Girl Talk | No Bad Spots

girl-talk-3_sm.jpgIt’s very slow. It’s a trial and error process for me.




My initial plans for this Thursday consisted of watching the ’90s skateboarding gem Thrashin’ and baking cookies in the shape of daggers as a tribute to the aforementioned film. But all that immediately changed when I heard the announcement of….Girl Talk’s return to St. Louis! Riding on the momentum of his last taser-tastic sold-out show at the Gargoyle back in 2007 and the release of a new album, Feed the Animals, this nonstop party of a live show is returning in full force, this time stepping up to play The Pageant.

For those unfamiliar with Girl Talk, here is a crash course in GirlTalkenomics. The mash-up extraordinaire behind Girl Talk is Greg Gillis. Girl Talk has released four albums under Illegal Art: Secret Diary in 2002, Unstoppable in 2004, Night Ripper in 2006, and his latest album Feed the Animals this year. Feed the Animals was released digitally in June utilizing a pay-what-you-want model of Radiohead’s In Rainbows lore, and had a physical release date in September. Although there has been some controversy surrounding his use of unauthorized samples, nothing has come of it.

Girl Talk has emerged to sit at the top of the pile as one of the most listenable and identifiable faces in the mash-up kingdom. One of the key elements of his listenability factor is the tightness of the tracks. With each album, you are taken on a meticulously chosen and cleanly coherent journey through decades of music from pop hits to guilty pleasure top-40 rap tracks. Another major aspect of Girl Talk’s success is his infamous live shows. From Lollapalooza to your local music venue, an experience, dare I say a miniature happening, is created. Let’s put it this way: Girl Talk is your too-cool-for-school mega-hipster friend’s guilty pleasure.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: Gillis was also working as a biomedical engineer Monday through Friday up until last year. Girl Talk comes to the Pageant this Thursday, January 8. Although the show is already sold out, I highly suggest doing a rain dance in hopes of finding tickets or setting up a Meetup group to discuss ways of acquiring tickets from around town.

Gillis was nice enough to take some time from his tour to talk with me about how to spot a Girl Talk at your own nine to fiver, what to expect from his live show this Thursday, and why there is no bad seat in the house.


Congratulations on ending up on quite a few notable year-end lists. What do you think distinguishes Feed the Animals from some of your past releases?

I feel like it’s more of a content album. I think the earlier albums are a lot different from Feed the Animals. They were a lot more experimental with a different focus and different intentions. On the new one, I feel like I took the idea of Night Ripper and just developed it a bit more. I think the production and the ideas are more fleshed out. On Night Ripper, I was focused around having certain technical achievements, like getting through a certain number of samples in a certain amount of time. After that album was over, I really didn’t have anything to prove on that level, so I took that idea and tried to do something that was a bit more musical with it.

How would you describe your creative process when it comes to mixing tracks together?

It’s very slow. It’s a trial and error process for me. I’m always experimenting with ideas, just cutting songs up and trying different combinations of material. I flesh out most of the ideas in the live show. Most things I sample do not make it to the live show, but when I find an idea that works I try to incorporate it into a performance, and then from there kind of develop it. I am constantly trying out new ideas live; when something hits, it hits, and then I kind of stick by it. Then the albums are putting those together and basically documenting the live shows. So it’s more or less me sitting down for hours and hours and hours, just trying to go through each section and just make it as meticulous and cohesive as possible.

Has Negativland influenced you in any way musically or politically?

They were one of the first people I heard doing actual sample-based works that was not hip-hop. So for me it was exciting. I grew up listening to a lot of rap music, so I knew sampling as an instrument. With Negativland when I heard it, it was fun. Musically it was exciting and challenging. I thought it was something that was boundary pushing and at the same time accessible because it was referencing pop music and culture. I love that Negativland was just like, "Fuck it, we’ll do whatever we want, and we’ll take U2 and completely manipulate it and release it and that will be our song." I just thought that was very raw and exciting.

I heard a rumor that you quit your nine-to-five engineering job to pursue music full time. Did a confetti bomb go off or leprechauns appear when you mentioned you were aka Girl Talk?

A lot of my buddies were really pushing for me to play a show in the parking lot. When I left I didn’t want to be weird. They didn’t know about Girl Talk, so I didn’t want to be like, "Oh, by the way, I’m quitting to go do music." So I didn’t tell them the full truth; I kind of told them I was quitting to go travel the world and have fun with my youth, which was true, but I didn’t really include all of the details of the situation. I wanted to use them as a reference and go out on a good note, so I kind of kept it underground. But I did recently get a Facebook message from one of my ex co-workers who found out about everything, and him and a bunch of the guys I used to work with just came out and saw my show in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, which is insane to me. But that went down so it’s full circle now. I’m sure everyone knows.

Are you leaning toward including more indie releases into future Girl Talk releases?

As far as incorporating indie stuff into Girl Talk, I’m open to whatever. There are always some small things, like on the last album, a Yo La Tengo sample or something like that. But I like to work within the pop spectrum; that’s always been kind of the focus of the project. I like to sample songs that I like, first and foremost. I also try to use songs that everyone has heard, whether in the supermarket or on the jukebox. Songs that surround you in everyday life. I like to take those very familiar ideas and manipulate them.

Tell me about your side project, Trey Told’Em.

A lot of people come to me to do remixes as Girl Talk and it’s interesting, but it’s just different from the way I put Girl Talk together. So that’s kind of why I started the Trey Told’Em thing. It was more or less a lot of bands reaching out, like Tokyo Police Club, Simian Mobile Disco and people like that wanting to do remixes from Girl Talk, and I just wanted to do something else. I have a friend named Frank Musarra who helps me out with a lot of things, and I just figured it would be cool to just collaborate on this and kind of have a slightly different sound.


I have unfortunately only experienced your live shows vicariously through others. What can one expect from a Girl Talk live show?

I think it fits somewhere between a rock ;n; roll show and a house party. It’s developed into something of its own. Where it’s at now isn’t really even my decision. It kind of incorporates a lot of people coming out to the show and getting involved. I like having them be a part of the performance. It’s kind of evolved to a place of its own; it’s hard to explain. It’s like a condensed party. People want to see electronic music but they are also there to party. A lot of people there are focused on having a good time and for that specific duration of time. It’s kind of like controlled chaos.

Do you have any standout show memories at all?

You know, every show is different. In the past two years, every show has been literally great. I really don’t have too many shows that have been a bummer. As far as the last year goes, a standout show for me was Lollapalooza. It was great. I kind of played in the middle of the day and I got there a little late, so I didn’t even have that much time to hang out initially. I just got on stage and it was a massive crowd and everyone was very familiar with everything. I had attended Lollapalooza in 1995 when I was a kid, so it just meant a lot to me to be a part of that history.

I’m getting my crew together for the show on Thursday and I’m deciding between dressing as an Indian, pirate or a Wall Street banker. Any thoughts?

I think the banker is a good way to go. (laughs) You know, I think going that classier route is going to be big in 2009.

Have you ever thought about any additions to your live shows? Live art, daredevils, lion-and-tiger show?

I’ve done a little bit. On my last year of tour I had a couple people who were doing live visuals, providing physical props and things like that. They would use toilet paper blowers and these air guns that shot confetti and just a bunch of things like that. That was cool, and it was something I was into. I’m open to that, and I’m interested in evolving the live show to a point. I think right now it’s in between somewhere, where I could do that at some shows and couldn’t at others.

If I am wondering if I have an undercover Girl Talk at my nine-to-five job, what are some of the giveaways?

Oh man, that’s a tough one. I would say look for the guy who goes into work and puts on his headphones, and when you ask him about his weekend he is always saying the same thing. Like he went to see a movie with his girlfriend or, you know, he sat around and watched TBS. Look for those things where a there’s a lot of repetition, because there are only so many lies you can deliver.

Any words of advice for a Girl Talk newbie regarding your show in St. Louis?

It’s gonna be a crazy event. I would say respect the people around you. People come with different intentions. Some people come there to watch a show, some people come to dance, some people come to mosh, and some people come to party. Everyone’s got something different going on, and there is no right or wrong. So, just be aware of your setting. Also, I do try to get in the crowd and try to get people on stage a lot, but I do stress that the whole point is to eliminate the idea of a front row. There is no front row and there is no good or bad spot. So don’t feel the need to push forward or stomp on people’s feet to get closer. It’s a good spot wherever you’re at. | Anthony Spina

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