Fifteen months ago the Ting Tings were sitting in a rehearsal room waxing lyrical about their soon-to-be-released second album.
It was to be called Kunst, the German word for “art”, and had been recorded in Berlin after Katie White and Jules de Martino moved to the city in search of inspiration.
They explained how wonderful Berlin had been, of the underground parties they went to where nothing but experimental electronic music was played and the bohemian “space” they’d been renting that doubled as a home and studio.
Shortly after that conversation they returned to Germany to finish the album – and changed their minds.
The album they had once thought sounded brilliant, fresh and exciting had become leaden to their ears.
“We’d had a great year partying, drinking, having fun... living it up, basically,” said de Martino, 42, bursting into laughter. “That would be lying to say the least. We had a massive panic, in truth, and were in a position we really weren’t happy with.
“It’s really hard to sum it all up, but basically we were still recording an album yet there was a single, Hands, being released in the UK. It was playlisted by Radio 1, but we weren’t even in the country to promote it.”
The duo’s concerns were realised when Hands entered the singles chart at number 28, a disappointing result for a band who had sold more than four million singles in the past, and had a number one with their anthem That’s Not My Name. “Something just clicked in our heads,” said 28-year-old White. “We’re not a manufactured pop band who have to have an album out every year to keep themselves in the spotlight. I think people would rather we make an album that we’re happy with, so we just said ‘Stop!’”
After telling their record label, Columbia, that Kunst wasn’t going to happen (“They pulled their faces a bit, put it that way,” said White), the Ting Tings left Berlin as quickly as they could and headed south to Spain. But not before White went Awol for six weeks, according to her bandmate.
“I didn’t go missing, at all,” she said. “Jules’s idea of Awol and mine are quite different. I went to the mountains for some fresh air, sunshine and scenery, but he thinks that’s weird, mainly because I didn’t tell anyone where I was and had my phone turned off.
“But that’s not unusual for me. I’m not very reachable in that respect, I always forget to charge my phone.”
After clearing her head, she found de Martino and they got to work on what will be Sounds From Nowheresville, to be released in February. A few songs remain from the Berlin sessions, but the rest of it is taken from what was recorded after that album was scrapped. White said: “When we got to Spain we just hit on this sound, which was less inspired by the electronic music we’d been listening to in Berlin, and more by Paul’s Boutique (a 1989 Beastie Boys album) and Malcolm McLaren.
“I think when we showed the label that we weren’t just lazing about, that we had gone to Spain to actually work they realised we’d done the right thing.” Looking back, both now understand what went wrong in Berlin. The twosome are very artistic and hands-on with their artwork and website. They felt stifled when the homespun, DIY ethos they’d worked so hard on was taken away from them and professionals were brought in to do the work for them. Forthcoming single Hang It Up proves their point emphatically. The video, which sees White help de Martino give up smoking with the help of a samurai sword, was filmed on a skate park in Spain with the help of some local skaters.
“I can’t believe how good I was with that sword,” said White. “It was massive and heavy, and I’m left-handed and always pick things up the wrong way. Jules was pretty worried I was going to cut his head off, but I didn’t. I felt like a warrior.”
De Martino added: “I love the video. We got the skaters, we chose the director, who’s a specialist with the type of camera we like using, and we got to work.
“That track was recorded, mixed and mastered in our own studio with our engineer too. After the video went online, it had 400,000 hits on YouTube in a matter of days, without us doing any marketing or promotion. I think that shows where we’re at in terms of what works for us and what doesn’t.”
He’s quick to add he’s not pointing the finger at record label bosses. “People do need to realise this is an industry that relies on artistry. At the same time, I know it’s give and take, because that industry allows me to fly around the world and have an amazing life. But we sold two million albums, so there was an expectation and the pressure was intense, like we’d never felt before.”
Before recording the album that never was, White was admitted to hospital with exhaustion. Then she said she’d been working too hard and not looking after herself properly. Doctors prescribed rest, so she went back to her mother’s in Manchester for some home cooking and a stint on the sofa.
She also said she wouldn’t fall into the same trap again.Now, a year later, she says she’d do it all again if it meant she got to tour the world for another two years.
“I’m ready for the burnout, if it means we do as well as we did last time,” she says. “We actually said we would split up after one album and start a new band. There’s a destructive quality to Ting Tings, where I think we have to make a mess of everything to inspire ourselves. If things go too smoothly, we worry, but all the soul-searching is worth it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Hang It Up is released on December 11.
From Salford to Berlin
Ting Tings were formed in 2007 while based at the Islington Mill in Salford, where they recorded their debut album – We Started Nothing – which won an Ivor Novello Best Album award.
Prior to Ting Tings, Katie White had been in an early line-up of Atomic Kitten and another girlband, TKO.
Their activities were financed by her grandfather after he had a £6.6m lottery win in 1995.
It was while in TKO that White met de Martino, who wrote songs for the band. After TKO split, White and de Martino formed Dear Eskiimo and were signed to Mercury Records.