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Girl Talk and the Future of Music

Michael May

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Gregg Gillis is Girl Talk
(pitchperfectpr)

One of the most talked about bands out there right now is Girl Talk. But Girl Talk is a pretty different kind of band. To start with, it's just one guy: Gregg Gillis. Also, no instruments, just Greg and his laptop computer. His latest release, Feed The Animals, has over 300 samples on it - all of which he's borrowed without asking. It's a grey legal area, but there's no doubt he's made the music his own.

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Now we're going to talk to a pop star whose music is so cutting edge, it might not even be legal. Gregg Gillis AKA Girl Talk is grandmaster of the mash-up, the art of layering two songs on top of each other and creating something new. His latest release, Feed The Animals, has over 300 samples on it - all of which he's borrowed without asking. It's a grey legal area, but there's no doubt he's made the music his own. Before we chat with Gillis, let's check out the Girl Talk song "No Pause."

Music Plays

John Moe: So Gregg, just walking through that track, we heard Missy Elliot, Tom Tom Club, Nu Shooz, Public Enemy, Heart, there were a lot of other things in there. Are you trying to see how far you can range, or you just finding good sounds to drop in there?

Greg Gillis: I could make an album that would be totally un-listenable, and use Beethoven and county music and whatever. But for this, it's all about walking the line, creating something that's somewhat experimental and progressive, but still accessible. I'm a pop fiend, and I like to sample stuff that people are familiar with, whether they like it or hate it, to just have that emotional, nostalgic connection to these songs.

John: When did you go from being a fan to an artist?

Gregg: When I was 14 or 15, that's when I started my first band. We would see crazy underground bands in Pittsburg, and one of our interests was to push how far we could push performance, it was almost performance art. We would have shows where we would have 30 CD players on stage playing skipping CDs and we would smash computers and it would last five minutes and that would be our set.

John: Where did the current approach come from?

Gregg: It all evolved from the early days. A lot of people making electronic music, I thought it was really boring. I was conceptual into watching someone on stage play a computer on stage, and paying $5 to watch that, but on an entertainment level, I was always let down. When I started doing Girl Talk, I knew it would be me and a computer doing live processing and collage, but I really wanted to make it entertaining. So I was playing with live bands, and it would be the kind of situation where there was 15 people there and if you just stared at your computer, then people would be talking to each other and not even realize you are playing. So I always made a point to put on a performance and get in the crowd and stir it up. And in the underground scene I was in, it was almost like remixing pop was not the norm, and I was trying to challenge people with the idea of pop. And I wanted the performances to be like pop. I just kept putting out albums, and six years later, people started catching on, and got less confrontational, instead of me screaming at the crowd to dance, they started screaming at me to keep going. So the dream sort of faded into reality.

John: Let's listen to a new track. This is called "Like This." And let's talk about why you chose to put these things next to each other.

Gregg: There's the idea that you can layer drumbeat, melody and vocals, and I didn't want to overdo that, even though it's the center of the album. There are many segments focused on percussion, to get away from just layered elements. So this is a part where I tried my best to have as much coming in and out, there might 10 to 20 sources within ten seconds. If you listen to it, it just flows, but if you want to piece it apart, it's very involved.

John: You are sort of an encyclopedia of pop music. You are automatically an expert on what is popular. So heading into 2009, what are we going to be listening to? What is that top 40 hit going to sound like?

We're losing the physicality of CDs, but people are becoming more interactive through the internet. I'm excited to see what happens. People are picking up the software, young kids, the software is geared to them. There will be a lot of bedroom producers making it big. I'm looking forward to the day when some kid does a remix in his bedroom and it becomes a number one hit, which I'm sure we're very close to.

John: Any moment now. Gregg, thanks so much for your time.

Gregg: Nice chatting.

Comments

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  • By Alva Cullnane

    01/04/2009

    I disagree with your characterization of Greg Dillis as an "artist"; a better description would be "crook cook". His theft of real artists works is deplorable, as is Weekend America's assigning credence to this "band"? The law regarding sampling is clear; it's illegal. There is no "grey area" here.
    If Weekend America condones this, then I'm sure WA wouldn't mind if I rebroadcast your program at my discretion. Working artists earn a living the honest way, unlike Mr. Gillis.

    By Jose Caballer

    From Los Angeles, CA, 01/03/2009

    Though Rick is right the context and direction in which this exists is a direct evolution of Hip-Hop, Turntablism and DJ Culture. Other than the fact that there is no current business model that fairly addresses the IP of the artists that created the original tracks this is the future. You can't stop it.
    And worry not, new business models are emerging and sooner than later it will no longer be an issue.
    Finally, is it not fair to say that A. Girl Talk should be compensated for the creativity of putting together the "new mixes"? B. Do the mixes not inherently renew interest in the original artists?
    Welcome to the future my friend.
    -jc

    By Elizabeth Pruitt

    From North Royalton, OH, 01/03/2009

    Girl Talk is a statement about today's society. Everything's digital...downloadable...non-tangible. If it wasn't for today's technology, Gregg Gillis wouldn't be written about now.

    By Rick Skoog

    From Circle Pines, MN, 01/03/2009

    One thing you failed to mention, that he is fringing on copyright. What I took one of your episodes of Weekend America, changed it and charged admission (even though people offer a donation). If it wasn't for other peoples work, he would be out of a job. Why don't you find hot new bands that write their own original material.

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