If anyone ever thought one of Britain’s coolest indie-acts lost their vibe after smashers like That’s Not My Name or Shut Up And Let Me Go, they are all wrong. Just because your not on top of the charts, doesn’t mean your off the road. Katie White and Jules De Martino, better known as THE TING TINGS, just released their third album Super Critical and are ready to spread it to the world. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION met the two musicians just before their gig in Cologne to talk a bit about their success outside Europe, building your own label and why they do not delete their music from Spotify.
[Katie’s on the sofa backstage in the dressing room, Jules is still outside, smoking with his manager and band mate.]
Let’s talk a bit about your recent tour. It just kicked of a few days ago. You’ve been in Amsterdam yesterday, how was it? And do you think the german crowd here could be different from the audience there?
Katie: It was really good. It was a different venue there. Quite big. This here is very intimate and it will feel different. In Amsterdam we played in a hall named Paradoosa, it’s a big musical building with about 14 hundred people. Here, you see everybody. We played a very intimate show in Belgium on the first night of the tour and I literally sung into a guy’s face. [laughs] I think he was really frightend.
Was it also frightening for you? Standing so close to the crowd?
Katie: It’s ok as long as I can look at them. When It grows and I cannot look at them, I get intimidated. But if I go on stage, they get intimidated [laughs]. JULES!
[Jules comes in, starts talking about the tour.]
Jules: We flew in from Dubai where we had a gig and then straight to Brussels. It was our first European concert in two years and it was amazing. We realized how much we love being on stage.
So you definitely missed being up on stage?
Katie: Yes. Completely. To be honest, we were worried a bit before the first show; how it will go. If we would still enjoy it the same way. It was our real passion. Writing songs and performing them live, that was it. So it was really frightened when we thought maybe we wouldn’t love it that much anymore. And then we went on stage with the new songs, we looked at each other and smiled. It felt so good.
How would you describe the crowd’s reaction to ‘Super Critical’? It has quite a different sound from your previous works, so it might be a little bit unexpected.
Katie: They knew it already! Do It Again got a lot of radio play in Belgium, so as soon as we hit the first note of it they were all shouting.
Let’s stay a bit on ‘Super Critical’. Just like your last one, you’ve recorded this album in Ibiza. Why there? Do you need a break sometimes from the fine British way of life?
Jules: [laughs] Fine British way of life? Every time we do an album, we want to change styles. Look at new techniques. And it’s much easier to go than to stay in the same place. Like, if we would stay in Manchester, where we were based, we would have done the same things all the time. We went to Berlin for the second record, had no friends, had to make something fresh and meet new people. It’s very inspiring and it changes the sound of your music. Then we went to Ibiza because we were really more concentrated on rhythm, basically rhythm-based dance music. We wanted to capture some of that. But it had a reverse effect: We went out to a lot of clubs, met new people, listened to EDM and very fast stuff. Then Katie found a picture of DIANA ROSS in Studio 54, it was beautiful. So we started to look at the music that has been played there. The funk, the soul. We wanted to drop the BPM from the Ibiza club and find a disco-pop sound. We recorded some stuff and wanted to create this Studio 54 sound. Then we had a gig in Ibiza in front of two thousand people and we thought we’re gonna bleed. They wanted speed! Take some pills and go crazy. And they danced! Then we knew we created something good.
It still sounds pretty risky…
Katie: In fact, we were a bit frightened. We didn’t even announce our band name. We just went in and told them to say not who we are. It was just an experiment. We were afraid we would produce an empty dancefloor or that everyone goes to the toilet. That’s the worst thing that could happen to us as musicians.
Jules: We’re just started out with the drums, the bass and guitar. Our DJ was up on stage with us. It went really well.
Sounds like you are still very passionate about what you are doing. Which is a good thing, of course. But how personal is your music after two albums? Especially on your newest? Any favourite tracks?
Katie: It’s always personal because it’s our whole life. We move our whole life. Go to different countries, leave our families behind. We start our lives again just to be in a new country and write new songs. On this album I got two favourites: Wrong Club, it’s very beautiful. And a song called Failure, which is really sweet, shiny pop. When we wrote it the melody was in some way too sweet. I was like ‘Oh my god, this is so pop!’. So we wrote lyrics about being a failure and changed it into something…
Katie: Yes, some kind of a depressing song.
And what about the title? Would you describe yourself as super critical people?
Katie: We were less on this album. Maybe that’s why we end up with the title. We smoked a lot of weed, in all honesty, and we were with Andy Taylor from DURAN DURAN, which was one of the biggest bands in the 80’s. I was too young to know them in their biggest moment, but we met him and just went into the studio.
Jules: He helped us to choose the record. It was very interesting. When we were talking about getting a studio in New York in the winter to mix the album with him, we were meeting a lot of DJ’s and we were going to all the old club Andy used to visit when he was 17 and DURAN DURAN were very famous. So he was influenced by NILE RODGERS and artists like him. For us, we tried to get this disco-thrill onto our album. We even talked with Rogers about producing it, but we end up doing it with Andy. It’s far more interesting, because we were not working with the guy who invented this kind of funky music, but with the one who got inspired by it and inspired us with his work. It was a really nice process. Otherwise it might be a bit to straight in the middle, too funky. With Andy we could make our own version of this funky pop.
Speaking about sound: A few days ago there was a review on ‘Super Critical’ where it was described as a ‘safe work without any risks, so the band has the chance to be on top again.’ Would you agree with such statements? And what do you think about the fact that people still want to put you in some kind of box?
Katie: We stopped reading any review. Even when someone tells us we got a five star. If you’re reading the good ones, you also read the ones who are cynical. After the first album, when we went to Berlin, I was like ‘Right, I’m gonna see what people think about us.’ So I googled ‘THE TING TINGS‘ and I got mentally scarred with that [laughs]. I put my songs for six months on this because of one opinion! They say ‘it’s too unsafe’, or ‘they take too many.’ But we always just write music that we love.
Jules: You just said that it’s a very different sound on the third record. Well, that can’t be safe for a band. Normally a band doesn’t change that much. But it’s a bigger risk for us. Every album is a big risk because we never do the same. On the first album, it was very easy for us to do tracks like That’s Not My Name or Shut Up And Let Me Go. For the second, we were a lot in New York, getting inspired by the BEASTIE BOYS. We worked with ‘Roc Nation’, our management at the time. So we had a lot of rappers around us, like JAY Z. We got inspired by different techniques and it was a massive risk. It didn’t sell as good as our previous record, but we had an amazing tour with it. We were in China, Indonesia or America. There it was really amazing. In Europe people were like ‘What happened to THE TING TINGS? Their sound changed!’. Yes, we change with every album. Maybe we’ll be doing country music someday. So actually I think we take big risks.
Katie: I think we went for a pop album, but our mentality is the one of an indie-band. We write and record for ourselves and really love the idea of building ourselves. There is no big team around you. Everything is around four or five people. You have an idea and you take it all the way to the end. I think that is really strange for pop fan and makes it hard to emphasise for some people. We write pop songs. We can’t help it! That are just the songs that come out when we write them. But our mentality is not typical pop. That might be very confusing for people.
But did it have some kind of impact on you as a band when the second album went well in places outside the UK, but not where everything started and you went straight to the top with ‘That’s Not My Name’ or ‘Shut Up And Let Me Go?’
Katie: We didn’t expect such a success at all. We recorded those songs by ourselves and try to sell it. We worked in a place where about fourty artists recorded their stuff. We didn’t even have concrete plans for an album then. Suddenly we went Top 40 in American radio. We couldn’t believe it. When we went there and drove to the radio stations to do interviews, they were playing music from LADY GAGA or PITBULL! They wanted to play our song which we’ve recorded for fifty euros. It just sounded so home-made! We just asked ourselves ‘How did they even came up with playing it?’ Maybe because we are a band who loves to experiment with different styles, our songs sometimes cross over. But that’s never our aim. Sometimes it goes well on the mainstream, other times it’s just another amount of people.
So would you say that unexpected success is a reason why many bands get pushed into the wide, maybe impersonal field of mainstream?
Katie: Yes, I think so. It’s not like we don’t want people around the world to hear our music. But we fought very hard to get to the position we are now. This album we put out on our own label. We wanted to do so from the beginning, but we didn’t have any money. We wanted to do shows and then the record company knocks on your door and you cannot not sign, because you’re hungry. This time we were lucky enough to do it. We were in the position to turn down the labels, but use people who used to work for them and now work for us. To get good distribution, like promotion. All of that from people who worked for our favourite record companies. We’re in good company. So it’s not like we’re selling our records from the back of our car [laughs]. There’s a team, but like on the second album, no one because of the success. On Sony Records, there were twenty people in a meeting, talking about how we should sound like. For some bands it might work, but not for us.
Talking about success, labels and promotion: Recently there was a bigger discussion about streaming platforms like Spotify. You might heard that TAYLOR SWIFT deleted all of her music and banned a multi-million dollar deal, stating that ‘as an artist you have a worth and you should know the worth for your artistry.’ Can you relate to her? What is your opinion on Spotify in general? Your music is still open to everyone there.
Katie: In one way I think we agree with her. Especially with the mentality that you have your worth. There should be some worth to any kind of art. You don’t take a painting, claiming it’s yours. But as a band that is trying their music to be heard… You know, TAYLOR definitely had millions to spend on marketing for the album away from Spotify, she is fortuned enough to be in this position. I think every band just got to do what they need to do to get their music heard.
Jules: In Cologne you must have a lot of struggling artists. Painters, musicians. They have to do what they can to get seen or heard. Otherwise they would get lost. That is the picture, there’s nothing more going on around it. So it’s a really hard question. We thought a lot about ways how to explore our music. We did a lot of things on this album. Like Katie said, having our own label, which is really tough. It’s not easy. We had to give jobs to people to work with us. It’s all day long working with France, Germany, Japan, America. It’s a lot of work and, again, a huge risk. We had three deals but decided against them. We respect record companies, I’m not saying we’re angry with them, but if you can, modestly, sell enough records and do a good tour to support your art, then you won about them. The rest is a bonus, an extra present, when you got really huge success and earn a lot of money. It’s our issue which way we want to do it. When we turned up in Brussels, there were 400 people. We had no idea how our new music or our energy was going to translate. By the end of the show, we had gone to another level. It’s a beautiful thing when everyday you learn a little bit more or get more comfortable. We started to wear different clothes again. After we’ve been in the studio we were just such a mess. We’ve been on our own and thought about the musicians, our record. Everything. The next step was a friend of us from Barcelona, he works in a design company, we met his friends, fresh from college, so they did our artwork. We would never get them with a record company. They don’t give you the opportunity to look for new talents. We found a director called ‘Daffy’ in Ibiza, we where really drunk then, he did the visuals for FANTASMAGORIA, they are amazing. We met again in London to shoot the video for Do It Again. You see, all that work makes it more authentic and believable for us. A lot more enjoyable. And if you start seeing the numbers of clicks like one hundred thousand or four hundred thousand it means a lot more than two million hits that have been pushed and payed by promotion. It feels different. Yesterday we were in Amsterdam and went to the merchandise stand to sign some stuff and met our fans. We never done that before, the record company always went straight off to the next promo date, next flight.
Katie: We’ve never done that ever. Never gone to them after a show and just say ‘hello’. It is so interesting to see who our audience is.
Final question: What does hope and passion mean to you?
Katie: For us it means our own label. It’s what we fought quite hard for and that’s what we’re passionate about. It fills us with excitement.
Jules: And for hope – it might not happen in my lifetime – but that artists become more powerful. Over such problems like we talked about. Spotify or YouTube. I have friends who are also artists. They might not be struggling financially, but get exploited by different things. Everything is so fast right now with internet and all that stuff, like MySpace. You can put out your music on your own, sell it, do some merch, but there are thousands of bands on this sit doing the same. It’s not easy today. So hope is the way where artists can earn enough money, survive, become successful, however that is, and be happy.
After our little talk Katie and Jules got on stage to perform some new tracks of Super Critical as well as older tunes. Compared to the studio versions, tracks like Communication or Do It Again sound far more interesting and rocky when played live. Starting out with an epic build-up version of Wrong Club, THE TING TINGS turned off the heat immediately. The catchiest tune of their new album, Only Love, was definitely one of the most chilling moments. Good vibes only! Of course the band’s set list did not miss their two biggest bangers: a lot of excitement filled the small, but perfectly intimate hall when the first note of Shut Up And Let Me Go blew out of the speakers. Not mentioning the highlight of the night, That’s Not My Name! Katie knows how to get the crowd’s attention, no matter if it’s a teenage girl, or a fifty-year-old man. All of them jumped and danced, so the biggest fear of the two musicians did not come true: a dead dancefloor. Not this time!