The Ting Tings — the English dance-punk duo of Katie White and Jules de Martino that will play Rams Head Live on Saturday — found inspiration for its latest album, March's "Sounds from Nowheresville," from three Jewish New Yorkers rapping about Humpty Dumpty, "The Empire Strikes Back" and Patty Duke.
The Beastie Boys' 1989 landmark album "Paul's Boutique" seems at first like an odd muse for the Ting Tings Its platinum-selling singles ("That's Not My Name," "Shut Up and Let Me Go") owe more to Toni Basil than hip-hop.
But according to White, the group's lead singer and guitarist, it was the Beastie Boys' liberal use of every musical direction that clicked with her and bassist/keyboardist de Martino.
"We wanted every song to sound different," White said. "Hip-hop music in general has taken from every genre of music. We don't do hip-hop, but we like the mentality of it. If we want to do a '90s Spice Girls song, then why not?"
White's breezy tone hints that writing "Nowheresville" was as easy as picking genres out of a hat. But after recording an entire album's worth of material in Germany, White and de Martino scrapped it, proving that writing a follow-up to a successful debut is never that simple.
The problem, according to White, was Berlin's current love affair with dance music. When they first arrived, White and de Martino were inspired by it — until they turned on the radio and realized they were merely falling in line with the latest flavor of the month.
"We didn't want to be riding the coattails of the dance thing that's happening," White said. "We were bored of that."
With "Paul's Boutique" acting as a palate cleanser, the Ting Tings came alive in Spain, writing an album with more distinct moods and tempos than its predecessor.
"Guggenheim," inspired by an argument White had over the phone, is a weirdly funky spoken-word track with soul. Perhaps most surprising is "Day to Day," which finds White thoughtfully singing — rather than yelling — a ballad.
"I don't think you need to hear me shouting for a whole album," White said with a laugh. "We were watching 1960s shows on YouTube, and we saw Nancy Sinatra singing, and we just loved it."
The Ting Tings work without a producer (de Martino takes on those duties), so they're free to indulge their tastes. The result is an album that lacks cohesion but could appeal to the playlist-compiling population. This free-form approach continues to confound critics, often resulting in love-it-or-hate-it reviews.
"There are many bands that polarize people, and that's a good thing to me," she said. "I prefer not to be just a 'nice' band."
So far, "Nowheresville" has failed to produce a Top 40 hit, but White is aware there's no formula to what will work on radio.
"Everybody told us 'That's Not My Name' would not get played on the radio because it wasn't pop enough or indie enough, but sometimes it takes touring our [butts] off to get the songs heard," she said.
After the band finishes its U.S. tour, it heads to South America, Europe and Japan.
It's too early to even think about a new album, White said, but she sounds confident when she says fans won't have to wait another four years for the next record.
"If we want to work quicker, we need to isolate ourselves," she said. "When we get away from everybody who has opinions, we seem to form our own and have convictions."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun