- Category: Music
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve heard from the Ting Tings and last time we saw them, they didn’t appear to be themselves. 2012’s Sounds From Nowheresville had all the hallmarks of a difficult second album, jumping around like an iPod on shuffle. Jules de Martino had peroxide hair, a beard and sunglasses whilst Katie White hid behind big hair. The duo looked tired and a bit out of sorts. What had happened since the wild success of We Started Nothing and being hailed as the next big thing?
I meet them in a houseboat-come-studio on the Regent’s Canal in Islington. Katie apologises for being a bit messy in her appearance. Both of them look really relaxed. Jules has a very nice tan and it seems a lot has changed in those two years since Sounds From Nowheresville. They’re excited about what they’re doing, who they’re working with, gushing about Daffy – the guy who produced their new video Do It Again:
Katie: “We think it’s amazing the video. We met Daffy a couple of months ago in Ibiza, through friends who did Manumission and he was doing a project with them. Some Vjing.”
She enthuses about their new way of working, befriending people who happen to be really good at something. Daffy is a whiz at CGI, even sent them a 3D visualizer of their video before they had done anything. It seems that all the lights are on green for this album, and not like the difficult second album where they decided to up sticks and move to Berlin. I ask why they moved there?
Katie: “I was so sick of my voice, shouting ‘that’s not my name’ for years on the trot. I didn’t want to shout. I didn’t know what I wanted to sound like. We just wanted somewhere to be quiet to get our thoughts together and write.”
Jules: “We found it hard to settle down. We tried to find inspiration but it just reminded us of what we had done before in Manchester. We thought when we got there it would be a different set of rules.”
Katie: “When we got there it was minus twenty-seven degrees, or something, and really miserable. We had been on tour for four years so our whole lives had changed. We should’ve gone home to our friends and families and gone: ‘What’s just happened?’ And assess it.
Instead we just plonked ourselves in Berlin. We couldn’t speak the language; it was cold, and we kind of got depression. After touring for so long, with your body full of adrenaline after every night, nothing was enough. We ended up pacing the house. Crawling the walls. We couldn’t help each other. We were so lost and it took us months to get out of this state.”
I asked if they felt something was missing?
Katie: “Yeah, it’s a really odd feeling. You get angry at yourself that you can’t just live a normal life and be happy, do the washing, go for a walk in the park, come back, write some songs… it wasn’t enough. We just had a weird time, it wasn’t Berlin’s fault and I can imagine it is really creative but we were so lost.”
So why did they go there and not back home?
Jules: “It was always on the agenda to go back to Berlin because we had experienced it a bit while touring. We played a few shows and always thought we have got to go back – and Katie wanted to go back.
We knew that going back to Manchester was going to kill us because we needed to get inspired and to drive ourselves: The way we work, it’s looking for that something. Taking an idea, a piece of art or something. You see something and you want to be able to create that. That’s how we are going to get inspired. We needed to reinvent ourselves and that’s happened every album. Just by fault.”
What were they trying to find?
Katie: “That feeling you have when you’re a new band: That romantic notion. You can only have it on your first album: That fresh thing.”
Jules: “It’s the best!”
Katie: “You don’t have it on your second album. Our manager said to enjoy it because you’ll never get that feeling again. Now we up our lives and move to a new country to try feel that again. That fresh thing; even if it’s just fifty percent of it. If we didn’t, then I don’t think that we would write as good songs.”
It seems that Ibiza was much better. The pencil Jules is playing with is put down.
Jules: “When Katie called Berlin, well, that was traumatic! I thought Ibiza was really not a good move because I thought we would just be on acid and partying all night, which is so easy to do there. But we got there and it was brilliant! “
Whenever Jules talks about music and making it, you see something change within him.
Jules: “Being a rhythmic band where we are vocals and drums in the main as we are on stage a lot of that goes into the writing. We were realising our love for early disco and great funk bands. Being in Ibiza and listening to 128 beats per minute, people gurning, arms in the air… we realised our love for early disco and funk bands and we thought: Wouldn’t it be brilliant if you could slow the beat down to get to 115-6 to where disco was? Back then it was all about turning up at a club looking really good and having a dance routine. Odd! You would have some sort of move instead of getting wasted, wedge and cheer every three minutes when the DJ does a climax and drops it. It’s just so tedious.
We’ve been to all those clubs and it just feels like if we could just knock the clock back a bit and bring in new music, bring the BPM down and get in a club in Ibiza and play a set - like put a band in a booth for example, my drums, Katie’s guitars and DJ at the same time – there’s your challenge straight away. We found that little thing we were looking for: If we’re going to work so many hours together, hating each other, beating each other up… Why are we going to do that? When we found it in Ibiza we wrote six or seven songs on the trot in a little house we hired and it was about that point we met Andy Taylor (from Duran Duran) who was a fan of the band.”
The band were being badgered to write for other artists at the time but obviously were concentrating on their own album, which is when Andy came asking if they wanted to offload songs on to him.
Jules: “He was like ‘you can carry on with your album and I’ll do some production on them in my studio and you can have the best of both worlds’.”
Andy’s powers of persuasion eventually won over and the band decided to do one thing with him.
Katie: “We got into this little cave studio with him and didn’t leave for nine months! That’s the honest truth! We didn’t go to any restaurants, didn’t go the beach... I ended up whiter than I am now! We’d never worked with anyone before and it made us realise that we must have binned so much stuff that could have been useable.
What we do as a band we have an idea, we change our minds every half an hour and it was bittersweet to have someone in the studio to go Woah! Don’t throw it away just yet. Go home, get some sleep, get some sleep, then the next morning listen to it and we did that, listen to it and go – this is amazing! And then we thought – oh my god, how many times have we done that in our lives?
Andy would say: ‘Get off the Protools! Go home. Have the day off tomorrow’ and we would feel a bit put out by this and ready for a fight because we would be ‘what the fuck?’ We were used to coming in and working as we liked. Those first few times we did it, we would then come in and sit down and Andy would play the stuff that we had left instead of us mashing them up and we’d love it!”
Talking about their work ethic brings back something of their dealings with their record label on the second album and them famously deleting loads of tracks because the people in suits loved them. Did they have any regrets now with hindsight?
Katie: “Not because of the success of the second album! Not that. But in the future it would be nice to have somebody around us that goes: “Stop what you’re doing!” We get an idea, we have twenty more… then we don’t kill the idea. I think we both have short attention spans and get bored easily like with places to live. After about a year…”
Jules: “We’re doing it now. We’re now rehearsing in a house in the south of Spain and we distinctively have that feeling again and, no predictions, it could be New York and I could get my way on the fourth album.”
Katie: “But we will probably make a country album next.”
Jules: “We mixed this album in New York on analogue. This guy spent two days putting it all on tape. We didn’t know it was going to work but when it was on analogue it just popped! It was amazing. Working with Andy, he’s from that time and his mind is in big studios, big reel to reels: His mind is still there.”
Katie: “And now, teaching me rhythm guitars! Andy was such a huge fan of Nile Rogers and he showed me how to do it, which is really interesting because we were talking to Nile before we were working with Andy. We didn’t know what Nile was doing and we were supposed to be doing a show with him at the Montreal Jazz Festival. When it came to do the show, we were playing at the exact same time as him, so we couldn’t go on stage with him. We didn’t get to meet but stayed in touch.
When we were writing Wrong Club we said that it was inspired by him and he was like ‘send it’ and we never did because we didn’t want to offend Andy because Andy had already put the guitar on the track, so we never sent it. About a month later he had that huge success with Daft Punk.
Wrong Club is nothing like that. Andy as a guitarist was inspired by Nile, but not now. So the Wrong Club is a bastardised version of twenty different things. Andy is a great little rhythm guitarist and he loves funk…”
Jules talks and a small smile creeps on to his face as he talks about the histories of these two men:
Jules: “So we now have two different histories, now both in one place, inspired by the music of Nile Rogers, Studio 54, great funk, and we’re heavily influenced by this, and not with the actual person who made the music. It’s not as close. Not too formulated. Andy was closer to it but a generation away.”
It does seem that they enjoyed working on this record, but still had full control.
Jules: “Every time we put down something that sounded too funk, or too Nile, Andy would be going: ‘This is amazing’ and we would be like ‘nah.’ We just wouldn’t be feeling it. Then Andy would be like; ‘what are you talking about?’ And we would just carve it to pieces.
How did The Wrong Club come about?
Katie: “Being in Ibiza and checking out the clubs. I think everybody has this at some point in their life: Four o’clock in the morning, you’ve got some horrific come down happening and you’re in a club and reassessing: ‘what am I doing here?’ Then you’re reassessing ‘what am I doing with my life?’ You’ll probably end up in tears in the corner of the club, having a bit of a breakdown… probably because you’re having a come down, or a nervous break down… that’s what Wrong Club is.”
Jules: “It’s my favourite track on the album by far. It’s more of a funk jam, more urban I think. It was one of the tracks that we had the music down and Katie had some rough vocals and Katie never wore headphones in the studio, she just had the speakers playing. Me and Andy weren’t really paying attention and recording and she just started ‘oh, now, do it again…” and that was it!”
Katie: “We must be really negative people.”
Jules: “I think the first album is We Started Nothing: We always do that, We Started... Nothing. It’s negative. We’re not inventing the wheel. What wer’e trying to say is we’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re riding technology, it’s something fresh and new. We’re not changing the world! I hate bands who think they’re changing the world. All the greats… at the time they just go through the process and everyone’s telling you your changing the World! I just hate that. NME put so much pressure on the band, saying we were the future of music. We were like FUCK. We started nothing puts a spin back on the record. We don’t think we’re changing the World.
Our second record was so ‘from nowhere’ we didn’t know where we were, totally on our own. Passports lost, we didn’t know the language…”
Katie: “Sounds from Nowhere’s Ville. I still really like loads about it.”
Jules: “On the first record, we weren’t rehearsed. We had problems technically, Radio One wouldn’t play our record, everyone said this band wasn’t gonna work; there was one hundred reasons why not to do it but the record drove it. Then Radio One said they would give it a go: Everything was green! And when we got to that traffic light and someone said ‘we’ll put you on at our club mate don’t worry’. It was green! For the second album – everything was red. Every, single thing we tried to do was red.”
Katie: “Everything was red with the words FUCK OFF written on it! Ha ha ha.”
Jules: “We were late for trains, we got quite emotional about stuff, weren’t reliable anymore… We kept getting sick. We were in a painful, a difficult place and possible not writing the work we wanted. We rode that ourselves. Labels are dreadful at this part, riding things out. They’re not there for the music and when we came out of that we asked ourselves: Do we stay at this level? Or do we become the band what we are and get to that independent place again? We made that leap at the end of the second album, now we we’re back in an independent place again.
Meeting Daffy, Manumission, these were not organized events, they were things we fell into. It happened. We were in a place we want to be.”
For a band with such indie roots, who self published their first single back when they were in Salford, Manchester, I enquire why they went the record label route if only to go back to being independent for album number three.
Jules: “The first songs we published themselves and at that point you’re not thinking of selling records. It was just us doing our thing. It went out on Switch Flicker. We made 500 then reprinted the same again. It was just mates doing it. At that point you’re not thinking of selling records, it’s a piece of art. We had 3 songs… We were doing small gigs. If we thought about selling records we would have started a company etc…
All these things we just made up on the spur of the moment. A year in after that, touring four songs, playing them over and over again, you’re broke and there are lots of record labels throwing themselves at you. They’re all around trying to exploit the band but Sony gave us freedom. We got to travel and we’re thankful. We are indebted to them,
The second record, it’s not the same thing. We never go into a studio thinking we’re going to sell x thousand records of something. Records are part of the process of people hearing the music. Now we’re on our own record label now, we got in touch with the people from the first record who were all doing their own thing and we brought them all back. Now it doesn’t feel that it’s about record sales. There’s not one person telling us we have a target to reach.”
Katie: “I think you just want your record to live in the world for a couple of years. That’s enough for us. I understand new bands you have to sign to a major. We write pop songs but we’re not a pop band. There were conversations saying ‘you need to be more paparazzi if you want to sell more records’. ‘Why are you being so awkward?’ I’m not that pop person. Wrong band! Sorry.”
We move back to talking about the new album and it’s title Super Critical. A lot has changed and their new, disco direction – to my ears I can’t hear any Daft Punk on it but definitely hear the riffs of early Disco. With a title as bold as this, I ask if they feel there’s a lot to prove with this album? They ponder this question:
Jules: “To ourselves? I don’t think we need to prove much. ”
Katie: “Success comes and goes – there can’t be a peak all the time. This album could fly the charts for the next couple of years. Or it might not. It’s not tangible so you don’t really hang onto that. It’s out of our control. Writing the album is the bit where we can go: We did it!”
I again ask about the title.
Katie: “This one is interesting because we’re weird people. Especially Jules, he’s such a perfectionist. To our detriment we kill things, even if they’re good, because one percent might not be perfect. What we did in the studio, with Andy, we smoked some weed and I let my guard down and not box myself in.”
It turns out that Super Critical was some marijuana in the studio and Katie liked the name.
Katie: “It just sounded kind of funky: Super Critical! On that edge of having a shit time and being looked upon in a really critical way. I like the play on words. Someone in quite a shitty condition. On being looked on in a certain way. It’s just a good, all round title.
With that honest answer we say our goodbyes and I leave with the feeling that they’ve produced the album they wanted to make, with the people they wanted to work with, and that they’ve enjoyed the whole process.