When they decided to decamp to Ibiza to record their third album Super Critical, Katie and Jules from The Ting Tings had a slight ‘uh-oh’ moment. ‘We’d been to Berlin to make the second record,’ says Jules, ‘and done nothing but get high and look at great architecture. Going to Ibiza had party written all over it. Obviously we were going to get nothing done.’
As it turned out, unleashing their party spirit was exactly the impetus and momentum needed to craft something special and true to the starting spirit of their musical adventures. The Ting Tings were born out of the night-time. They bonded at sun-up, wired in Salford warehouses. Success came as a surprising blind-side to them. Being in the middle of an island for the winter, having to make all their own fun? This is the stuff they excel at.
Physically, Super Critical began in a rented Finca not far from the town of Santa Gertrudis. Emotionally, the starting point for the record was the touchstone glamour and twilight excess of 70s New York. Katie happened upon a picture that would come to foreshadow everything they locked into the record, of Diana Ross emerging from behind a curtain into the DJ booth at Studio 54. ‘Everything about her, the dress, the hair, the make-up, made her look like the most exotic and effortless creation,’ says Katie. ‘She was so glamorous, so of a moment, so not overdone. If we could get a sound even 5% close to what that picture was giving us, we knew we were onto something.’
They found artists and musicians decamped to Ibiza for its climate and temperament, an old idyll of bohemia. Someone introduced them to Duran Duran’s stalwart guitarist Andy Taylor and he became a party alumnus, before bringing some of the magic he had commandeered in his old world-conquering phenomenon to studio sessions with Katie and Jules. They are notoriously resistant to working with outside interests. ‘Something happens between the two of us in the studio,’ says Jules ‘which is very hard to be around.’ They had been offered work as hitmakers for hire, for artists like David Guetta and Katy Perry. ‘It just doesn’t happen like that with us,’ says Katie. ‘The hits we’ve written have been happy accidents.’ Andy offered to help sift through some old demos. ‘He kept on telling us, there’s gold in here.’
Songs began emerging. ‘It felt like making a record while partying in your bedroom,’ says Jules, ‘which is pretty much exactly how we made the first album. In 9 months we became like family. It was a massive education for us. His old analogue approach, the studio set-ups he used in the 80s with Duran Duran were perfect for the sound we were looking for. That approach isn’t around anymore. Studio people don’t know how to achieve it.’
I met the duo at a local coffee shop in the morning of their Toronto show, also Katie’s birthday.
Eric: Happy Birthday! Did you find that in your 20s it was about finding yourself but the 30s are more secure for you?
Katie: I mean worse, because the band got going around maybe 23 or 24 so I have not actually behaved normally in the last 8 years. So, I can’t function in a house. I can’t pick furniture, things girls my age should be doing. I’m really bad at that, I feel like I’m still 23 because I’ve missed this chunk by sitting on an airplane for 8 years.
Eric: Do you feel more relaxed? Are you both completely polar opposites when it comes to working and fun?
Jules: Actually, this tour, we went on a tour of Europe and the UK, Japan and Dubai about month ago. We did a lot of it on a bus in Europe and a long bus ride, I said to my crew who we’ve worked with for 6 years, it was the easiest tour we’ve ever done. They’ve all grown up as well, some of them have kids. I have no kids, but some of them have. Whether I’m growing up, I don’t know. I threw so many tantrums during the first three years.
Eric: After a while you’ve been in a band you know what the music industry is all about. You know what to expect. But then you get thrown through the loop and you’re releasing Super Critical on your own label. Tell me about that decision. Was that one that you made or was it out of necessity?
Jules: We’re shit organizers. We’re not running a label because we feel we can do a great job with it. We’re doing it because the first record we put out, We Started Nothing, the first label we had put our first single, That’s Not My Name. Then we got so broke and so the hell with that, that we signed to Sony but we signed at a really good creative deal with them. The second album, Sounds from Nowheresville, all our friends at the label just knew that we couldn’t be under that umbrella because we needed to do things that way. I think we went to the label three times in six years. We produced our own record, ran our own studio, we did it all.
Eric: Were you comfortable being left alone?
Katie: I think they think we’re probably one of the most awkward bands to work with, but we’ve always been really polite and nice to them, so we have this… We’re very well liked by them and we’ve really made a lot of friends with people at the labels. But they find us quite awkward, just because we’re an odd band. We’re pop, we write pop songs and sometimes we go on Top 40 Radio but then they try and stuff us down a red carpet like a pop band would do.
Eric: And you get uncomfortable?
Katie: We’re just bad at it.
Eric: You recorded Super Critical in Ibiza. Sounds awful.
Jules: Ha, well, the second album was recorded in Berlin. We’d been to Ibiza for rehearsal for three weeks, desperately trying to learn our second album when we were on a tour. We were going to China and we were still not sure about certain songs on our second album. Kate found a place in Ibiza, because we were in Spain touring. We dove across there, rehearsed and fell in love with this little studio place called Sona Vista, which is on a hill. Then a year later we thought, where the hell are we going to record the new record? We don’t want to be back in Berlin, because we didn’t make a lot of friends there, it was really tough. We didn’t want to go back to Manchester and visit all our friends and B-list celebrities. We wanted to come to The States, but it’s a long way to come away from anybody and to be thrown at the walls here. We weren’t sure if we wanted to make a record – we were so influenced by American bands, we thought if we were here everything would become so USA. We’re a UK band, we wanted to keep some sort of form of fusion. Kate said, why don’t we go back to Ibiza? We’re a rhythmic band, it’s the home of dance music in Europe. It’s like a mecca of good and bad dance music. I was really frightened, but I was frightened about Berlin as well. Kate always seems to make the decision about where.
Eric: Berlin has seemed into a few very dark albums in the history of music. When they think of Ibiza, it’s Happy Mondays and EDM.
Jules: Ibiza is also filled with drugs and parties and I said to Katie – we’re going to get nothing done again. We’re going to get there and it’s all this fun, it almost turned out that way.
Eric: That’s where you met Andy Taylor from Duran Duran?
Jules: We have no idea who lives in Ibiza.
Katie: Yeah, so we got to Ibiza in the winter and out of season, it’s a completely different place. All but one of the clubs shut down. It’s just full of people that, really weird characters. From artists who moved there in the 60s that are like, you know, hippies, people living in the woods with alternative lifestyles and people that are – I thought some madman when I first met him, I thought, who’s this weird guy that walked in the room? He had a little studio at Sonic Vista and he just became our friend. He was just this lovely eccentric man full of stories. He had been in a recording studio for the past 10 years in Ibiza. It sounded like he was working on stuff – he’s obviously just being creative in his own world. He just became our friend and we had no idea we were going to work with him. We didn’t have a desire to work with anybody because we were quite nervous about letting someone in the studio. We’ve always been very closed knit, just myself and Jules. That’s it. He became our friend and we got offered to work with him and we didn’t want to do it, we were nervous. We’re not great at working the system and sending songs out. Andy said, why don’t we go to the studio, cut our ideas that we both want for our bands, put them in, he’ll just finish them off and we can send them off to the artist. We went to the studio, worked on the songs, loved it and decided no one else could ever have that song because we loved it so much and we didn’t leave his studio for seven or eight months. So, it was weird. It just happened. People can think we’re throwing something away and he was so supportive, he really picked us up and helped us dust ourselves off and said, that’s amazing! Do it yourself! That’s what bands should be doing. You’re a pop band, imagine if a pop band could it on their own label and have success? Normally, it’s just an indie band that would attempt to do that. So he was a real backbone for us as well as we were making that departure.
Jules: Shut Up and Let Me Go is almost like a Duran Duran song with the guitar riff and stuff. We’re a rhythm band, a vocal band and Kate plays guitar. It’s all based around the two of us trying to create songs from feeling and vibe. Every song we’ve got, it’s all groove based. When we started making this record, everything came from Studio 54, CBGBs, New Wave, Disco, Funk, Punk from the States. We were so into it. When we met Andy, he just said the right things. We were like, look at what Diana Ross was doing singing in this tune – he was like, I was there! We knew exactly where we were with 5-6 tracks in that studio. We were petrified for bringing him into the studio because we’ve never worked with anybody before. I don’t know how we got over that. I have no idea. He turned up in our studio, he heard the demos and he was like – this is fucking amazing, what you’re doing. We knew him for six months by then. From a past, that test of very weird like that. It just takes that one thing goes wrong and then our whole month’s going right. We get very paranoid. With Andy, we had to cross that line, he came to the studio. I remember we were so frightened about that. We really liked him. We liked what he stood for, what he had done, we just thought – if he comes in and starts to throw his weight around like some people can do in a studio, or act like a record label because we’re vulnerable and going through that transition? That’s our friendship. You lose a lot of friends in this game when you’re traveling around and we were really worried about that. He came in, we were up to six in the morning talking music and our influences and he was telling some war stories and it didn’t stop for 7 months from that point.
Eric: When you write a song like “That’s Not My Name” do you know that it’s a hit?
Katie: I did!
Jules: I had no idea. I couldn’t tell you one of our songs that was going to get a reaction.
Katie: At the time I knew, but we’d already been through a rough time with the record label before that album. I was doubting my own judgement. I thought, what do I know? I definitely instinctively felt like it had a moment in the song where – every single time we played it, I got goosebumps. I was like, don’t get this on all of our songs so there was something in it.
Jules: And of course when you put your set on your first record, for us in the UK that went #1 so that was the last song we play in our set. Then you travel abroad you have to change your set around because everyone is going absolutely ape shit for Shut Up and Let Me Go then you play “That’s Not My Name” last and everyone is like – what is that? Oh shit! Then the next gig in the same country you twist it around and that’s really weird in your head. I don’t know how that works.