Though it was just five months ago, January 2020, was a very different time for Tarriona “Tank” Ball and her band Tank & The Bangas, not to mention the entire world.
Just days before traveling to Los Angeles for the band’s first Grammy Week, where they were among the nominees for Best New Artist, Ball, her bandmates and over two dozen of their creative friends and family gathered in their hometown of New Orleans at Marigny Studios. The occasion was to record a cover of Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now” as the theme music for a planned global campaign for the relaunch of Yahoo, set to roll out in early summer. Yahoo’s agency Elephant hired a camera crew to film B-roll of the recording process in case it could make for good behind-the-scenes footage after the campaign debuted.
“We cried so much constantly,” Ball recalls. “We didn’t even know why we were crying in these moments of silence and togetherness. It was honestly extremely surreal, it really was.”
Of course, just weeks after the recording came the Coronavirus pandemic, followed by the protests for racial justice. Suddenly the song’s message and the stirring content of being with family and friends in pre-Covid times in the behind-the-scenes video became more relevant than ever, while the need for Yahoo to brand itself as part of the content took a backseat.
“When we looked at the rushes from the shoot, we said, ‘This is special: When the artists were recording together, it was pretty emotional. Let’s make a music video,’” says Greg Assemat Tessandier, president of Elephant. “We chose the 15 th of June as our launch date, even before the protests in the U.S., which made the message even more relevant. The strategy that we had to let the brand be in the background suddenly became not even a strategy – it had to be this way, and the client agreed. It had to be Tank, her message, her music and these artists coming together with this message.”
In addition to Tank and the Bangas, the video features performances from fellow New Orleans musicians like Grammy winner PJ Morton, The Revivalists’ frontman David Shaw, and Galactic vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, among many others, as well as spoken word from Sunni Patterson, one of Ball’s mentors, and poetry from iCon (aka Sha’condri Sibley). Ball shared a complete list of the video’s collaborators in her Instagram post announcing the project.
Adds Pablo Marques, Elephant’s executive creative director, “The whole thing just captured the idea of working together as a community, with in New Orleans as the apex of that. There was so much genuine hugging and sitting down to chat about life. It was a good, friendly vibe.”
Yahoo agreed to premiere the music video without any branding through Tank & the Bangas’ YouTube and social channels, with plans for a commercial release of the song on streaming services still in the works from Tank’s label Verve Forecast. The band has encouraged donations to the #BlackLivesMatter Global Network and The Equal Justice Initiative as part of the video’s release, while Elephant started its own donation-matching program with its employees for additional organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and The Bail Project. Plans for Yahoo’s campaign featuring the song are still on hold, but it’s expected to roll out later in the year primarily through TV and digital channels.
Josh Rabinowitz, a veteran music supervisor for WPP and Grey Group who consulted with Elephant on the Yahoo project, called the January shoot “Probably the most meaningful experience to see in my career. We never even thought about the confluence of all the activities happening in these historic times, and how such an experience could translate into a meaningful scenario like this.”
Songs for Screens caught up with Ball from her home in New Orleans to learn more about her involvement in the project, her first Grammy experience and the silver lining to quarantining with her family and bandmates after years of non-stop touring.
What made you want to get involved with this project when it was originally conceived as a campaign for Yahoo, and what was it about the song that spoke to you?
I’ve always loved the song. One of my favorite movies is “My Best Friend’s Wedding” with Julia Roberts and I just love that scene where she’s chasing the guy and she steals the truck. [sings] “What the world needs now…” It’s always comfortable when you already know it because you’ve done your own renditions in the mirror. That’s when I knew that I wanted to do the song.
What I didn’t have any intention of doing was inviting so many people to be on it. I actually happened to be in the car with the drummer of Tank & The Bangas [Joshua Johnson], and it was his idea to get all of these New Orleans artists on it and make it something so incredibly special. And when we brought it to them they agreed, and started getting a perfect list together of poets and singers and some instrumentalists. While everybody was in the room with all that energy, Joshua and I split up in a room together to decide who would sing each part. As special as it is to see in the video, it felt even more so in the moment.
Watching the video, it feels like such a time capsule to think that this happened in January 2020, right before your first Grammy Week as one of this year’s Best New Artist nominees. What was the whole Grammy experience like for you in context of everything else that’s happened since then?
We got to play the Spotify party, but they put me on last. We thought it was ‘bout to be crazy but then everybody almost leaves, and we’re like, “Wait!” It was crazy. [Rosalia’s set was so great that] honestly probably should have been last.
It was just such a cool experience because, first of all, Spotify gives great gifts. Number two, just being back there with these Grammy-nominated Best new artists and you meet other artists that you never knew before because they’re new too. I just loved the whole experience, I would love to be nominated every year for the Grammys. [laughs] I would love it, that would be dope.
What’s next for your “What the World Needs Now” cover – are there plans to release the track to streaming services?
I think this will have legs at many different times. It was meant for something else, and the fact that it came out right around this time, I mean I really needed this. Because I’ve been someone that truly believes that what the world needs is love, and true understanding. Because I believe it can suppress everything. If we can show people killing each other constantly all over the news, then we need something that can truly defeat that, and that’s our love for each other as basic humans.
You’ve been quarantining with your bandmates. Have you been able to stay creative, or are you enjoying the time off the road?
We’ve been very productive. However, one of my members caught [coronavirus] without any symptoms really, he quarantined himself for a month. But for a band like us that’s on the road constantly, this time is much needed. We’re never home. We travel at least 200-some days out the year and when we are home it’s still not completely restful. Because now it’s Thanksgiving time, now it’s Christmas, “are you gonna put out a Christmas song?” But I really do appreciate that I’ve been able to spend time with my family, and I’ve been able to write and I’ve been able to walk. You don’t get much walking done living in a van.
One of the many things that struck me with this video was seeing you with all your friends and family together in the same room, which many of us haven’t been able to do for months now. Does it feel like a time capsule watching this back, even it was just this calendar year?
I noticed how much people touch each other, too — oh my God, that’s so foreign to me now, it’s been so long, you’ve been so scared. I never noticed how much we hugged and kissed and touched. It’s like, wow that’s important. I want that back, I can’t wait for that to feel normal again.
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.