The Ting Tings: "We didn't mean what we were singing. It was bullshit lyrics, bullshit sounds"
The Ting Tings (due at the Ogden Theatre this Saturday, March 31) were one of the first bands to emerge from the Apple iPod commercials in 2008. Thanks to the overnight exposure of "Shut Up and Let Me Go," the band went from being a blogged-about British import to becoming a major player in American pop music, creating a sound as tightly crafted as its corresponding lyrics. But multi-instrumentalists Katie White and Jules De Martino slowly grew weary of the touring, the commercialism and the industry machine itself, and ultimately ended up disappearing just as quickly as they had arrived, exhausted from the promotion of eight singles over an eighteen-month period.
Tom Oxley Catch the Ting Tings this Saturday, March 31, at the Ogden Theatre.
The two moved from Manchester to Berlin and prepared to record the followup to their worldwide debut, We Started Nothing. The planned release, to be called Kunst, was club-oriented and radio-friendly, and while their record label loved it, De Martino says, he and White just couldn't see themselves going through the motions of touring behind it. They ended up scrapping the album and starting over instead, this time moving in a more alt-rock-pop direction for their sophomore release, Sounds From Nowheresville. We recently spoke with De Martino about the distinctions between pop and commercial music and his love for Skrillex and Gotye.
Westword: Katie said in an interview in 2008 that you're both complete pop freaks. Now that you've been in the industry so long, do you still feel that way?
Jules De Martino: I don't think we can draw a line between pop music and commercial music. I mean, the industry, it's always...the longer you stay in this industry, the harder it gets. Not only are you trying to make the right decisions as an artist, but there's a whole kind of weight on your back about selling records, selling out tickets -- you know, making money for your publishers, managers and labels. It's an interesting debate. I don't think of pop music necessarily as being music that has to be commercial; I just think pop music has to be music that is satisfying.
There's a lot of debate in the Internet world about what music is actually satisfying and what music is actually shifting records; we know that there's a big divide there. Some of the stuff that's going online gets seven million hits on YouTube or whatever, but it's only selling 55,000 albums. Where is that line drawn? In pop, there's a different way that people listen to music; they go to a show or they find another way to buy into the band. Money is earned in another way. I'm not sure I can make the distinction between commercialism and pop music. To answer your question, yes, we love pop music.
What are some of your favorite pop songs right now, then?
I've been listening to a lot of Skrillex. I'm not a big dance fan in terms of regular commercial dance music in clubs, but I think there are a few artists out there who are doing something really special with their production and songmaking. I think Skrillex is one of them. I just absolutely love him.
And then, ironically, I've been listening to an artist who's just initially gone to number one: Gotye -- he's someone I used to know. That artist has been around for a while, working really hard on the underground and breaking through. Ironically, I had no idea he was selling out shows or anything, and all of a sudden, I hear he's number one in the U.K. with his record. That was phenomenal!
You had another album recorded before Sounds Of Nowheresville, called Kunst, and you scrapped that because you didn't like how everything else on the radio sounded like it...
Me and Katie were really tired. We'd been on the road for two and a half years. To be an artist, you have to have something to write about. You need to have an emotion, a feeling. An artist needs that emotion, that inspiration, when we put pen to paper we mean what we're doing. What we did in Berlin -- we moved to Berlin because we didn't want to relive all the great times we had in Manchester. We would go back to Manchester and our friends would buy us drinks, and we'd act like stupid celebrities in our hometown.
We wanted to get new a challenge as artists. So we moved to Berlin, and the problem we had was that we were exhausted from touring and we had nothing to say. We held our hands up. You don't put a record out for money. You put a record out because you want to make something of it. You want to make a piece of work, piece of art, where people are going to say something, react to. And we couldn't find that at first.
We made ten songs, and our record company went crazy and said, "These are the biggest records, these are the biggest hits and radio is going to love it!" ...And, of course, one day we looked at each other, filled with excitement and all of this advice that is going on around us, and we said, "What the fuck are we doing, man? This is not writing at all. This is painting by numbers."
It just felt kind of weird. We realized that we couldn't live this life; we couldn't go tour these songs. We didn't mean what we were singing. It was bullshit lyrics, bullshit sounds, every drum pattern was so -- we had a form about it. And, of course, one of those tracks did make it ["Hands"] and went out on radio. It was going to be a dance hit for us; we were going to have some fun on the dance floor.
Then it got out of hand and started crossing over to mainstream radio. And we pulled it. At the end of the day, it was between us and the label, and we were like "You know, we're not going to go and promote this record," and we just dumped the album. We erased it off our drive. It made us feel like we were in control again. By erasing these songs, we felt like we were making a statement. That's when we started to become artists again and the band really had something to say - ironically, when we actually stopped doing what we were doing.
You and Katie have this chemistry on stage where you can just look at each other and know what each other is thinking. Where did that come from?
Now try to understand, there's definitely that energy between us. If one of us is off... no, that's the end of the gig. You have two people at 100 percent all through the whole gig. You can't lay off it. You can lay off it and you can start to deteriorate. It changes all the time; we make mistakes. But we never rehearse. We have rehearsed, but we never over-rehearse. We go in and we rehearse for two days and everything is up in the air. "No, no we're not ready. We don't know what pick is placed where." We're looking at each other, Katie does not quite know when I'm going to hit the chords or... it's all live. There's no instrumentals or backing track. It's all us and our peddles and our floor and our feet. Every gig has a bit of a spontaneous moment in it.
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