Tank ‘This Is How I Feel’ LP: Singer ‘Believes In’ Chris Brown, Talks Busta Rhymes’ ‘Fire Alarm’ Phone Call
He’s called the “R&B General.” While his abs of steel make him look bulletproof, Tank‘s true armor is in his music. Getting his start as a backup singer for Ginuwine, Tank rose to R&B stardom thanks to his sultry hit single “Maybe I Deserve,” off his 2001 debut, Force of Nature. But the muscleman wasn’t always on the path to become an R&B singer. His military upbringing almost set him down a different road.
In advance of his fifth album, This Is How I Feel, due May 8 on Atlantic Records, the L.A.-based R&B crooner talks to The BoomBox about doing different things with his sound. Tank tells us why, as a veteran producer and songwriter, he’s not afraid to collaborate with up-and-coming talent or hip-hop stalwarts like Chris Brown (yes, Breezy raps on Tank’s album), T.I. and Busta Rhymes, who turned his tour bus around at 2AM and booked it to a studio to lay down his verses. The “Please Don’t Go” singer also traces his military roots to explain how he got his nickname. At ease, ladies!
Your single “Compliments” has several features, namely rapper T.I. and your artist Kris Stephens. How did you get everyone onboard?
I’ve been trying to fuse R&B along with more upbeat club music. I’ve been trying to find the perfect balance for me; to not to be so chanty and out there, but have a record I can sing on that can make sense in the club. Kris Stephens is my first artist off my label, so I had her on there showing off, giving a sultry vocal. We already dropped it as a single, but we added T.I. to the mix and made it fresh. We had already dropped it as a street-buzz thing to let people know Tank was back doing his thing. If it’s gonna be an R&B song, it’s got to be about a woman. I created the record with a call-out, so women can participate, and so we could get back to celebrating women in that way, just as simple as a compliment. How better to get that point across than put it on a T-Minus beat that burns the clubs up? I was just trying to create that feel-good moment for women. We added T.I. to make the record totally unfair.
The King and the General!
The King and the General, baby!
Do you mind being called the R&B General?
Somebody said it to me in an interview a long time ago. I have a military background. My father was in the military, and I, myself, was getting ready to go into the military as well. We were going through that conversation about the military and the Tank theme: “I’m Tank, and when I come to your city I want you to feel like I’ve been through there. I want to leave tank tracks all over your streets.” Somebody was just toying around, “You’re like the general in here, the general of R&B!” And I liked it. It fit with everything I was doing, so I started rolling with it.
You usually collaborate with R&B artists, and here you changed the pace with some hip-hop collaborations, namely Busta Rhymes.
I totally agree with the change of pace. I didn’t want to think about what people are used to hearing from me, or are people going to be disappointed I have rappers on there? I just wanted to make good music based on how I felt that day. I didn’t want to do Sex, Love & Pain again. I didn’t want to do Now or Never again. This should be a new album with something on it that makes you say, “Tank is continuing to evolve and not stuck in 2007 or 2010.”
Busta is a good friend of mine. We’ve been trying to work together for the longest time. He actually did a rap with me before, but it never saw the light of day. I was suppose to have other features on this song. I didn’t have Busta, because I knew Busta was expensive. I called Busta in the middle of the night like a fire alarm: “Busta I have to turn this record in tomorrow morning, is there anyway you can lay a verse for me?” Busta turned his tour bus around, booked a studio and laid a verse for me at 2AM.
No way! That’s incredible.
Absolutely. That’s the kind of guy he is. I appreciate him doing that for me. It was big for me, really big.
He shows up on the track “Nowhere.” What’s the vibe of that song?
“Nowhere” is about your house being the party, you are the club. You’re going “nowhere,” because we got a party that we are going to have right in here … with your body and my body all over each others body … on the couch, on the stairs, in the kitchen, on the microwave.
Watch Tank’s “Next Breath” Video
Sounds like you’d make a lot of money as a party planner. And of course, there is Chris Brown. You have a history working with him. Why did you choose to do another song, the album opener “Lonely,” with him?
I just support him. I think his talent is crazy amazing. As far as an entertainer, there is nobody better. I wanted to support him in his new venture; he’s getting his rap thing on and sounds good doing it. I wanted to be one of the first people that said, “I believe in you and I’ll make it official with a single on my album.” Through the good, through the bad, through the whatever, that’s my guy and we’ll always work together.
He did the rap for me, and then he was like, “I want to sing this part, too.” When you get into the studio with Chris, he gets crazy excited when he hears stuff he wants to do. I had to go back and re-enter the song ’cause he sang more on the song than I sang! I was like, “Hey man! This is my song!” So I had to go back and cut the stuff out so we could at least share the song [laughs].
I was looking at your album titles in chronological order. It’s interesting because the titles mature — from 2001′s Force of Nature and 2002′s One Man to 2007′s Sex, Love & Pain and 2010′s Now or Never to 2012′s This Is How I Feel. I don’t know if the word is “mature,” but it sounds like there’s more of an emotional awakening.
It’s the confidence factor. You know who I am, you know my track record — I don’t have to keep selling you on that. I love radio, but I don’t want to lose track of being creative and taking my music to a new level. I just want to make music and don’t want any handcuffs on me while I’m making music. It is a maturity factor, once you start hearing a certain amount of your songs on the radio, once a certain amount of people start screaming for you, you feel like you are doing something right, you own it.
Does that come into play on the title track?
Danja actually produced that track. Me, Kris Stephens and Luke James wrote it. It’s one of those 3AM records. I don’t really record that late. I like to record during the day, when the vocals are nice, fresh and perky. But, that was a 3AM record. Kris said, “I got a line for the verse. Will you just lay this line really quickly?” We were getting ready to leave the studio, and I laid that line and we just never stopped. Once I started getting away from the savior aspect of what I wanted the album to be, and I just started to just make the music I wanted to make, This Is How I Feel just became the perfect title.
The way that you just described that sounds like you are making love to the microphone when you record.
It’s spiritual. The thing about my music is that it’s not really calculated. It’s not sitting down and typing out lyrics, and formatting the verse and bridge. I just go into the booth and start singing.
The closer, “Lost It All,” sounds like a serious song.
It is a serious song. I was thinking about the Aaron Hall “I Miss You” record and the video, where she was having the baby and she passed away. I wanted to re-create that moment for 2012. The song is basically about, “When I lost you, I lost it all.” Stranger than that, it’s a Bonnie and Clyde situation: A woman and her man are riding on the other side of the law. This one particular score that they are about to take down is going to be their last one, and something goes wrong, and he looses her. At this point, he’s like, “I don’t care. They can lock me up and take my money. I’ve lost everything so nothing else even matters.” It’s a gangster song with a twist.
You worked with Kris Stephens, but you’re great at producing and songwriting as well, so how does this type of collaboration work exactly?
Kris helped me write a lot of the last album as well. I’ve had her as an artist for a few years now, and my thing with her was to make sure she had a foundation. The thing that kept me alive, period, was that I was able to write and produce. Being an artist doesn’t always pay the bills. Being able to write and produce was the foundation I needed to live and help build everything around me. Even to live for that matter. I wanted her to have that, so she wasn’t just a struggling artist, but she would be more in control of her own situation, because she would be the driving and creative force behind it. She’s young. She’s 23, and her ideas progress so fast. We started thinking the same. Her young energy and the things she learned from me, it made for a good combination of something fresh. She helped me do that.
I’m more of a one-stop shop when it comes to producers. I really wanted to A&R my project. I wanted to get with some dope producers. I wanted to hear what some other writers had to say. Me and Danja worked together before but I wanted to get it right this time. Luke James, cause that’s my youngster, wasn’t a problem to get him. T-Minus I got through a middleman. He’s got a certain energy to his tracks, that although they are club tracks, they have some sort of intimate thing to it that makes you feel good. Kevin McCall is on it. Remember the singer Sammie? He helped write my single “Next Breath.” It’s a little mixture going on. I wanted to get some different vibes and build on what I already had.
There will be interludes on the digital release?
I am the interlude king, that’s what people call me. I kinda got that from Devante Swing, like how he did with Jodeci. I like the intro to the album. It’s killer, but I also did a twist on the “Compliments” interlude. I didn’t sing at all. The interludes are so crazy, it’s stupid.
Watch Tank’s “Please Don’t Go” Video
Watch “How to Play R&B Love Songs on the Piano”