"I'm quite proud of my shittiness, to be honest," says Katie White, singer with U.K. indie pop duo the Ting Tings, referring to her modest guitar skills. "It gives us one of our little things."
If you haven't already guessed, the Ting Tings (@thetings) pride themselves on being different. Formed in Manchester, England, the duo -White and drummer Jules de Martino -signed to Columbia Records after only a handful of gigs and recorded its debut album, "We Started Nothing" (2008), for "about £10" (roughly $16), White jokes.
"We Started Nothing" went on to sell 2 million copies worldwide, according to the label (including 29,000 in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan), and topped the British charts. Stateside, breakout tracks "That's Not My Name" (No. 1 in the United Kingdom) and "Shut Up and Let Me Go," featured in a 2008 iPod commercial, hit Nos. 39 and 55 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Worldwide singles sales total 4 million, according to Columbia.
"We've already done everything far beyond what we ever dreamed," White says, citing the Ting Tings' 2010 best new artist Grammy Award nomination as just one highlight of the past four years. Producing a follow-up to their smash debut has, however, been anything but straightfoward.
Relocating to Berlin in late 2009, the band set out to create an electro-rock album inspired by the German city's thriving dance culture. When label staff paid a visit in fall 2010 to gauge progress, "everyone was sitting there going, 'This is genius. This is going to be massive.' But we hadn't even finished the tracks yet," de Martino recalls. "It ruined everything."
Only one song from the Berlin sessions was released, the Calvin Harris-mixed "Hands." It limped onto the U.K. chart at No. 29. White and de Martino decided to eliminate all but four of the recorded tracks soon after. "It was quite a hard decision," White says. After a couple of weeks of discussion, "one day we were just like, 'Shall we delete it so it's done and we can't go back?' So we did."
"We didn't like the direction the album was going in and what it stood for," says de Martino, who credits Columbia chairman/CEO Rob Stringer with helping steer the band out of its creative fog. "He said, 'Just make the record that you want to make. The first record was super successful globally. You've given yourselves an opportunity to be experimental.' And he gave us "Paul's Boutique" by the Beastie Boys and said, 'This is what you need to listen to.'"
Recorded largely in Alicante, Spain, the Ting Tings' resulting 10-track sophomore set, "Sounds From Nowheresville," hits stores March 13, having debuted in the United Kingdom two weeks earlier. Several songs from the abandoned Berlin album remain, including "Day to Day," a swooning TLC-inspired R&B ballad, and "One by One," a bubbling electronic opus. Other highlights include the Ronettes-meets-punk blast of "Guggenheim" and lead single "Hang It Up," which has been serviced to triple A and alternative stations. A digital-only deluxe edition contains additional remixes, as well as "Hands."
Preliminaries of the campaign began last fall when the video for "Hang It Up" premiered online. The reggae-flavored "Soul Killing" subsequently received a first play through AOL Spinner on Feb. 8, and White and de Martino held an interactive online album-listening session on Feb. 27. The band will perform on "Late Show With David Letterman" during street week and has booked "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" for April.
In line with the Ting Tings' debut, which picked up synchs in everything from "Gossip Girl" to "Slumdog Millionaire" as well as the iPod ad, landing synchs will once again be a strong focus. "Hang It Up" has already been featured on CBS' "CSI," with "lots more pending offers coming up," says Columbia Records product manager Mike Mathewson, who credits a "graduated, systematic push of content" with reigniting fans' interest.
That push will continue throughout 2012, with the band planning to self-produce videos for up to eight album tracks. "If [Columbia is] going to spend a fortune on a video, we'd rather take 1% of that money and make eight videos that we feel get our songs across better," White says. A 27-date U.S. trek kicks off at South by Southwest (March 13-18), wraps April 21 at Dallas' Granada Theater and includes two dates at New York's Webster Hall.
"I'm up for just going until I drop again," says White, who was briefly hospitalized in 2009 due to tour exhaustion. De Martino adds: "We've made a record now that we really love, and that's given us the license to go around the world again."
The Duo Visited Billboard's Style Council // Watch: