Girl Talk is a popular mash-up artist who blends the beats and vocals of today’s latest hits and creates completely new songs. His creativity and originality has won him many fans across the country. Working as a one-man band, Gregg Gillis has traveled all over the world playing his most popular mash-ups. Staff Writer Sherry Shen spoke with Gregg Gillis before his concert at Cornell University Sunday.
Sherry Shen: Is there anything that you’ve done in the past that you don’t want to do anymore?
Gregg Gillis: I had a day job for a while that I’ll probably go back to doing at some point but I don’t want to. I never wanna go back to college again. I had a really good time I just wouldn’t wanna do it again. I wouldn’t wanna go back to high school again. I would probably do like grade school again. Kindergarten again. I played at American University last night, the show was good but the sound check was just insanely long and the students didn’t know how to work the PA. It was a really crazy long thing so I would definitely not go back and do that ever again either. I’m fine doing a long sound check, but I would never do that one again —just to be specific you know.
SS: You’ve sampled so many artists, have any artists actually said to you: “Hey Greg, can you please sample my work?”
GG: No, not really. People on a more underground level — people on MySpace have asked me to do stuff and record labels have asked me to do production work or remixes and things like that. But yeah, I don’t really hang out unfortunately with a lot of the people I sample on a regular basis so some people that I’ve reached out and that I’ve sampled they’ve been cool with it. It’s never really been a thing where it’s like “oh please, remix this song or whatever” which is unfortunate but I like to try to sample primarily pop music and top 40 music.
SS: Have you ever tried to help promote independent, less well-known artists through your music?
GG: Not really, I like helping people out but maybe not in those terms. I’ve toured with my friend’s bands all the time and I pass things to my booking agent and publicist. When I see something I like I push it on everyone I know. It’s the sort of thing again with any project musically or being an artist it’s like you are most likely going to have to create some walls to live within I’m not hear to play it and expose it to the world, I’m here to make something new out of it so it’s kind of a weird context to hear a song that no one’s ever heard of and try to recontexualize that and then have people approach it in that world so I like to use the music I sample just like as the tools to make something new.
SS: What was going through your mind when you were at Case Western as a student playing at college shows, these galleries, and “weird, awkward places”?
GG: It wasn’t original to me or like I was trailblazing or new. I was basically mimicking the things I liked. I went out to see as many shows as possible. I went out to see a lot of underground performers — some with laptops, some without laptops making a very boring performance out of it, some going crazy. I saw the whole spectrum. I chose to start a band that fit somewhere in between it — when I was playing at those small shows it was kind of the norm because the people I looked up to — my heroes, were playing those small shows and going around playing those same venues so I was kind of right in line with where I wanted to be basically. I think I wanted to have my own spin on things but reference a lot of other performers I’ve seen and I wanted to be a part of it.
SS: Your shows are very interactive and it’s a big, fun party. Do you ever get tired of that routine of performing so many nights and having a party so many times?
GG: Yeah, a little bit. I feel like every show is very different in terms of how it goes down. Like tonights a relatively big college show. I don’t play too many college shows. Some shows are smaller. Last night’s was 700 people. And then I go to Europe and play that show and then play Montana versus LA. Every night’s sort of a roll of the dice in terms of how I interact with the crowd. Sometimes I get tired of traveling. Sometimes I’m not really feeling like going nuts but I’m feeling that once I get out on stage its kinda impossible for me not to get that excited.
SS: What’s the selection process for people who can go on the stage when you perform with your laptop?
GG: There’s no selection process. Typically at a show we don’t’ have a barricade and people just jump on the stage and we regulate by keeping some people off and by keeping some people on and try to not really pick — it just happens. But for a larger show like this Cornell show there are so many people so we have to have a barricade for bigger shows obviously. I never want it to be VIP, fan club, or anything like that. I try to stay as far away from that as possible. I like it to have the show be a free for all. The point of having people up there is that it’s fun for me to hang out with people
SS: What’s your alcohol of choice?
GG: Bud Light.
SS: What’s your drug of choice?
GG: Bud Light.
SS: Is this drink something you like to have right before you go onstage to perform?
GG: No, it pretty much changes. You know it depends on how I feel; it depends on how many shows I do in a row. It depends on the next day although sometimes when I have friends hanging out I drink a lot before a show or I’ll drink onstage and you know I actually feel like a lot of shows where I don’t drink I’m more energetic like when the adrenaline’s running. I feel like when I drink a lot I feel like I slow down out there and for me I wanna go more insane than anyone in the crowd, but yeah some nights I drink some nights I don’t.
SS: Peoples’ style of listening to music has turned into more of a trend of having an iPod shuffle. People no longer only listen to one whole CD from track one to track 12; they’ll change their songs constantly by the mood they are in. Do you find that this style or trend is something that you can attribute to your success?
GG: I think you can argue either way because I make albums like that. My last album was a 50-minute piece of music and I built it as one track. I only break it down into so many tracks to make it easier for people to navigate so you can argue that or you could argue it’s so quick natured that it’s very similar to the iPod shuffle thing. I’m not against the new style of mp3—single culture anyway. But when I’m making music I’m always thinking about my favorite albums even though the stuff I make doesn’t necessarily sound like the bands I like. I would love to make an album that could be a 50-minute experience for people. That’s kind of why I put them together like that. That’s why I operate on that level. It’s not just individual tracks that kinda start and stop. I love the idea of change. I think people get attached to what’s come.
SS: With your last two albums Night Ripper and Feed the Animals, those were each originally created as one long piece of music, when you go into creating your music do you go in thinking you want to break it up and create separate shorter length songs or do you go in thinking you want to create one long piece of music?
GG: Breaking it up is almost arbitrary. It’s almost frustrating to do because it really kinda undermines the delivery of it just because the breaks are so arbitrary. I do track separations just at logical points in my mind. I’ve worked at this one period and then this tempo for this certain period of time and then stop a few days and start on this next period and have it turn out that this will be one track. I wish I didn’t have to break up tracks, but it just makes it an easier listening experience overall.
SS: Is there any one artist that you would not like to sample?
GG: I think with anything you can take it, make it recognizable or you can take any song you don’t like and you can cut it up and make it sound like whatever. There’s nothing that would be technically off limits. You can chop it up. You can make hip-hop out of classical music and you can slice it up and slow it down.