Ting Tings' Katie White: We need to write songs when we're depressed
Four years ago, two unassuming musicians from Northwest England caught the attention of the music world with the explosive, sassy single: "That's Not My Name." Their fast success brought dance-pop duo the Ting Tings (Jules de Martino and Katie White) an impressive record deal, worldwide touring, an Apple commercial and international fame. But then, as quickly as they were buzzed, the band seemingly disappeared, well, sort of. They were in actuality riding the waves of their initial success for nearly two years playing shows. And now they've returned, with both a new album and a tour that carries them to First Avenue tonight.
This weekend, in a well overdue update, Gimme Noise Caught up with lead singer Katie White.
Gimme Noise: First thing's first: you've just had an appendectomy?
White: Yeah. We filmed Letterman and then the next morning I woke up with the worst pain in the world. I had to have my appendix out.
Sounds like a stressful start to touring.
Yeah. I was worried that we'd have to cancel more shows. Luckily they did what's called a keyhole surgery. I only had it out like 12 days ago but I've been doing shows and jumping around onstage. I probably wouldn't have been able to do that if they did the traditional way where they make a big cut.
Well I'm glad to hear that you've had a fast recovery.
There's been a considerable interval of time between the initial success of your 2008 debut We Started Nothing and last month's Sounds From Nowheresville. What's happened in between? How did you approach the creation of the second record?
We did loads of recording on the first album. I don't think we expected it to be that successful, you know, to the degree that we got signed and [Columbia Records] put our album out. But I don't think that we were particularly marketed like a pop band. Every country sort of discovered us as we played there. It was almost two-and-a-half years of constant touring. We came to America and as soon as America started to go well we went to Japan and they were just discovering the band. It was amazing, you know? We got to see the world! Then we moved to Berlin and started to write our second album. We wanted to create an album that we were really excited to put out. We felt like we had more to give.
Is it true that after writing and recording in Berlin that much of the album -- nearing completion -- was deleted and completely recreated?
Yeah, kind of... but in all honesty we did that on our first album as well. It's just that no one knew or really gave a shit. But we wrote songs on that album that were also deleted. It just seems to be the way that we work. We knew we weren't going to put something out that we weren't proud of. We wanted to be able to tour and look people in the eye and communicate why we wrote these songs, not simply that we sat in a studio trying turn out songs. It's a creative process rather than just trying to write hits. And it's amazing when you stumble across hit songs. That's never our goal.
Do think that the whirlwind into fame and all of the nonstop touring affected your artistic approach to the second album?
Yeah, I mean it was mostly just our lives. They changed. And you feel inevitably different going into the writing. But in all honesty, we felt quite similar to the first... We certainly had a lot of people who had opinions about the songs, which was lovely, but we didn't really have that on the first album. We needed to find ways to isolate ourselves so that we could form our own opinions. But that was quite similar to the first album really. Our lives had changed but the process was quite similar.
So you work better in isolation.
Yeah. It's such a strange life that you're living in. It's almost quite unreal. Anything emotional you kind of have to put on the back burner. And us personally, we kind of need to write songs when we're depressed. I don't know why. We just need to write when we're not sitting on a beach riding jet skis you know? I mean I don't think we'd ever write a good album in that situation. We've got to come back down to earth, live life, deal with reality and then write about it.
How do you feel about the feedback you've received so far for Sounds From Nowheresville? (Note: it hasn't exactly been glowing. Pitchfork rated the album a dismal 1.8).
I stopped Googling stuff like a year ago now because it's just weird to read about yourself so much. But it's been really interesting what we've heard because I think it's quite a polarizing album. And I think that that's a good thing. I think our first album was like that in a way. It was successful but right from the beginning people would say "'That's Not My Name' is never gonna get played on the radio because its not pop enough or it's not indie enough." We're somewhere in the middle. That's just the band we are, and a polarized album to me is better than one that everybody just thinks is okay. But our fans have been supportive and the shows have been going really well so we're happy.
You'll be quite busy the rest of the year, playing throughout the U.S. in addition to hitting a lot of the international festival circuit. What modern artist's live set would you most like to catch?
I would love to see Skrillex live.
So you're admitting that there's a place in your heart for dubstep...
I wouldn't necessarily say so but I think what he's doing is amazing. I think he sounds really fresh and I'd love to see the crowd go off. I imagine his crowds really go off. There's so much stuff right now though...
Maybe somewhat of a digression, but I have to acknowledge to your noted penchant for fashion. Long before all of the Royal Wedding contention, legendary milliner Philip Treacy offered to design you a piece. Any fashion lover would agree that that's quite an honor. Did you ever get the hat commissioned?
[Laughs] You know I never did that; I'm such an idiot! We met him at an awards show and he was all "oh I would love to make you a hat" and then I never followed it up. That would have been incredible wouldn't it? I might have had one just like the one that caused all of the controversy.
Move over Princess Beatrice, it could have been a Ting Ting!
I don't know if that's a good or bad thing if it would have been me. I just never followed it through. I'm really terrible with stuff like that. I don't use a stylist so I always miss so many opportunities with clothes and stuff.
Perhaps Mr. Treacy will read this interview and contact you again.
White: Yeah, we can only hope!
The Ting Tings play the First Avenue mainroom tonight with MNDR at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22 and $25 at the door. 18+.
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