MUSIC: The Ting Tings — from nowhere to everywhereBy Andrea Warner
They’re the U.K.’s prettiest, most perfectly packaged dance-pop duo since... well, ever. But what makes the Ting Tings’ success that much sweeter for Katie White and Jules De Martino, who share vocal and drum duties in the band, is that they’ve done the whole damn thing themselves, shunning label interference by taking charge of everything from aesthetics to sound. They may have the silliest-sounding name on the music scene, but the duo’s debut album, 2008’s We Started Nothing, boasts some of the catchiest, bounce-worthy tunes of recent times.
Their debut single, “That’s Not My Name,” took the top spot on the U.K. singles chart, making them unexpected overnight sensations. The band’s buzz then caught the attention of Apple’s head honchos, who chose “Shut Up and Let Me Go” to anchor last summer’s iPod/iTunes ad campaign. Nowadays, their audience knows no bounds: Whether toddlers or nostalgic Gen-Xers, straight or gay, everyone seems to love the Ting Tings.
Despite a whiplash-inducing year in which they went from unknowns to rock stars, White, calling from the road on the band’s current tour, insists she and De Martino are “completely normal.” Sure, De Martino has to wear sunglasses 24/7, à la Bono, after suffering seizures under the onslaught of flashbulbs on the red carpets. It’s also true that they can’t grocery shop in their home base of Manchester without being mobbed. And, yes, they’ve been on the road almost non-stop, crisscrossing the globe for the better part of the last 16 months. What could be more normal than that?
How did you and Jules come onto each other’s radars?
Katie White: We were in London about five years ago, and he was in a band and I was in a band. Actually, I don’t even know that he was in a band, but he was hanging out with them, and he recognized my accent being from the North of England. We started to write some songs together over the next few months, and we both liked a band called Portishead, and we eventually formed a band [Dear Eskiimo] with another member and that went completely wrong. (Laughs)
What did you want to do differently with the Ting Tings?
We didn’t want to do anything, to be honest. We’d been signed by a major label and dropped, and nobody wanted to work with us. If you’ve been in a band that’s been dropped, you’re not the hottest people around. We had loads of people we thought were our friends, and they just didn’t call us back the next day, and we haven’t spoken with them since. So, it was really weird and we were really down. But we still had three months’ rent on the space we were working with Dear Eskiimo — this space in Manchester that had 40 artist spaces, an art gallery — and we were just hanging out there, seeing what all the artists were doing and watching bands. And we’d honestly given up on thinking were were gonna be successful, that our chance was over, and so we just thought we’d stay until the rent runs out and then worry about what we’re gonna do. So, we were just playing some house parties for our friends — we had two songs, and I’d never played the guitar in my life, I’d just picked it up and started playing it. We didn’t really try, and then suddenly it actually worked! It was like, What the hell, couldn’t we have figured this out five years earlier?
It sounds downright magical.
We have had this year and a half where you constantly pinch yourself, to the point where I start to feel ill because I was so excited. You know, good news after good news, where two months prior to that we had bailiffs come knocking at our door. It was such a contrast: Just like, what the fuck, you know? If anything, what we learned, in retrospect, was to just not listen to anybody, because what we learned is that nobody has a clue what they’re doing, and everybody just bullshits their way through life. In the last band, we took a lot of shit from record labels, like you should wear this and you should write songs like this, and we were really quite naïve. This time, when left to our own devices, it worked, so we just walk around constantly ignoring people now.
The last year’s been incredibly intense for you. Do you feel out of your element, or are you getting used to the attention finally?
We’re used to it now, but it’s — you kind of go a bit weird with it all. You don’t live a normal life. We’re constantly on the go. You can’t really go to the supermarket, because you get constantly stopped by people. We’re stuck in this big bubble of the tour bus that goes around the world and on airplanes and stuff. I think we’ve finally got our heads wrapped around it, but I think if it all ended tomorrow it would take a good year to get back to being a normal person in society... We’re still completely normal, but our lives aren’t normal.
It’s weird, because we started playing house parties and then we did this festival. We did four house parties in our home and then the BBC in England found us and put us on the [new-band] stage at Glastonbury, which is this huge festival. That was kind of weird, because it was such a big jump. And you know, I can’t even remember the performance, frankly, ’cause we were just shitting ourselves. I’d been playing guitar for about six weeks, and I couldn’t believe I was playing in front of all these people, and I don’t even know what my B chord is — I’m just playing it. That was completely mind-blowing, and then the next day they played our performance on TV, out of, like, 30 bands, and it went out on late-night, but the response from that was huge. And then [producer and label exec] Rick Rubin sent us messages. It just went crazy, crazy, crazy. I’m still kind of scarred from our last band, though. You have to convince all your family members to turn up for gigs.