2000 Miles for a Little Girl Talk

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Over the summer my brother Ian Wade, his friend Sam Knopp and I all loaded in to my car for a little Girl Talk. It took us 2,000 miles, one dead bird, three strip clubs and one flat tire, but we got there safely. Why did we drive 2,000 miles for a little Girl Talk? We had heard about a huge block party on Capitol Hill in Seattle and knew that was going to be the best place for Girl Talk.

We arrived in Seattle weathered, but not worn. We put our dancing shoes on and had a full hour of nonstop Girl Talk. Girl Talk, aka Gregg Gillis, is one of the best music producers and hosts an incredibly wild dance party. I couldn't keep this Girl Talk all to myself, so here you go. I was able to catch Gillis on a two-week hiatus and catch up with him about his tour and his music. If you are still craving more Girl Talk, don't fret. Gregg Gillis will be blessing us Oct. 30 at In the Venue. Get your dance moves dialed because it will be one party you cannot miss.

Photo: Andrew Strasser

SLUG: I heard you were in a noise band called The Joysticks. Was that where your music career began?
GT: The Joysticks were a band in high school. We were electronic experimental, abrasive; the band was almost borderline-focused on the performance arts. We didn't focus on practicing or creating music at home; it was all just preparation for a live show. It was just me being 16 and getting on stage lighting off fireworks and watching people clear room space. Then I started VIP Blow Jobs as a side project around 2003-04 with some friends of mine who did computer music to form a rock band. We based it around the fact that two of my friends had grown their hair out in the course of a year and we looked like we should be in a rock band. So we started and we got one of the guys' 10-year-old brother to play drums for us. We only had one show and it was fantastic for me.

SLUG: When did the Girl Talk project begin?
GT: Girl Talk began in 2000, so it existed before VIP Blowjobs. I graduated high school and I was moving away from all my friends and the band so we were forced to break up. I had dabbled in sampling music while I was in The Joysticks and was a fan of people that re-contextualize pop music. So when I went to college and got a computer, I decided I wanted to start a project based around collaging top-40 music together.

SLUG: Do you consider yourself a DJ, or do you define your music in a different way?
GT: I consider my music a production. The people I looked up to were John Oswald, Kid 606 and Negative Land who all do sound collage, but were never considered DJs - it's all based around cutting and pasting pop music. For the first four years and the first couple of albums, nobody ever referred to me as a DJ. I never played in dance clubs and I never played with other DJs. I never spun records. I don't know how to beat-match records, and I always performed with bands in more performance-style venues. My goal to make new music out of pre-existing media. I don't want to play songs, I want to make songs. I never wanted to be a DJ. I want to be a producer who focuses on samples.

SLUG: How do you distinguish yourself from people who only do mash-ups?
GT: I like the [idea] of [mash-ups]. I got into my first band because it was interesting and exciting. You didn't need formalized training to make experimental electronic [music]. You can just pick up a keyboard and get a computer program. Anybody can do it. I am a big fan of raw expression and unhinged musical ideas. I specifically stuck with a similar aesthetic over the years of trying to have things as tightly edited as possible while still being listenable. I want it to be challenging and complicatedly structuralized, but still accessible. At this point, I'm not trying to be different than anybody else out there, I'm just trying to make music that I enjoy.

SLUG: The New York Times stated that you are a lawsuit waiting to happen. How do you get around all the legal sampling laws?
GT: There is some doctrine in the United States Copy Write law called Fair Use and it allows people to sample music, films and other media without permission if the work falls under a certain criteria. They look to see if the new work is transformative and how it impacts the original material's public perception. [My label] Illegal Art and I both feel the work I am doing is transformative and it is not negatively impacting potential sales of the existing work. To me, if you are in any band you really can't exist without any influence. 'The Lawsuit Waiting to Happen' seems a little bit over-dramatic to me. It is a risky area, putting this sort of thing out, but at the same time we have done four albums [in] eight years. I have heard from a lot of labels and the artists I have sampled and they have been very supportive of what I do. We are moving into an era where people are used to interacting with the media they consume. You know every picture that's on the Internet has a bunch of collages and every kid can take it to Photoshop and reprocess videos on YouTube. I think we are moving into an era where that's a lot more common.

SLUG: What programs do you use to create your music?
GT: I use two programs: Adobe Audition to make loops to make beats and I use Audio Mulch to perform live. In a live setting, hundreds of loops are constantly going and I am triggering and manipulating them in real time.

SLUG: How many computers do you go through in a year?
GT: In 2007, I went through three computers. This year I bought a Panasonic Toughbook, which is one of those computers they supposedly use in the military. They're supposed to be waterproof and unbreakable and I haven't officially broken it yet. I had a show a month ago where I fell on top of it and cracked the back panel, but it kept working throughout the show. I definitely give my public endorsement to the Panasonic Toughbook, which hasn't failed me yet.

SLUG: How long does it take to get an album done?
GT: The last two albums have taken me both about two years each. Typically, it takes about a year and half of performing live shows and generating new ideas in the live setting and, after that it takes about three to six months to really sit down and generate an album.

Photo: Shelby White

SLUG: How do you pick which samples will go on the record?
GT: It's weird, I mean I can sit down this week and may sample 20 songs. I choose what to sample by whatever I am listening to. You can play any song and there is probably some piece of it I feel I can work with. And then I will sit down and just try out a whole bunch of things and then maybe something will come together. Most of the decision-making process comes from live shows. And when I come up with something new and I introduce it to a live set, I will play it and I may feel a certain way about it. It probably sounds a lot different to me on a loudspeaker with the crowd screaming and dancing than it does on my headphones. The audience will give me a certain reaction to it as well. All of that influences me. So by the time I go to record, most of the core ideas are already done. On the new album there are over 300 samples and it's not like I sit down one day and say 'ok I will make those in to an album.' I sample thousands and thousands of songs and only three hundred make the album. I almost feel slightly removed from the decision-making process. Certain things just sound good and it may not even be the songs I wanted to sample, but they really worked in my ears.

SLUG: Where is the best place to get all of the music you have out?
GT: The easiest and cheapest place to access all of it is www.illegalart.net. Illegal Art has been the place that has released all my music over the years. The new album is offered as a pay-what-you-want download.

SLUG: I heard you were going to name your most recent album Death Sucks, but changed it to Feed the Animals, due to blow up props and live shows. What's the story behind the name?
GT: Death Sucks was the initial idea, but I was on tour with a friend and talking to him about it and he thought the title was too negative. But you know death doesn't potentially suck if it's an outlet to another world. I was into how bratty that sounded, but we decided that Feed the Animals was more fitting. On the last tour we had these inflatables and a good friend of mine, Andrew, Strauser would take them out and set them up. The crowd would just devour them -  people were really excited to dance and party and go nuts. Andrew kept talking about how he would bring out the inflatables and how filling them up was the beginning of feeding the animals and the rest of the show was me providing food for these people to let loose and get insane.

SLUG: So my little brother and I drove out to the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle to see you. Your live shows are pretty incredible. What is it like for you being on the other side of the table?
GT: I used to play shows with dead, uninterested crowds. Recently, since people have gotten more into the record, they come out ready to get insane. The shows vary; I am there every night to get crazy, ready to have a good time, which I always do. Each show varies. Capitol Hill Block Party was outside during the day and very different from a typical club show in a compressed area. How interactive the audience is depends on the style of the room, but over the past years there are ups and downs of every show. I am ready to take it to the next level with every show, and I am kind of dependent on the crowd if they are ready to go there with me.

SLUG: You start your shows pretty much fully clothed and most of the time you are left in your skivvies. How does that happen?
GT: During the early shows, when I was playing to like 50 people in some bar on a Wednesday night, there was not much to watch with some guy just clicking the mouse. So during the early shows I got used to stripping down to push off a house party sort of energy. I want people to loosen up and have fun. I just got into a habit of stripping down. Since the shows have gotten bigger, I feel more pressure to visually entertain as well. I have done this for such a long time that I am used to stripping down. Sometimes other people start taking off their clothes and that gets me fired up.

SLUG: You are about to start a month-long tour. Are you ready for it?
GT: This tour will be interesting. I travel by myself for most of the year, but this tour is like a month long, so I will have a crew. I think things will be organized to a level that I am not typically used to. I am employing a bunch of my friends to hang out with me. I have a friend doing sound, a couple helping out with stage, a guy doing projected visuals and all the other bands that are on the tour are personal friends of mine. SLUG: Your show here is a day before Halloween. Do you expect people to arrive in costume? Are you going to be in costume?

GT: That would be great. I will definitely be kicking some Halloween-style tunes. Halloween is my favorite holiday. Oct. 30 in Pittsburgh is traditionally known as devils night and that is the night you go out and egg houses and stuff like that. I love Halloween, and people should definitely come out in costume.

SLUG: For someone who has not seen a Girl Talk show live, what should they expect to see in SLC?
GT: I always like how bare bones the shows usually are. Since it is usually just me and the computer, we can all totally focus on partying. I would never want to have a laser light show or anything that people would be mesmerized by. I'll have people there engaging the audience and helping me out. I think all of the shows fall between a rock concert and a dance club; it is a very compressed party. You have an hour to get nuts with it. I am very proud of all the shows I have done in the past, but I am just trying to kick it up a notch if possible.

Come check out the party that Girl Talk will bring on Thursday, Oct. 30 at In the Venue.