After cancelling their ‘Show Us Yours’ tour in 2012, The Ting Tings have returned to the UK to promote their new album, Super Critical. They are on an 8-date tour and I was lucky enough to catch up with the two of them (Katie White & Jules De Martino) before their gig at Leeds Belgrave Music Hall in November and have a chat with them about the writing of their new album.
“So with your second album, you tried Berlin, but then went to Spain and it was there that Sounds From Nowheresville was born. For Super Critical, you returned to the Spanish island of Ibiza. What was it that drew you back?”
Katie: “Well we’d learned Spanish, so that probably helped! It was tough in Berlin when you couldn’t really speak much of a language. I think with Ibiza, we fell in love when we went there out of season to rehearse. I hated the thought of Ibiza – we went and played Ibiza Rocks once and it’s a real boozy week to get off of your face, but when we went out of season it was the weirdest place. It’s full of people living really bohemian lifestyles, and odd people who have been there since the 60s with amazing stories to tell, and people who don’t want the party to end so they’re still desperately trying to carry it on. It’s just beautiful as well. I don’t know why, but we just went to Ibiza and thought ‘let’s see where life takes us’. That’s what we’ve done for three albums, and it’s definitely helped with the writing process.”
“I’d like to ask about the writing process of your album. I know that other duos might write separately or together, so how do you do it?
Jules: “There’s no real formula. We can work on iPads, laptops, phones; we’ve had situations where we’ve voice-texted each other a melody, or a phrase or word and I’ll be like ‘this is a great idea’. We’ve even had it where we’ve been driving with crew, but the crew have been smashed up, so we’ll be driving the minibus. I think it was in France that I was driving and Katie was recording this new song on the iPhone, and there’s me, speeding on the motorway, leaning in to the phone. So there’s different ways of doing it.
Then we’ll take it into our studio and flesh it out and make the lyrics make a bit more sense. We’ll smash it up, mix it and then we’ll go down the hip-hop route to get the beats going, and then we’ll drum it again. Sometimes something will work really quickly but sometimes it can take two months to get an idea going properly.”
Katie: “ I reckon ‘That’s Not My Name’ was like 20 songs until it became what we were happy with.”
“So, in the studio, was there anything particularly different that you did this time around?”
Katie: “Working with Andy (Taylor, Former guitarist for Duran Duran). We’ve never had someone around us and, because he’d become our friend, we slowly became comfortable with him. It’s definitely opened our minds up to working with somebody else. We don’t seem to have much patience with songs – we bin them quite easily, and to have someone go ‘STOP, go home! Step away from the pro-tools and the delete button and sleep’ has been great. We’d come back the next day and we’d love the song and we’d be so glad we didn’t get rid of it.”
“Why did you choose ‘Wrong Club’ as the lead single from Super Critical?”
Katie: “Because it’s a good representation of the album! It was either ‘Wrong Club’ or ‘Do It Again’. It’s weird because it’s a subtler song in a way, but there was just something about it when we wrote it.”
Jules: “And this record isn’t led by just a single, so the whole album is going to have 4 or 5 tracks and videos released from it. You have to start somewhere and it seemed like a good place.”
“Any plans for the next single?”
Katie: “I think we’re torn between ‘Failure’ or ‘Communication’. ‘Failure’ is really pop, and I love it because its so ridiculously pop-like with depressing lyrics. It depends what country as well, because different countries want different songs.”
Jules: “Either way we’ll probably end up doing both!”
“What’s going to be different about the live presentation of Super Critical compared to how you did We Started Nothing?”
Jules: “When we did the first album, we’d go on stage and there’d be just two of us – we’ve got a DJ on stage with us tonight. We don’t use any backing tracks or coding – it’s all live loops controlled by our feet – but tonight it’s feet and a DJ. When you have all of this space, you try to fill it, and the only way we can fill this space is by going back to our roots (which are Talking Heads and Blondie) and being a punk band. A lot of people said the live gigs from our first album were so strong and we hadn’t gotten round to introducing any polish. Now we’ve got this album with a lot of funk and disco, and we’re going on stage and smashing things up again. We end with a track called ‘Hands’ from the second album; we hold it and then we drop the whole thing, and it’s just immense. We wouldn’t have imagined doing that in a live setting, so anything goes. We just make it work on stage.”
Katie: “I wouldn’t expect a polished live show. It’s not us – we have to make it noisy and spiky. Even with this album, even though it’s smooth, we’ve changed every song so it’s spiky live, just so we feel good!”
Jules: “I think it’s worth going to see a band. Everything sounds like a record these days and you feel let down, so we’re always trying to pump shit out!
“So you’ve set up your own label to put out this record. How has this affected the control you have with the release?”
Jules: “We get to pick all the album tracks, all of the artists we want to work with, the designers for the sleeve and the directors for the videos. This time we actually went out, found out about people and met them, which is a really great change. We licensed it to all these different labels around the world and we’ve made a lot of new friends, so that was very exciting.”
Katie: “We’ve actually employed a lot of people that we’ve worked with from Sony on our first album who have subsequently been sacked.”
“What has been the most rewarding moment of being The Ting Tings?”
Katie: “I don’t think there’s just one. I think Jakarta was pretty amazing, as we’d never set foot in the place and then to have 8000 people sing every lyric to your song is very special. There’s definitely a snobbery with having your music in adverts, but for us, having ‘Shut Up and Let Me Go’ was how those 8000 people found out about the band. We felt it was the right decision to do that because we can go all around the world now and people from every country will know your music, and that isn’t a bad thing.”
Jules: “We’ve done awards shows and we just hate that whole celebrities walking down the red carpet thing. We’ve always managed to have success by not doing it, and I think our manager and labels in the past said ‘you can’t do this, you have to be a part of this system’. We’ve always survived by going against it, and to me, that’s becoming a defining moment of the band because we’ve gotten to our third album by not selling ourselves out.”
Live Review: The Ting Tings @ Belgrave Music Hall
As a venue, the Belgrave Music Hall boasts an intimate live setting, with which The Ting Tings were able to do a great deal. They had a DJ mixing live loops and samples during the performance and he seemed to fit quite well into the sonic set-up of the band. Jules came on first and started playing and looping some riffs from their song ‘Wrong Club’.
They then performed new songs ‘Do It Again’, ‘Only Love’ and ‘Communication’ which sounded incredible with the efforts of the live DJ mix putting an entirely new spin on the tracks.
The band also re-visited older tracks such as ‘Shut Up and Let Me Go’ and ‘That’s Not My Name’, which certainly pleased the crowd. These songs brought out the punk rock influences that were often seen in earlier performances and contrast greatly with the new disco funk sound present on Super Critical. Funk versions of earlier singles would have definitely been interesting to hear, as well as making the set list sound a little more coherent.
Their set finished with ‘Hands’, a synth pop track released during their 2010 hiatus. The track was heavily remixed with loops and featured an enormous club-ready drop, previously unheard in the original. By this point, the crowd was sufficiently warmed up and the atmosphere in the Belgrave Music Hall was reminiscent of one of their earlier gigs in 2008, despite there being a slightly smaller and maturer audience.
The Ting Tings’ sound has significantly changed and their live presentation has adapted well to portray this new approach. Despite their decreased significance in the music industry and a possible shift in their demographic, their consistency throughout their career has allowed their lively stage presence to remain virtually unchanged since their smash debut in 2008.