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|Girl Talk has become a hipster kid icon in the past couple of years. Following the success of his outstanding Night Ripper, Gregg Gillis and his Pittsburgh Pirates hats have thrown down at outrageous parties all across the world. When he rolled through Dartmouth, we sat down and had ourselves a pleasant lil' chat.|
I guess we'll start out with Trey Told 'Em, which is your project with Frank Musarra of Hearts of Darknesses. Y'all started off by remixing my favorite Tokyo Police Club song, "Cheer it On." What plans do y'all have for the future?
So all remix offers have, for the most part, slipped through cracks lately 'cause I can't keep up, so I want Trey Told 'Em to be able to do all the remixes. It's more freedom, actually. Just like the Tokyo Police Club song: lots of it's based on a Carltons sample, but most of it was original instrumentation. So it was a lot unlike Girl Talk. I like having that freedom of not having to sound like Girl Talk all the time. I've been getting lots of offers, so it's really blowing up. It's weird 'cause there has been lots of Girl Talk stuff live, and all this other Trey Told 'Em stuff for remixes. I'm really excited. We've worked over the internet in the past and I'm quitting my job soon, so we've had plans that once we get offers for enough money for me to get a plane ticket to New York City or him to Pittsburgh, we'll work things out. And we'll hang out for a weekend and do a remix, 'cause he's pretty much like my best friend, so it's a good excuse to just hang out.
Wow, awesome. Well, you recently posed for Playgirl in the man of the year issue, and then your U.S. representative Mike Doyle cited you in processions; both are testaments to how big you've gotten in the past couple of years. How does it feel to have started blowing up with hipsters and then the rest of the world?
It blows my mind. I think it's a good example of how different the world is. I really appreciate that. I love that you can get very academic and discuss this music like in Congress if you want to, and I've done that with a lot of people. And I'm not trying to push that agenda, but I've talked a lot about what you can and can't do, what's appropriate and what isn't, and how far you can go. You can even get into the legality of it. That or you can be posing for this magazine that has naked dudes everywhere. I mean, as soon as the Pitchfork thing happened, though I had been doin' it for awhile and the ball was rolling and I felt like I had been doin' pretty well, it felt like an overnight success even though I had been playing basements for seven years. Everything's just blown my mind, and it seems like at every step something happens that seems like "wow this is the peak," and then the next week something else happens. So, I mean, the whole last year has just been surreal, and I don't like to describe it any other way. And, I mean, I appreciate it; but it just seems ridiculous to me. I mean, I was really comfortable with what I was doing before and I understood my identity as this guy who had a small cult following, so for it to get to this laptop guy being talked about in Congress and as some sort of sex symbol in Playgirl seems crazy to me, but obviously it's a huge compliment.
You actually said back in your Pitchfork interview that no one at your biomedical engineering job knew what you did on the weekends. Now that you're about to quit your job, has anything changed? Have people figured out who Gregg Gillis is outside of the work week?
I mean, technically no. Well, the weird thing is that in Pittsburgh the local press is really supportive and all that building up to it. I don't mean to say there's not a lot going on in Pittsburgh, 'cause in music there is, but whenever you get quoted by a Congressman or play Coachella it's a pretty big deal for a band from there. They always write about it and my face gets in the paper, so we try to use this one press photo where I've got glasses and a scarf on. And I also know a lot of the press guys so I get them to just call me "Girl Talk." So technically no, but all of my friends and family think they know and they're just too embarrassed to call me out. So when I quit the job I told them I was doin' it to travel the world, which is kinda the truth I guess. But yea, every day I go in and feel a little weird that somebody knows the truth and just isn't callin' me out. Right now, the way it is no one knows.
So you brought up Coachella, you played South by Southwest and you're planning to play Bonnaroo and Pitchfork; how's the festival circuit treating you?
Festival-wise I've done one in Australia and Coachella, and South by Southwest is kind of a different ballgame 'cause it's really just a bunch of normal shows, and I did Langarado. It's been cool, but I don't feel like I have enough experience at it yet to be like "this or that," but I mean Coachella was mind-blowing; it was just a fun, fun weekend. It was just a time where some of the bands playing I've done remixes for like Grizzly Bear and others I've done shows with and hung out with before like Spank Rock. So it's just nice to see these guys. And it's a big show for everyone, so everyone's a little nervous. So it's really cool to run into people you know and at the same time still put on a big show. It's also a big hangout, and I feel a lot of camaraderie among the group of people. I mean, it's a little weird 'cause my shows are typically more intimate. I like to interact with the crowd and I like to be able to hang out with everyone, so to be there it's awfully hard to translate that at like a Coachella 'cause its like five times the size of my normal show. But I still feel like it went down really well even though we weren't in some dingy club with like 200 people. It really felt like we were.
You don't call yourself a DJ, and you've said that you don't particularly like mash-ups. But lately they've gotten huge, and any kid that has Ableton on their computer can just mindlessly throw something together in like ten seconds. And lots of kids are dong that and some people feel like they aren't putting any heart into the music. What do you feel about that pseudo-genre and the people in it, and where do you think it'll go in the future?
Yea, I actually wanna retract that mash-up statement. I did say that, but I kinda was misrepresented a little bit in it. I mean, what I was trying to say in the Pitchfork thing, and it's come up a bunch, is that I do like mash-ups and they do blow my mind a lot of the time. And there's clearly a mash-up element in my music and you can't deny that. Just what I was trying to say was that I'm not a guy that necessarily… well, when I listen to music I listen to the radio or CDs. There are people out there that just love mash-ups and just hunt them down all day and then they make them, and that's cool, but I'm just trying to say that's not really my world. And also I'm just trying to say that if someone puts the label "mash-up" on the album even though there's just this blatant, blatant mash-up element to it, I think it might misrepresent it. Like a lot of people that are into mash-ups might not like it and a lot of people that aren't might like it. So that's what I was saying there; I didn't mean to discredit the genre or anything. And as far as the software becoming easy and anyone being able to do it, I think that's the best thing in the world. And I think that some of the most interesting music is made by kids in their bedrooms with no talent just throwing things together. That's what I do; I mean I've developed skills like editing, but it's really just an idea-based thing. So to me, I don't care if a guy can wail on a guitar, you know? I mean I do, I think it's cool, but it might not necessarily make a great album; it's always the ideas that make the album. So I don't really like to look at music as a "good/bad" thing; it's more like everyone's going for their own thing. And every band that you think is cool, someone else thinks is corny. So with every kind of music people get sucked into these subgenres and subcultures, and you just think that this is the world and this is what's cool, but you step outside of it and masses of people think that's corny. It's the same thing with good versus bad. Some people think it's awful and some people think it's great. So I think that anyone being able to throw together music quickly or being able to take their time, I think that's the best thing. And I hear tons of things on the internet from different people, and some of it I like more than others aesthetically, but I think it's all awesome. I mean, tons of people get upset at like trash, and I'm like "no it's cool; those guys are just messin' around with some raw ideas, and just 'cause it doesn't sound like Girl Talk or doesn't sound like Diplo doesn't mean it's bad – maybe you're just not ready for it. Like that kid knew exactly what he was doin'."
More on technology, you say you use Adobe Audition and Audiomulch on a Dell laptop. How often do you upgrade your equipment, and do you think it really matters much?
It doesn't really matter right now. Whenever I'm doin' remixes I'm dabblin' in different soft synths and hardware and stuff. I used to be in a noise band that was no computers, it was all physical equipment, so I have like a bunch of old circuit bent electronic nerd stuff that I like to get into with remixes. But as far as the Girl Talk material, the whole goal from the beginning has been just a collage of music. And to me all I need is a wav editor and a way to mix and mash. I mean, Ableton is amazing and I would like to maybe get into it. It seems more powerful in a lot of ways that Audiomulch, but I'm really comfortable with Audiomulch, and I feel like there are no real limitations. I mean, I feel like the limitations become features in the music. For example, in DJing, feedback is like the ultimate example. It became an ultimate feature of the music. So I've been using Audiomulch for so long that certain quirks are becoming distinct features of my style when I'm playing live. So to me, I mean, all I need is a way to chop up music and easily arrange it, and that's what I've got. So my friends are always pushing software on me, and it's cool and I always like to check it out, but to me I don't really feel limited in any way by using basic tools.
You said it was a natural progression for you going from avant-garde music to more party-oriented music on your last album. Do you see any changes on a next album, or do you even have plans for a next album any time soon?
Yea, I mean, my job was officially done June 1st, so that day I started focusing on doing a new album a bit. Whenever I do live shows it's always… well see, I've released three albums in six years, and the way it's worked is that I've put out an album and then I just do random stuff with a lot of material for about a year and then after about a year I sit down and start editing the album. And that's kinda the transition. So it's about a year since it's been released. And I've played a lot more shows this year than any other year by far, and I've been working a lot more on music than any other year. I mean, I have a lot of new material. The way I'm playing live it sounds a lot like Night Ripper; it's just in the same ballpark aesthetically but with all new material, you know? So I thought maybe I should make a conscious decision to do a different style, but I've been playing it at shows and the kids are still really diggin' it and losin' it at parties. So maybe I've hit my stride with this particular type of music. 'Cause I expected a lot of people to be biting it and to have lots of blatant Night Ripper stuff to be coming out, which I haven't heard, so maybe I should sit like this. So yea, I'm planning on doin' an album similar in style to Night Ripper with just new material. And it's weird trying not to think about how people will respond to that. I mean people responded so well to Night Ripper that it's just hard to go over that hype, but I don't know. I guess it'll just be another party record and hopefully lots of people will still dig it.
Right on. What influences your music that isn't music? Like what from your everyday life shapes your music?
I think the big thing was just my friends first of all. It's funny that my music gives different people different ideas of who it's catered towards. Pitchfork gives you a good review and everyone thinks you're catering to this specific audience, but if you listen to the music it's all just like this raging music. And most of my friends are dudes who are familiar with the history of pop music and keep up with it and may follow a weird noise band here or follow Sonic Youth there. But I feel like as far as that stuff is concerned, I think you should just hear what you hear and not necessarily be addicted to the new thing. So that's the big thing. When I was in college, I just would think "what's gonna make my friends go crazy at this party? What sample is just gonna set things off?" So while in college in Cleveland I played more house parties than anything, and it'd just be a mix CD all night and then I'd step up and go for it for like a half hour or forty five minutes, so it was just really clear cut trying to see what sample kills, what combos flop, what takes off. I guess it's all really just about what my buddies are into.
What DJs are you really into? I know you don't consider yourself one, but who do you dig from that field?
I really can't say I follow DJing that much. I mean, there are the local hip-hop DJs in Pittsburgh like Code Red and everyone on Wham-O in Pittsburgh are awesome. I really enjoy listening to any sort of hip-hop DJing. But as far as the underground, I started paying attention to more and more this year. It's mostly just people I've run into like Diplo and a mini-mix he just put on MySpace. I mean, I'm just not the type of guy that goes out, not that it's a bad thing or anything, to hunt down a DJ. When I go out it's more to just like top forty clubs. So I don't really necessarily have a favorite DJ. I just really like sample-based producers like Jason Forrest and Shitmat and that crazy stuff with samples. But I don't know; I'm down for any DJ that can kinda rock a party. I really wish I had a better answer, but I usually play with bands and don't really see too many DJ sets.
And finally, since you're obviously quite knowledgeable with pop music, who do you really dig right now, and who do you see getting really big in the future?
Oh man let me think. Well, I'm not even like a scout. Everything I think is hot is what's already out right now. Like the Rich Boy stuff I guess is my favorite album at the moment, but that's already blown up. I wish the new Project Pat that's been out for a minute would get bigger on like a Three 6 level. I mean, it's a little out there so I dunno if people will get down with that. All the things I think are hot kinda fall by the wayside. So I like lots of mainstream rap, but it's a lot easier for me to see things in context. Like when I see it out there blowing up and people going nuts to it its like "wow there it is," you know?
Right on, man. Well thanks for talking to me.
Yea man, thanks for having me.
05:36 PM on 08/13/07
i love girl talk
05:43 PM on 08/13/07
great interview greg.
<3 girl talk.
09:12 PM on 08/13/07
Sweet interview. I just saw him at Virgin Festival - he had the best set of the weekend.
10:02 PM on 08/13/07
girl talk is awesome, and this guy seems like a cool dude.
10:53 PM on 08/13/07
girl talk is the shit. Definitely gonna blow up!
12:00 AM on 08/14/07
Great interview, need to see him.
12:38 AM on 08/14/07
I might be seeing him on Friday. I keep forgetting to see if it's sold out or not. Either way, I'm stoked for the new album.
01:20 AM on 08/14/07
He is. He had like a million beers and a handle of Jack with him when I was doing the interview. Hard ass.
"Gonne?" I'd say "did" haha.
I might be seeing him on Friday. I keep forgetting to see if it's sold out or not. Either way, I'm stoked for the new album.
He's insane live. I think I might drive to Tulsa to catch him. The album's a long ways away though haha. So sad.
P.S. Calvin Harris man!
06:32 AM on 08/14/07
yeah i saw him too. he killed.
10:52 PM on 08/14/07
greg gillis is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!
12:14 AM on 08/23/07
i <3 girl talk!!
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