When Ting Tings guitarist Katie White stares out into her audience, she sometimes has to blink several times. That's what happens, she says, when you see countless doppelgangers looking back, young girls who've copied her newsboy-cap/appliqu-skirt style to an eerie T.
"And it's weird, because we just don't see ourselves as fashionable or cool," White says of her duo with percussionist partner Jules De Martino. "We come from Manchester, and Manchester's quite small, so I can go 'round all of the city's shops and still not find any clothes that I like. So I've usually had to make my own, like my favorite dress that I made entirely out of doilies. You know, the kind you put a teapot on."
But the frontwoman's sartorial sense is catching on, thanks to heavily viewed videos for kinetic singles like "Great DJ," "Shut Up & Let Me Go," and "That's Not My Name," all culled from the band's brainy Columbia debut, We Started Nothing. Women's Wear Daily did a full photo spread on White and her waifish baby-doll look, which, in concert, is complemented by a bevy of hats so huge that they practically obscure her features.
We Started Nothing was easily the most addictive album of '08, a bubbly blend of jagged riffs, military drumbeats and sing-song choruses that soon serpentined its way into TV programs, fashion shows, even Jamba Juice commercials. Again, it was DIY, all the way.
Frustrated when a deal for their former trio, Dear Eskiimo [sic], fell apart, White and De Martino retreated to an artistic enclave called the Islington Mill, set up a studio in its dank old engine room, and literally deconstructed the traditional Top 40 sound.
"Jules used to play guitar, but he went back on the drum kit," White recalls. "And I picked his guitar up one day, but didn't know how to play it. So I just played the D chord for about five hours, and that turned into "Great DJ," and that was how it all started. We didn't even plan on being in a band, because we were so sick of it, to be honest. We were just writing to make ourselves feel good, as a bit of relief. So the Ting Tings were just a happy accident."
The duo makes a band-big racket on its own, White says, and it's not as difficult as you would imagine.
"On stage, I play guitar and bass drum and Jules plays drums," she elaborates. "And then we have loop pedals that we trigger with our feet I can even loop my vocals. And we're quite tenacious about the fact that we wanna keep it as a two-piece. We don't wanna bring session musicians in, because I think it would take something away from it it wouldn't be as sincere as what we're doing."
For their second album, the Ting Tings are relocating to Paris for inspiration. But this time, White says, the minute she's sick of the business, she'll quit.
"That's the mentality we've got now when we go onstage," she says. "It's like, what's the worst that could happen? People boo us? Who cares! If we feel like we're being compromised or mistreated, we can walk whenever we want."