Mash-up connoisseur Girl Talk is set to rock the stage at tonight’s Dooley’s Ball. On Tuesday afternoon, the Wheel got on the phone with Gregg Gillis, the man behind the laptop, to see what he has in store for the show.
What’s the story behind your stage name? Why Girl Talk?
That came about when I was getting started. I was kind of part of a laptop music scene ... and in that world, there were a lot of acts that were kind of overly serious, stiff in their performance, just kind of stoic. I wanted to pick a name that was going to be more flamboyant. I knew I kind of wanted to embrace pop culture and pop music, so I wanted to pick a band name that didn’t sound like a man playing a computer.
When did Girl Talk as we know it begin?
I started doing it around 2000, like, right when I started college. Back then I was kind of just fooling around a bit, and I started playing shows around then. It was just very different back then. I mean, it was still based around remixing pop music. It was just a little bit more of an experimentalist approach when I was putting everything together, and it kind of just slowly evolved over the years.
So you’ve been doing this for a decade.
Yeah, it’s a little insane.
What drew you to this style of music? Why not compose your own?
When I was in high school, I didn’t really play any instrument but I was actively going out to shows, checking out music. I was kind of just drawn to experimental electronic music. I thought it was interesting that people could get up there without any formal training and put together a music performance. So I kind of got involved in that. Me and my friends started a band and basically just went around with synthesizers and four-tracks and just anything we could get our hands on. So along with that, I was just trying to find out as much about that style of music as possible and I kind of stumbled upon a few artists who were doing remix compositions. It was people like Negative Land and Kid 606, and these were people who sounded very different from each other but were taking music and pop culture and twisting them and making crazy stuff out of it.
What do you consider yourself? A musician? A DJ? Something else?
I don’t know. It’s hard to answer that without sounding pretentious. ... I’ve never considered myself a DJ. I just kind of consider myself a producer. I don’t know if that qualifies as a musician or not. I kind of try to make new music out of old samples, which I think is on the same level as any producer putting together a hip-hop beat.
What was your very first mashup?
Um, I can’t really recall because when I started doing it, I was remixing music but I don’t know if it would technically be defined as a mashup. ... Back then, I was more or less just destroying songs, just really cutting them up and piecing them together.
What is the greatest number of samples you’ve used in one song?
In the last two albums, I kind of built them as whole albums. I sit down, spend a few years putting it together. 40 or 50 minutes worth of music. Breaking it up into tracks is almost an afterthought. It’s just an easy way for people to kind of navigate through the album. So I have no idea how many samples are in any of the individual tracks, but on the last album, there was somewhere over 300 samples. I’m clear on that.
Do you ever repeat samples?
Not really, but I’ve sampled the same song on multiple albums, but only in very distinctly different ways. ... I’ve sampled the Jackson 5’s “ABC” on two different albums, but on one album I used an a cappella bit and the other was an instrumental bit. So that’s happened a couple times, but I try to stay away from that.
How do you decide what songs or what parts of songs to sample?
It’s really trial-and-error for me. Instrumentally, isolated, I try to use that. When I’m sitting around, checking out music, it’s really trial-and-error. I’ll go through and cut them up and go from there. I’ll try different combinations. The majority of the stuff I sample doesn’t see the light of day because it just doesn’t work out the way I want it to. The stuff I play at shows or the stuff on albums, that’s sort of a small fraction of the material I’m working with.
How many songs are on your iPod?
I don’t rock the iPod at all. I don’t really listen to music on a computer or an iPod. It’s not because I’m against it. I just love buying CDs and albums and listening to that. I’m still going to the record store and picking up CDs and everything like that. I don’t use an iPod and on my computer I have like 60 mp3s, most of them ripped from CDs I’m looking to sample. For whatever reason, I just don’t actively listen to music in that way.
Well in that case, how many albums do you own?
It’s really impossible for me to say. I’m looking at – right now, in front of me – maybe a couple thousand or something. Maybe less than that, it’s hard to say. They’re sort of spread out all over my house and then there’s the cassettes and the vinyl because I kind of collect any medium of music.
You used to do biomedical engineering and then you quit to focus on your music. So what’s a day in the life of Girl Talk like now? What do you do on a daily basis?
I kind of have a loose weekly schedule. I oftentimes go out on the weekends, do shows and then come home, and those are very different lifestyles. I’m going out of town tomorrow. When I go out of town, I wake up early, get on a plane, go to a show, blah blah blah. But when I’m home, I stay up late, wake up around 2 in the afternoon, get myself a bowl of cereal and start working on my music. ... I kind of just fiddle around all day, making tunes.
Do you consider it work?
It’s tough because I did this for years for completely fun. I was making no money and absolutely didn’t see it becoming a career. ... There’s definitely work aspects to it. I’m playing four shows in the next five days. I’m going from Atlanta to Indianapolis to LA back to Pittsburgh. There are things that are definitely not that fun, but actually making the music, I can’t consider that a job.
It’s been two years since Feed the Animals. Can we expect another Girl Talk album this year?
For the past two records I was thinking, “Man, I can’t do another one of these. It’s just too much work.” But I’ve realized I have enough material in front of me to try to put together another album and I have some ideas about where it could go, how it could change from the last two. ... I’ll probably start editing stuff in June or something like that. There’s no guarantee because I have no idea how long it’s going to take or if I’ll finish it by the end of the year. But if not, then definitely sometime in the first half of next year.
Any chance you’re going to be sampling some Lady Gaga?
I’ve kind of cut up every Lady Gaga single that’s come out so some of that might make the album. She’s a whole new level of pop star nowadays. It’s funny, because what I do during the shows definitely impacts what will be on the album. There’s a pretty direct relationship there, but until I sit down to actually make the album, it’s difficult for me to call what’s going to fit into where. But yeah, I’ve been working with a bit of Gaga and I’m a fan.
Which do you prefer: playing a traditional concert or performing at a club?
I’ve never really played dance clubs, like, ever. The way I came up back in the day, I’ve always played with bands and opened up for bands. It’s always kind of been geared toward being a performance. I like being on stage, interacting with people. ... The smaller the show, the more personal it can be.
What can Emory expect for tonight’s performance?
At every show I just try to go nuts and I try to bring people with me. I want it to be out of control. I try to go 100 percent every night and kind of push it over the limits, but the people attending the show kind of govern how far we can go. It’s a little give and take. So I don’t really know what Emory can expect. I’m waiting to see what I can expect from Emory.
I’ve read that people have a tendency to fornicate on stage when you perform. Why is that?
It’s not super common. It’s happened, but these days the shows have gotten a little bit bigger so I don’t know. I like to have it be a free for all. I don’t like there to be many rules. So yeah, it’s gotten to that level a couple of times in the past. It went down at more of an intimate club show where it was very packed in and it was almost impossible to see past the person in front of you. So getting on stage in the back and doing your thing – it’s happened, but it wasn’t necessarily on display.
Final question: Where’s the Girl Talk after-party?
I mean, that’s up to you guys. I kind of call it by ear. I am playing Indianapolis the next night so that’s not too crazy travel. I kind of see what’s going on in each city. I’m always down to hang out if something’s going on.
You can expect a few frat invites.
Oh, I’m sure.
— Interview by Senior Writer Franchesca Winters