The Ting Tings Make A Playlist
Brit duo traveled a long and winding road on their way to Nowheresville
by Bud Scoppa
The April 2012 issue of Electronic Musician features a profile on the Ting Tings’ Sounds From Nowheresville. Here, read outtakes from our interviews with Jules De Martino.
“It turned into a creative process,” De Martino says of their club nights at Islington Mill. “We started to write some songs, we put a drum kit on the little stage, and I’d play records and drum along to them. That turned into creating loops on my loop pedal, and one day Katie picked up my guitar—she’d never played before. That was very first moment the pair of us had gained the confidence to say, ‘Have we just become a band?”
“When we first started the band, we didn’t anticipate, expect or have the vision of being a successful band,” De Martino acknowledges. “Even though we became a commercial outfit, we just didn’t act like a commercial outfit in terms of the way we work. When it came to making a second record, after all that success and touring, as you can imagine, it just felt completely different being in the studio. And it felt totally…controlled. We went to Berlin because we wanted to find a new experience—to have new challenges, new art, to find new scenes. It was the first European city we’d played, and we knew people there; it wasn’t like we picked it because David Bowie ended up there. It was the only place outside of Islington Mill that we felt we could try.
“It took us about a month to get our heads around what the fuck we were doing there, but then we started writing and we wrote some great tracks and started to get into it. So what happened was, we just got caught up in this situation where we weren’t actually living and breathing the music; we were just going into the studio, writing and recording knowing that the record label were coming in two weeks’ time and trying to impress them. It sounds like a cliché, but we found ourselves doing something we swore we would never do again after the experience with Mercury—we thought we’d be aware of anything like that from the beginning. And there they are, walking in with bottles of champagne and taking us out to dinner at the best restaurants in Berlin, going, ‘You’ve just written the biggest hit record.’
“When we actually woke up from that scenario, we realized we’d written tracks that we didn’t like—whether they were hits or not. We were like, ‘How the fuck are we gonna play this shit live? How are we gonna live with this record for the next three years on tour?’ So we scrapped it. We kept four songs and erased the other six off the driver. The record company asked us to send some stuff over, and we said that we hadn’t finished the record, knowing we were lost at that point. The next time they asked, we were like, ‘We’ve gotta be honest—we don’t have them anymore. We erased them.’ Needless to say, that didn’t go down too well. No one really spoke for the next three or four weeks. It was really the darkest period of this band.”
“It was never meant to be this big hit,” De Martino says of “Hands.” “But it went on the radio in the U.K., and we were still trying to find a direction. It was the wrong thing to do. I’m not blaming anyone, but people didn’t understand what we needed to go through.
“It got to the point of me and Katie asked each other, ‘Why do we want to be in this band? Why do we want to write another album? That first album was so beautiful the way it evolved and the way we toured—just plug in and play, get punked-out onstage. We’re never, ever gonna be able do that again, so let’s not ruin those beautiful memories.’ At that point, we were debating about just completely dropping this whole thing about trying to be this ongoing band—to just keep that moment special to our hearts and come up with some new creativity that has nothing to do with the Ting Tings.”
“The first thing we had to do was leave Berlin, because Berlin had become this place that was run by the record company in our minds. So we packed up everything and drove south, kept going until we got to this little place in the South of Spain where the mobile phone doesn’t even work. We rented a basement and set up the studio. Everything we’ve got can be transported—you just rack it all up on these towers. More gear arrived in a truck. We’d kept adding equipment ever since the first band, and with Pro Tools now, you can write songs in even the most basic studio. But with the addition of all my old analog stuff, it doesn’t matter whether times are good or bad, we’ve always got five guitars, two drum kits, a couple of old keyboard synths and a load of outboard gear that we can valve off and get some nice analog sounds anywhere. Obviously, the size of the first album doubled the size of the studio and gave us more facilities; that’s what we ended up in Spain with.”
“Our management was going, ‘You guys have to pay for this record—you spent all this money in Berlin. And I was like, ‘I don’t really care. It’s more important that we find our feet, what we want to do.’ At that stage, the record company were saying, ‘These guys made a record in their own world and we sold millions of copies. Just leave them alone.’ They had no choice, because this band was finished if they were gonna commercialize us before we’d even written an album.
“We went through this whole process about why we want to be in this band, and then something clicked. We’d been traveling for three years, and we’d been listening to music on our MP3 players and our laptops, because obviously we can’t carry our record collections around with us on tour. And all our friends, even though they have record collections, tend to play all their music on their MP3 players. Very rarely have I gone to visit a friend who’s got 500 albums, and he goes looking through them for the one he wants to play—it’s always something digital that they pull up on a laptop. In my record collection on my computer and my phone, I’ve got playlists: I might have an xx track, MGMT, Led Zep “Ramble On,” a Madonna track all in one playlist. It’s what makes me feel good. And because we were listening to music like that, we realized that we had to make an album that sounds like a playlist. We said to each other, ‘Now we know we have to make a record. This is why we’ve got the spirit to be in a band again,’ because we felt at that point creatively, that’s what we want to do. And it excited us—all of a sudden it was like at the beginning: it was like, ‘We need to be in a band. We need to write songs for a reason now.’
“And that’s where this record started. It’s like a playlist—it varies all the way through. It’s not easy to do, because you’re punkin’ out on ‘Give It Back’ and then you’re tryin’ to do an R&B kind of feel on ‘Day to Day,’ or a sort of Nancy Sinatra feel on ‘One by One,’ and you have to get yourself in that mood each time—when you’re writing it and when you record it. And that was the challenge. But we suddenly realized that this is gonna be amazing; this is gonna be a great thing to be a part of. So we went in the studio, started working and the lyrics started to flow. We were angry at our record company, and if you read into ‘Hit Me Down Sonny,’ it’s about our record company, Sony.
“But they’re being brilliant now, both in the States and the U.K. They love this record, and we’re getting so much support. We’re starting in the small blocks again, we’re not worried about mainstream radio, so we can go out on tour and be real. So it’s been a long process to make the record company understand that you can’t treat us like Ke$ha.
“The record we scrapped was already eclectic, but it just didn’t feel like a playlist; it felt like we were making groove music. The dance scene was becoming big again, everybody around us was going on about clubs and DJs, and every time we came up with a track that had a dance pattern, the record company was like, ‘This is gonna be huge, guys.’ And we were thinking, how are we gonna play this shit live? That’s when ‘Hands’ leaked out, and just after that we had our epiphany. We just did some shows in Paris, and they absolutely rocked. It was Katie on the guitar and all the loops, me on the drums, full energy, everybody screaming. I was like, thank God. We came that close to blowing it.”