on themselves and on their music this quarantine, and they can’t wait to share their new songs. Allenback said “This is some of the best recorded stuff we’ve ever made. It captures us in a really fantastic way. Our spirit’s really there.”
Following the August 21 release of his album SuperGood, rapper and multimedia artist Duckwrth joined Universal Music’s °1824 team to talk creative process, musical inspiration, growing up in LA, and more.
Duckwrth has been a refreshing, unique voice in the rap scene since the 2015 release of his project Nowhere. Recent tours alongside Billie Eilish, Louis The Child, and EarthGang have put Duckwrth on the map—equipped with a tenacity and artistic toolbox rare of upcoming artists, it’s clear that he’s only going up from here. Duckwrth’s musical versatility is vast, enabling a diverse but still cohesive sound with gritty, heartfelt, story-driven lyricism atop a mixture of bass-heavy hip-hop beats and 70s inspired dance grooves.
SuperGood is comprised mostly of the latter, full of dreamy, buoyant melodies and funky drum riffs. The 16-track span is an upbeat, playful, and honest exploration of experiencing new love—the insecurities, the eagerness to show off a little, and the excitement of the unknown.
“It’s a rhythm project. So I want people to dance, to groove, to bop, to move,” Duckwrth said. The album was written in January, when Covid-19 was barely a blip on the radar. At the time he was excited for a new year, but as the world went on lockdown the album’s sound and story greeted a new reality—one that arguably needed it even more.
“It’s already its own affirmation, like when you press play it’s supposed to make you feel super good,” he said. “I feel like it came right on time, where people need to feel the best that they can at this moment.”
Duckwrth explained that the project is like “the yin and yang” to THE FALLING MAN, his 2019 EP, which delves into the character of a king who “falls to his demise because he doesn’t know love.” SuperGood, on the other hand, is all about love and what it feels like to meet someone special.
“A lot of it has to do with me taking this girl out on a date. Going to different venues, and like also different fantasies and ideas that I have of her before we actually go on the date… it’s like a story, as if you were watching a Netflix show,” he said. “It’s a story to take you away from your current situation.”
Beyond the love story, Duckwrth explained that SuperGood draws inspiration from the music and aesthetics of the 70s.
“Such eclectic style… the music was so colorful and the album covers were so beautiful, you know, so I kind of wanted to tap into that,” Duckwrth said.
“I really feel like the 70s, especially for black people, was a time of celebration. We just came out of civil rights, and black people started to gain certain freedoms… you know, it was a celebration. So within that, when black people start going back to who they are, and their original essence, a bit of magic happens.”
For Duckwrth, growing up in Los Angeles during the 90s and 2000s was beautiful, but difficult.
“It’s always sunny, the beach is always crackin’… it’s kind of like its own little weird utopia, but on the same flip side, it was a lot of trauma,” he said.
“Diamonds come from, you know, the roughest type of situation. So I think by being raised specifically in south-central Los Angeles it gave me a backbone—so when I deal with corporate America, I don’t take no bullshit, you know, because I learned to survive duckin’ bullets… it just taught me all the methods I needed to get the things I need to get as an artist, as a man, as a businessman.”
Growing up, he always knew creativity to be part of his DNA—and central to his future, too. When he was young, a stranger approached him at church and told him he had a calling; the message has stuck with him since.
Duckwrth’s knack for blending musical styles comes from his eclectic taste. In the studio, he said, he’s most inspired by the feelings and chord progressions of soul, gospel, and jazz. On stage, however, it’s a different story.
“When I perform, it’s strictly punk. Like thrasher, hardcore. That’s my shit… they just perform with such a conviction, you know, and it riles people up and get’s the fire started.”
As Duckwrth sets his sights on the future, and starts working on the next album, he said authenticity and self-love have become a priority—especially during the pandemic.
“It’s been a it’s been a really crazy year. So it’s like, I don’t think my artistry needed as much love as my human did.”
“I feel like there’s a way to portray a healthy artist, and that’s through just being true to yourself, you know, and I think that’s how you make the best music,” Duckwrth said. “And that’s the music that lasts… that’s the music that becomes people’s favorite albums.”
When Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Friates set out to write The Lumineers’ latest album III, they knew it wasn’t going to be conventional. Because of the serious subject matter Shultz (lead singer) and Fraites (drummer) choose to write about, alcoholism and its familial consequences, Shultz thought “it felt unfair to just name names,” he said in an interview with KFOG. “It felt more appropriate to me to tell a story around this. If you tell the truth within a story, I think it has a ripple effect.” Thus, the cinematic musical experience that is III was born.
On September 13, III was released in its entirety, but the group had been releasing portions of the album since May in three chapters containing three songs each, each song accompanied by a video. All of the videos were then compiled into the short film III directed by Kevin Phillips, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. The album follows the fictional Sparks family through three generations beginning with the matriarch Gloria, followed by her grandson Junior, and ending with his father Jimmy. Each chapter focuses on how addiction and alcoholism follows the family across time, and its adverse effects.
III has brought about innovations for the group including their first short film to debut in a film festival, an uncharacteristically moodier sound in comparison to jaunty, boot stepping toons off their first two albums The Lumineers and Cleopatra, and a new relationship between music and film. The distinct music and video styles of each chapter characterize the members of the Sparks family and compare and contrast their individual relationship to substance abuse amidst these evolutionary changes for the folk rock band.
The videos for III are set in a run down, yellow house against an overcast sky. The color of the house and the name of the family, the Sparks, become ironic when compared with the somber content of III. The familial name brings to mind lost sparks, or potential, that was never actualized because of their dependency on alcohol.
The first member of the Sparks family we meet is Gloria (Anna Cordell), in “Chapter I: Gloria Sparks.” The songs of this chapter are characterized by lilting piano tunes like the soft, scales in “Donna,” and percussion heavy songs like “Gloria.” The bold percussion of “Gloria” distinctly mark Gloria as the matriarch of the family and the catalyst for the alcoholism we see affect future Sparks.
While the lyrics detailing Gloria’s descent into alcoholism are somber, the music backing these lyrics, major chord heavy that is generally connotated with positivity in mainstream music, provide an interesting juxtaposition. “Gloria” is perhaps the song off III that sounds most similar to The Lumineers’s earlier work. The fast paced, positive sounding music, however, has been traded as a whole on this album for darker, rawer lyrics. This results in a more touching, emotional album, certainly not something their earlier work lacked entirely, but an aspect more prevalent in III.
Perhaps the darkness has come from the band choosing to source their most recent work from personal suffering. The inspiration for the album has, in part, come from drummer Jeremiah Fraites’s older brother’s death in 2001 from a heroin overdose at age 19. Fraites’s brother, Joshua, was also a close friend of Shultz.
Editing is also used in chapter I to separate Gloria from the Sparks family members that are to follow. The songs off of “I,” especially “Gloria” are cut quickly and rhythmically, meaning the shots are cut to the beat of the song. This is most noticeable in key moments of the video highlighting Gloria’s alcoholism like when she unscrews the vodka bottle at the beginning of the video and when the same bottle is seen bouncing between the logs behind the Sparks’ house after she discards it empty. “I” is also heavily reliant on close ups. Some of the most haunting are again from “Gloria” when she throws a vodka bottle at her husband, and the tense close ups between Gloria and a stranger in a bar in “Life in the City.”
This sound and filming style is intensely contrasted with “Chapter II: Junior Sparks.” Junior’s (Charlie Tahan) songs have a languid feel to them and use almost exclusively guitar. The omission of other instruments, especially piano, are interesting when considering Junior’s role as the only Sparks that rejects the legacy of substance abuse. The Lumineers choose to highlight this through the omission of the piano that was characteristic of “I” and Gloria herself who we see play piano in “Donna.”
The filming style of chapter “II” also contrasts that of the previous chapter. It’s full of long takes of Junior smoking cigarettes on the porch, and long shots, the most dramatic of which is Junior burning the piano in front of the Sparks’ family home. The piano bonfire becomes Junior’s most overt rebellion against his family legacy. He burns a symbol of Gloria and replaces her vodka bottle with a match. The is showcased in parallel shots of Gloria throwing a vodka bottle at her husband in “Gloria,” and Junior throwing a match in “Left for Denver.” The alcoholism Junior could have inherited instead becomes replaced with rage.
Junior captivating the focus “II” is a striking choice since Jimmy Sparks (Nick Stahal) comes after Gloria generationally. However, placing Junior’s chapter between Gloria and Jimmy’s, is reflective of Junior being compressed by the inevitability of his family’s habits, until he rejects them.
This theme continues with the music distinguishing “Chapter III: Jimmy Sparks.” The songs of “III,” especially “Jimmy Sparks,” use predominantly minor chords, a sound that is associated with negative emotions in popular music. The choice to make this the sound of Jimmy suggests the antagonistic role he plays in his son’s life because of his alcohol abuse, leading to parties at their house and even a physical fight in “Leader of the Landslide.” The languid guitar of “My Cell,” similar to that of “Leader of the Landslide” from “II,” connect Jimmy with his son as an influencer. Jimmy’s sound is also, however, reminiscent of Gloria because of the piano that makes a re-appearance in “III.” Thus, Jimmy becomes a link in the chain that passes on alcoholism to future generations in the Sparks family.
The filming style of “III” is also reminiscent of previous chapters in the album and short film. Extreme close ups in “My Cell” of Jimmy’s girlfriend and the debt collector echo the editing style in the videos about Gloria. Long shots of Jimmy smoking a cigarette in “Jimmy Sparks” recall the filming style of the videos about his son. Jimmy then becomes a mixture between the past and present generations of his family and a representation of alcoholism at its worst.
The Lumineers forge a new relationship between cinema and music in III. In cinema, music is traditionally used to influence the audience’s emotions in response to the visuals on the screen. However, in this case, the relationship is reversed and the visuals are supporting the music. III challenges the viewer to pay close attention to the lyrics and how the visuals provide clues to deeper meaning. This creates a more intense emotional experience and a highly effective way to translate the themes that The Lumineers want us to glean from their album.
Parallel scenes of one family member carrying another out of the deceptively positive colored yellow house let us know that across sound and generation family members can’t resist taking care of one another, even if it isn’t in their best interest. However, this incessant need to care for others that will not care for themselves because of their disease, can lead to loneliness and the rage that characters like Junior feel. Like the lyrics of “My Cell” that close to shots of each Sparks family member alone in the frame, the substance abusers and the ones that love them can tragically end up in this cycle “all alone, all alone, all alone, all alone.”