How did Manchester art-pop duo the Ting Tings come up with their sunny debut “We Started Nothing,” already one of the most addictive albums of the year?
Easy, says Katie White. They had to descend into dreary music-industry hell to do it. She and bandmate Jules De Martino’s former outfit Dear Eskiimo had clambered to the top of the U.K. heap with a big-time label deal a few years ago. But they fell to earth in a heartbeat.
“We didn’t even get our record out,” White says. “The bosses at the company who’d signed us got the sack within four months’ of us being there, so we just sat there, waiting, with no release date. Then we got dropped, and we promptly sank into about six months of utter depression.”
From tragedy sprang great art. White and chum — who play San Francisco’s Popscene Thursday — retreated to local live/work space the Islington Mill. They nursed their wounds and, alongside 40 other painters, potters and performers, literally started from scratch.
De Martino switched from guitar to drums, White picked up his abandoned ax, and the rest is history. “I didn’t even know how to play,” says the singer, whose other childhood talent had been competitive ballroom dancing.
“But I just played the D chord for about five hours, and that turned into our first song, ‘Great DJ.’ We didn’t even plan on being a band, to be honest — we were so sick of it, we were just writing to make ourselves feel good, as a bit of a release.”
A home-pressed, 500-copy run of “Great DJ” soon sold out, spurred on by the pair’s kinetic concerts, where they reproduce every Blondie-bubbly note via an array of foot-triggered loop pedals.
White, 23, even became something of a fashion icon, as she stomped across stages in her signature self-designed baby doll dresses and puffy newsboy caps. “My favorite skirt is one that I made entirely out of doilies, the kind you put a teapot on,” she says.
Now signed to Columbia, the Ting Tings are back in the ring with the business that almost destroyed them.
So far, it’s been a knockout decision. Their “Shut Up and Let Me Go” can be heard in the latest Apple ad, and spunky single “That’s Not My Name” is currently topping the overseas charts.
“Name” itself was inspired by their dark period, White says. “Back when we’d just been dropped and nobody would return any of our phone calls; we felt like we’d been pigeonholed and pre-judged and totally forgotten. So it’s a frustration song, about people not seeing us how we want to be seen.”
IF YOU GO
The Ting Tings
Where: Popscene, 330 Ritch St., San Francisco
When: 10 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $10 to $12