Earlier this year I got to interview Katie White from The Ting Tings for a D2 cover story about the links between indie rock and fashion. Here’s the interview in full.
I caught up with singer/guitarist Katie White on the phone in Australia, in the midst of a long world tour, that doesn’t finish untill September – at which point The Ting Tings plan to go into the studio to record the follow-up to the hugely successfull debut album We Started Nothing (2008).
ØH: As a listener, you have a pop background and discovered indie and more strange sounding music while working at the club The Mill. Is The Ting Tings a mash-up between pop and indie rock?
KW: Yeah, definitely. I grew up listening to Take That, and three years ago I started seeing crazy Japanese psych rock bands and white noise at The Mill. It totally blew my mind. Those were the fucking days, but we’ve also been longtime fans of band like Talking Heads as a well, so it’s a big mixup. We didn’t try to make up our sound.
ØH: What does indie mean in 2009?
KW: Indie for me, creatively speaking, is «not manufactured». You write your own music, very hands-on. Indie bands are bands that aren’t manufactured. A creative approach to music, that’s indie for me. But three years ago I would say that indie meant a guy with a guitar.
ØH: One thing is to break through as a pop star, but you’ve broken into two fields at once, and is now also seen as a fashion icon already? Does this feel strange?
KW: It’s weird, I see the fashion world as cool and sophisticated, some things that I’m really not. I started to make my own clothes because I was skinned, I didn’t like anything from the high street, and couldn’t afford to go buy inventive designer clothes. It’s a compliment you know, people like what you wear. We don’t really dress for anyone else than ourselves, you won’t see us walking down the red carpet in the latest designer wear. I hate to see someone that is just a walking dress on a carpet, you realise that they’re not themselves. I hate to not look like myself
ØH: I’ve talked to Janice Miller at the London College of Fashion. She’s talking about the two biggest fashion icons in today’s music scene. And that’s you and Beth Ditto.
KW: I love Beth Ditto, I’m a huge fan of The Gossip. It’s amazing that she’s become a fashion icon, because she just wears what the hell she wants. We were playing a show together in Rome last year, and she had an amazing dress which she had bought from the super market Wal-Mart. I wore a hat from Wal-Mart, but you never see these cheap supermarket clothes in the magazines.
ØH: Ditto was your hero in 2007? And earlier I understand you’ve looked up to Debbie Harry?
KW: What I like about Debbie Harry and Beth Ditto, they’re really feminine women, but in an interesting way. You see a bit of their personality in how they present themselves. The only time I don’t feel confident is when someone tries to dress me up, and try to let me look like a babe – a sex symbol. I never look good then, in all my body language I look so uncomfortable. So when I’m expressing myself, I feel very individual. If I am glamorous, I look awful.
ØH: Your music seem to have appeal to fashion conscious tv shows. Gossip Girl, Gok’s Fashion Fix and Ugly Betty have all used your music.
KW: I don’t know, I think it’s about the music. People like pop songs, it’s not about our image, but first and foremost about the songs. And that’s why they wanna put it in their tv shows.
ØH: What is your relationship when it comes to discovering new music now and before. What has changed when discovering new sounds moved from the radio to the internet?
KW: When I was younger I was looking for what was on the radio, and also my parents’ record collection. Now you have a lot of individual young people looking all over the world on the internet, and they decide how they want to be. It’s so much information, and it totally opened my eyes when I was an adult.
ØH: Has this new climate worked to your advantage?
KW: Yeah, I think it has been an advantage for us. We hadn’t been a band if it wasn’t for MySpace, YouTube, and all these kinds of things online. When we were working on our first music I was so bored and frustrated, and looked at the internet, at bands like The Gossip to be inspired. It gave me so much confidence when we started. We were just making some songs for fun, and we put them on the internet, and people started asking for more. «Oh, maybe we should make some more.» I think that in a way put our faith back into music, it’s a word of mouth thing, after two months we got feedback from Brazil and Japan. If you like it, you spread it.
ØH: Are you working on new material now?
KW: We have had the time, but we’ve chosen not to. We wrote the first album very spontaneously, and changed our mind while working. If we wrote half a song now and came back into it later, it would just be a mess. We have ideas and song titles, but we keep touring and take our time to write the next album. On the first album no-one wanted to work with us and nobody gave a shit, and I think that you’re very creative when you have nothing to lose. Even though we have had success since, we still have the same feeling of nothing to lose.
ØH: I read an old interview where you said that you needed a bit of darkness to write good music. Has there been any darkness in 2008?
KW: Definitely. Constantly, it’s weird being an human being, you feel down and confused one moment and top of the world next. We’ll find some spots of darkness, or sabotage it and fuck it up for ourselves intentionally.
ØH: Do you get any interesting offers from the fashion industry?
KW: Yeah, we have, and to be honest we tend to turn the big stuff down. I can’t think of anything worse than to be seen in a dress on a red carpet. I don’t like the clothes because of the designers, but because of the jacket. We don’t want to be the latest trend. But there are some really good inventive designers out there. For example Ce Ce Chin, who make the coolest shoes in the world. They only cost 80 dollars, which is really cheap, with white and grey shiny leather. I’m pretty obsessed with them at the moment. Also Philip Treacy, a famous English hat designer, offered to make me an hat. I would love to take him up on the offer, because I want to see what he comes up to it. We’re talking now. It’s not very often you get somebody to make a hat for you, and I’ve never studied how to make hats and can’t make them very well myself.