The Ting Tings' Stripped-Down, Club-Sparked Sound
The Ting Tings are two: a demure, plucky singer by the name of Katie White and drummer Jules De Martino. The Manchester duo makes spunked-up '80s traced dance music. White and De Martino bounce between synths, guitars, drums, and twisted knobs to churn out club-sparked sounds, all stripped-down and brash. Their 2008 debut, We Started Nothing, was a charting machine, selling more than two million copies, winning the Ivor Novello Award for best album, and garnering the Tings a best new artist Grammy nomination. Earlier this month, their second full length, Sounds from Nowheresville, dropped, and it plays more like a genre-hurdling mixtape. The inherent Ting Tings dance-floor zest is present, but tones span widely: reggae, rap, pop, electro, Beastie Boys rock. It's best not to ponder this stuff too deeply, though. This is music made to be danced to, to induce sweated movement.
Part of the Ting Tings' history sees an interesting turn in 1995, when White's grandfather, Ken White, won £6.6 million on the National Lottery. Out of his winnings, he gave each of his three sons £1 million. White's father used his portion to form a music management company, which later would sign Katie's former band, TKO. Katie White spoke (with an accent, thick at times) from New York just before filming a performance for Late Show with David Letterman.
Are you ready for Letterman?
We've been in rehearsal all day. Cameras are everywhere.
Did you visit the Statue of Liberty?
No. I've been in the Empire State Building, though.
As soon as you're finished with Letterman, go get way up in the Statue of Liberty. You went to Berlin to record and isolate. How did being in Berlin shape the album?
We were in Berlin for about nine months, then finished it in Spain. We didn't necessarily have the best time in Berlin. I don't think it was Berlin's fault. We had toured for two and a half years. It took six months just to come back down to earth and feel comfortable with normality. It was almost a depression in a way. When you tour and play in different cities all the time, you get adrenaline in your blood. And when that adrenaline stops, you feel a bit lost. Our whole lives had changed, and there we were. Berlin definitely affected the sound. We kept four songs from our time there, and I can really hear that they're from Berlin. They're more electronic—very moody, very depressed [laughs]. Then we went to Spain and the sun, and the feel of the songs is much more energetic.
U2 recorded in Berlin.
Yes. Achtung Baby. Bowie also recorded in Berlin. Tons of people have. It's an amazing city. It's really cheap to live there. There are huge art spaces and studios. Struggling artists can afford it. It's not such a hipster place where you've got lots of rich folks trying to be bohemian. It's actually real working artists.
Nine months, that's a long time. You could have gestated a baby.
Yeah! And when we got there, it was January, so it was like minus 20 degrees. We were in the east part of Berlin with all this spectacular but imposing architecture. It was a juxtaposition from the mobile highs from all the touring—then those dark, aggressive buildings and minus 20 temperatures.
Did you watch your spit freeze?
I don't know. I guess? I'd say I probably did spit at one point or another while being outside and may have glanced in its direction as it landed. Do you like to watch your spit freeze?
Definitely. If it's minus 20 outside, all I'm doing is watching my spit freeze. Because I'm sure I'd see the face of the Virgin Mary in it like three times. Or Hermione Granger's.
Now I want to go back to Berlin, just to do that, except I'd probably see the face of Bono.
If you all hadn't spent that time in Berlin, would those songs have still emerged?
I was shocked at how much the place you live affects the way you write. I don't know why I was shocked, because it makes sense. What you write totally depends on how you're feeling and what you're surrounded by. Berlin looked cool, so we were like, let's go there, yeah. It'll be interesting to see where we record the third album, because we have this appreciation of place now.
You're going to come to Seattle. I've decided for you.
Okay. Do we have to write grungy songs?
Yes. You guys are into the mixtape thing; it'll just be the next genre you buff up. It'll be your Grunge Era. All the Hits.
I'm surprised we didn't have that on this album. It's got everything else on it.
Eric Clapton has a studio on Barbados, you guys should probably go there. No spit freezing, though.
If you put Jules and me somewhere warm—we're from Manchester, which I think is similar to Seattle weather-wise—if I see sunshine, you wouldn't be able to get me in the studio. I'd be on the beach with a cocktail.
Did you guys collaborate with Jay-Z?
There was talk of that from the label, but it never actually happened.
Well, that's another reason to come to Seattle. Seattle is like Jay-Z's second home. He's here constantly. And Beyoncé. She can't get enough of the wheatgrass shots at Healeo. She pretty much chugs the stuff.
If you say it here, in this interview, that will make it come true. Us and Jay-Z. I did actually have a thing happen because of a previous interview. I unintentionally insulted the French DJ/producer David Guetta. Now in almost every interview I have to talk about David Guetta and something I said about him that I don't even remember saying. And there it is, translated in all these different languages, this insult.
What was the insult?
Apparently, I said I'd rather vomit on my own shoes than make music like David Guetta. In the interview, we were talking about where you go in your own head when you're writing an album. I was commenting on how we never listen to the radio when we write songs. I was trying to say I'd rather puke on my own shoes than listen to the radio—so we don't end up unconsciously copying and sounding like what's being broadcast and what's popular at the time, like David Guetta. I've seen the word vomit translated into multiple languages [laughs].
How were your shows in Japan?
Incredible. I love Japan. We were playing outdoors at a festival, and it was getting dark during our show. I don't know if you've seen the bugs they have in Japan, but they are humungous. They're HUGE. The stage lights were attractive to all these bugs. And I swear, this flying dog-thing started chasing me around the stage.
Was it a bat?
I don't think so.
What else has chased you around onstage?
I can't remember where we were, but one show, this older man got onstage and was just sort of standing there lurking, walking slowly toward me. I was thinking, "What is he going to do when he gets to me?"
The lurking old man was going to beatbox.
Ah, that would have been great. He didn't look like a beatboxer, though.
Actually, Jay-Z will be beatboxing for you, in Seattle.
I forgot. Yes. Save me some of the wheatgrass drink.