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Interview: Girl Talk (w/ Gregg Gillis)

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MP3: Girl Talk – Bounce That from Night Ripper (2006)

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MP3: Girl Talk – Let Me See You from Don’t Feed the Animals (2008)

This fella probably needs little to no introduction.  Girl Talk has undoubtedly exploded.  Look no further than the utterly and completely sold-out shows lining his tour trek, including his stops at 9:30 Club this Friday Oct 10 and Sonar this Saturday Oct 11.  So let’s just get right to it.

Aural States- Talk a bit about how you actually put together the mash-up. You don’t use Ableton, correct?

Gregg Gillis- I use Audio Mulch. Basically Audio Mulch is a program that you can do a variety of things in. It is primarily used for sound processing, running things through it and putting effects on it, or manipulating pre-existing source material. But I use it in a way that utilizes the looping functions on it. I use a lot of loop players, and kind of work around having hundreds of loops in front of me. I then isolate the actual pieces of music that you hear as much as possible.

Typically, during a set there will be two to ten loops playing at any particular time. The actual combination of material is usually pre-thought out. It’s not like I’m improvising on the spot. But the transition from segment to segment is often times not as thought-out. So basically it is a whole bunch of loops in front of me, a variety of material, usually a bit more than I want to play, so I have a bit of freedom to jump around. I put together sound collages in real time basically. The software, I have always just basically used it to bring in ideas. When I record an album, that’s how I edit myself. But live it’s all triggering the loops and samples on the fly.

AS- You did a video during Whartscape, where you threaten Youtube fan video makers with legal action. This must be a joke?

GG-That was a joke. I wasn’t being serious at all there. I think [that website's] approach is all joking.

AS-How did you get started in music?

GG- Musically, I got into making music because I heard some people from the more avant-garde end of the spectrum. I heard Merzbow when I was like in Eighth Grade. There was a music radio program on the Carnegie Mellon (Ed note: shout out to my alma mater, yeah boyyyy) station in Pittsburgh hosted by a promoter named *inaudible. He basically played the most far out there noise and experimental stuff. That was very cool, because I had been diving deeper and deeper into underground music, and I was just looking for the most extreme you could go. How weird could you make this? What was the most non-musical thing going on right now? That sound appealed to me because you didn’t need any traditional music training. So that really got me involved in making music.

Girl Talk @ The Commodore Ballroom! (IMG_0224), Vancouver. 2008.

From there, within the specific sub-genre of experimental music where people use pre-existing sound material-there was a guy named Evolution Control Committee, who is from Columbus, Ohio. He toured through Pittsburgh. To his credit he was doing a lot of the first mash-ups, like in the style of Negativland. I had a chance to perform with them when I was, like, 16. I had seen his shows before, and it was cool; very exciting. You could make very weird music out of other people’s music.

If there was one single thing that was the most influential….I was interested in a lot of that stuff, but I got really pumped when I heard Kid606‘s remix of NWA’s “Straight outta Compton” which came out in the late Nineties. I had seen him perform live and do some techniques like that-take some pre-existing songs and just completely manipulating them. When I heard that song come out on the Internet, I said, “That’s it. I want to do a project like that. I want to use computers to carve a new sound out of pop music.”

AS-When I first became aware of the mash-up scene it was through DJ/Rupture, who did all the mash-ups live on vinyl. Why did you choose to do them on laptop?

GG- For me it was like…I never wanted to be a DJ, had never wanted to spin records. It was interesting; I had seen people do that with varying degrees of experimentalism-people just completely taking apart turntables and smashing them to find new ways to make sounds with them.

When I got going into this, I had been listening to Negativland, John Oswald, or maybe Kid606. In addition there was a lot of hip hop I was listening to, like the Bomb Squad producing all the Public Enemy tracks. Those people are making music on samples and computers. They are not trying to play tracks, but are trying to make new tracks out of old tracks. They aren’t trying to DJ in any sense of the traditional means. My early work was very much focused around not playing songs at all. It was taking them apart, and then sound collaging them back together. I think when I was getting into all this in the late Nineties, I saw a lot of people touring around with laptops. A lot of the guys off the Tigerbeat6 roster, like Cex from Baltimore. That was just the world that I was in. At the time it wasn’t like “how am I going to go about this-turntables, or computer?” I had a record player, I listened to records, but I never wanted to play records. I had a computer, so it was logical thing to do.

Bao Nguyen  Girl Talk (Baltimore) 007

AS- You mentioned Rjyan Kidwell. What did you think of his release using the Girl Talk name?

GG- I was into it. He sent me a few copies of it, and I wasn’t really sure what the intention behind it was. But it was really reminiscent of something I would do–you know something a little more progressive, something that challenges people. Just the appropriation of the already appropriated, the name…it was cool. I didn’t think it was going to negatively impact me or deface me in anyway. It might have confused people, and stirred things up a little bit. It was just fun, and interesting. I don’t think there is enough of that in music today-people just doing things for the fun of it. A lot of times there is just too much self-indulgence.

AS- When I first heard Girl Talk, it reminded me of what the KLF where doing. You already mentioned Negativland. Do you have the same political bent as those guys, or os that something you don’t even address?

GG- I think got into music because of the more political side of it. But when I started, I didn’t really want to reproduce what these people have been doing. I think Negativland and the KLF (Wiki) were pioneers, and really pushed the boundaries of music at that time. I really didn’t want to copy what they were doing. I wanted to do something that was a bit more reflective of my personal taste. I wanted to do something that had that spirit behind it, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be subversive in anyway.

girl talk

This project is more or less about being a fan of pop music and supporting it. When I got going, there was this war between people that were being ironic in music, and people being serious. A lot of times, when dealing with pop music, people assume there will be a level of

irony to it. I almost want to challenge people’s thoughts on that, and let them be open to liking any sort or music. I took a different angle than the KLF and Negativland. I was just a fan of pop music. I want to make new pop out of old pop. I’m not trying to be subversive.

AS- So is this like that other great Pittsburgh Pop artist-Andy Warhol. He had a strict adherence to the pop and the superficial.

GG- I think just because something is genuine in its pop appreciation does not mean that it can’t play with heavier themes as well. I don’t really view pop as superficial. When people dance to these songs at their weddings, lose their virginity to these songs, remember their childhood by these songs, I can’t think of anything less superficial. I’m not trying to be subversive with my work. I am celebrating Top 40 as the soundtrack to many peoples’ lives.

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9 Responses to “Interview: Girl Talk (w/ Gregg Gillis)”

  1. pasta says:

    that was a pretty darn good interview Alex. Thanks!

  2. Daily Breather says:

    Damnit!
    You know I was waiting to rip this interview up, don’t you? But you got to the root. The youtube fan video and the dude ripping off GT’s name and style. I thought that was hillarious but never heard about it again. Thanks for the follow up. Wow, you even made a Girl Talk interview good. I guess I’ll have to take my negative energy elsewhere. You haven’t seen the last of me though.

  3. pedro says:

    Awesome interview, clears up a lot of the bullshit around this guy. Thanks to whoever linked to it from byt.

  4. [...] Taverns — The Historics Couples 2 –The Growlers Killed my Woman — The Growlers Let Me See You — Girl Talk Battlecat – Adventure All My Trials — Bottle Up And Go You Are the [...]

  5. jennifer says:

    now that i saw him wearing a death set shirt he has my seal of approval

  6. I love Girl Talk;the concept is awesome and the execution is nearly perfect. Great interview!

  7. Girl Talk is such a free spirit. I love it.

    “I don’t think there is enough of that in music today-people just doing things for the fun of it. A lot of times there is just too much self-indulgence.”

  8. [...] Audio Mulch – as used by GirlTalk 10 03 2009 Gregg Gillis- I use Audio Mulch. Basically Audio Mulch is a program that you can do a variety of things in. It is primarily used for sound processing, running things through it and putting effects on it, or manipulating pre-existing source material. But I use it in a way that utilizes the looping functions on it. I use a lot of loop players, and kind of work around having hundreds of loops in front of me. I then isolate the actual pieces of music that you hear as much as possible. (source: Aural States) [...]

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