By Patrick Brennan
The Ting Tings are back! And I was in their tour bus. The bus, located outside the Cluny live music venue in Newcastle, was hard to miss, it was orange and had ‘BUS’ on its licence plate – as brightly coloured and blunt as any Ting Tings single. Katie White, Jules De Martino, and I shook hands, exchanged smiles, and began to chat next to a dozing crew member.
I understand you’ve just started touring again. How are you finding it?
Katie White: It’s great, we’ve just finished Europe. We really wanted to do small venues because for our first album that’s what we did, and if you’re crap in a small venue there’s nowhere to hide. So every night we’re like ‘ooh that felt great and that felt a little bit crap!’ so then you build it and build it and build it until it becomes a really strong live show.
How would you say your sound has evolved since the first album?
Jules De Martino: Every record’s different. The first album we recorded in Salford, the second we were in Berlin for a year and a half, and for the third we were in Ibiza. We don’t want to make the same record twice: we go through, like, transitions in a different city or a different country, challenge ourselves, and I guess we become better musicians because we’re touring so much. In this latest album we were influenced by studio 54, later 70s/early 80s funk, and we happened to meet Andy Taylor in Ibiza – he co-produced the record with us, and he’s worked with Duran Duran – and we just matched with him. We got into his little stone room with all our equipment and didn’t leave there for nine months. We were all into the same thing. We’d say things like ‘there’s this great club in New York, and this band were breaking out there in the early 80s…’ and he’d say ‘yeah I was there’. It just solidified this whole new record.
KW: We never thought we’d be able to work with anyone in the studio, because we’re quite introverted. We did our first two records on our own, recorded them in a little room and that was it. So for us to have someone in the studio, we had to feel really comfortable with him. We didn’t want to leave!
What would you say were his best inputs?
KW: What was amazing for us, and kind of frustrating as well, is that we’re quite impatient, so when we write a song, we write like 20 versions of it and then hate it – screw it up in a ball and throw it in the bin and go home. It was really interesting to have that person there who watches and somewhere, at just the right point, we hit on the magic one and we don’t realise it but he’d go like “STOP what you’re doing, get off the pro-tools, go home, come back and listen to it tomorrow, don’t bin it, you’ll love it in the morning”, and we’d go home and be like ‘oh my god he’s right’.
What’s it like being a two-piece. What are the advantages and disadvantages? You’ve got a lot of stuff going on in your songs, how does it work in a live setting?
JDM: You use loops, they’re all triggered by our feet mainly, pedals, and by our DJ on stage who loops a lot of stuff live. There’s no backing track. Being a two-piece is good and bad. The good thing about it is that if we have a dispute or disagree over something, we know instinctively how far we can take that. But imagine you’re a four piece band and two members kind of bust up, the other two will help pull it all back together because you’re a four piece band and you’re all mates. When there are just two of you, if you have a break or a bust up, it’s over. There’s no one else in the band to…
JDM: We’re always aware of that. You know when you’ve got to leave it
I wanted to mention Klaxons, who have recently disbanded. They are regarded as the fore-fathers of New Rave, which happened about ten years ago, and you guys were sort of contemporaries. Do you consider yourself part of that whole scene?
KW: we came after all that. We were saying that New Rave was all over before we’d even started. It’s so shitty where they go ‘that’s New Rave and now it’s dead’ within like a year. I think we’re more New Wave(?) the whole Klaxons thing was definitely about a year before us, I remember thinking ‘god they’ve written that genre off already’. What was nice though was to meet a band that weren’t egotistical.
JDM: They’re cool, they were really cool.
KW: Sometimes when you meet bands, they’re really awkward with other bands. If you’re backstage at like a festival or something, there’s this weird atmosphere where everyone’s trying to out-cool each other, and we don’t like that, we’re all like ‘hey how you doing?’ and then you’ve got some twatty band, like, death-staring you. Klaxons were really nice and down to earth.
JDM: Yeah we had a beer with them and hung out a bit. When you get nice cool artists that just want to hang out, on a level with you, it just makes it so much more fun.
KW: The thing is, when you’re a band, you have to kind of build yourself up to go onstage. I do, I get slightly more obnoxious just before I go onstage, I go kick a bin over of something…
JDM: What were you saying? Kick a bin over?!
KW: Or break the end of a banana off.
KW: Totally. It’s not the best place to make friends because everyone’s in their own little bubble of insecurity.
I really like your use off colour and bold designs, in your video and in your artwork. The artwork you have for your latest album, Super Critical, is less blocky, it’s a bit more brown and hazy. How important is the design element to your music?
KW: We love the kaleidoscope. If you step back from the cover, it just looks a bit brown and turdy. But generally I think we do go for colour, definitely primary colours are quite big to what we do.
JDM: The title ‘Super Critical’ came out of a bag of weed we had in the studio, and then Katie was like ‘it’s a really nice word’. It’s a great word, we played around with it. There’s also a track called green poison on the album, which is also a bag of weed… You can see where this is going! When we started to make the artwork, we teamed up with these designers, and they were complete potheads, so they completely latched onto this whole thing! We weren’t making a weed album, they just…
KW: …they were like thirteen year old boys!
JDM: We ended up with limited vinyl in a freeze bag, like you get your weed in. You just write what kind of weed it is on the bag, and the actual vinyl is just like a picture disc of weed. And then the artwork was a kaleidoscope of weed. And everything kind of went, you know…
I like how all the designs and ideas you have just suddenly become… weed.
JDM: Yeah and then we stopped smoking weed. We’d had, like, nine months with Andy just getting really high in Ibiza, because there’s really cheap weed and it’s like have a drink have a puff kinda thing, and then we stopped that, got on tour, straightened up, got fit because it’s hard work on tour. And now we’re looking back at the artwork, like, ‘oh my god…’
KW: thing is now people are looking at this like ‘what’s the meaningful album title?’ and I just feel like a thirteen year old boy going ‘ha, weed!’
JDM: Right. And you’ve just hit on a really important point. Now I’m never going to look at the album cover the same way, because we do love all the patterns we’re making, all the African colours and stuff, but now I look at the album, it is kind of a murky browny colour…
KW: looking into patterns, there’s, like, African prints you can get where each print is a story, and I love that idea that rather than making something that just looks graphically good, you have a story within it that only you would really know.
I now have this great mental image of you guys, all sitting in the studio with the munchies and a massive bag of Doritos.
JDM: Or M&Ms. Primary colours and all that…
To finish off, a friend wanted me to ask this: would you rather fight one horse sized duck or twenty duck sized horses? I need an honest, concise answer.
J: Twenty duck sized horses
It’s the sensible option isn’t it?
K: No I’d say one horse sized duck, because then when I eventually kick its arse and kill it, I’ve only killed one thing rather than twenty things. I have this thing where… I stopped eating meat for about 8 months and then kind of realised that… not one animal was saved, somebody else would just eat the burger, and it was a really horrible feeling. I thought I was going to make a difference! But then I thought what’s worse, eating one cow or twenty prawns? Because twenty prawns are, like, twenty lives. What’s morally worse?
The Tings Tings recently finished touring the UK, and will be kicking off their North American tour the the Virgin Mobile Mod Club in Toronto on the 19th of January.
Photograph: AMG Press