Friday, March 11, 2011

Girl Talk

Picture this: A concert with 372 of your favorite artists collaborating and killing it on stage. I know what you’re thinking, this would be impossible even in your most jaw-dropping fantasy. Think again. Greg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, makes dreams come true from his fingertips by emitting fresh mixes of music from his top choice of musical instruments, his laptop. This Pittsburgh native is more than just a hometown hero; he’s out to take over the music world and bring our favorite artists along with him.

Gillis is breaking the mold of music, starting with his stage name Girl Talk. “It wasn’t a reference to anything specifically, but it was somewhat calculated in an effort to not sound like a male laptop artist. I wanted something very pop culture.” Not only is Girl Talk breaking misconceptions with his name, but he is reinventing the music scene altogether.  

Girl Talk’s latest release All Day consists of 372 overlapping samples of music, a number sure to overwhelm anyone. “It’s a huge project to really put together an album,” Gillis confesses. “It’s a slow process too. A lot of the work I do with the samples goes with just cataloging them in a system I can understand and having documents that reference where I can find things.” Organization is key for Girl Talk, since pulling song samples isn’t as simple as some people might think. “Going into the album it is kind of overwhelming, also in terms that there is 372 samples on the record, but there may have been a few 1,000 samples laying around on my computer. It’s just a matter of taking it slow, I try to be as calculated as possible.”

There are still bound to be some skeptics regarding Girl Talk's unique take on music. “I think a lot of people hear it and they say ‘Oh, he just layered together a bunch of pop songs and that must have been fun for him to do and it’s fun to listen to, that’s it.’ So when people think that, it’s a compliment in a lot of ways, because it actually is very detailed.” Girl Talk takes pride in producing a clean-cut album that sounds effortless. “I think a part of it for me is to put something together that’s really complicated, but ideally when people hear it, it just flows smoothly and sounds like a cohesive piece of work.”

Another thing that helps Girl Talk create a cohesive album is using a combination of the material he’s already made. “On All Day at the beginning with the Black Sabbath and Ludacris bit, that’s something I had played live many times, so I do which parts fit together and how it’s gonna work.” It doesn’t end there though. Girl Talk's final edits can easily turn into a ten hour workday of intricate transitions and minute details. “I don’t expect anyone to hear that and ever imagine the level of detail that goes into it.”

Being made from such an abundance of music, it’s clear that Girl Talk’s work is a reflection of his musical obsession. “I’m a pop music enthusiast and I think the albums reflect that to a certain degree.” You might be thinking Girl Talk is just your average music listener, what makes him so different from the rest of the world who obsesses over music? Well, think about your typical night and compare it to Girl Talk. “Last night I was just sitting around listening to CDs and jumping around on YouTube checking out different tracks. Going through the Billboard Top 100 from 1989 and just looking at those lists, finding songs I might be interested in hearing. I really enjoy going through all that pop music.”

It’s been two years since Girl Talk’s former release Feed The Animals, and he felt the added pressure when making All Day to prove himself as an artist. Pressure that he’d been feeling awhile now. “Going into Feed The Animals I really wanted to prove to people that I wasn’t a one-hit wonder or a novelty, this is something I’ve been working on my whole life. For a while, maybe a year after Feed the Animals, I honestly didn’t think I’d make another record in that style because I thought Feed The Animals sounded the way I wanted it to sound and I didn’t think I could top that.”

Girl Talk admits that it’s hard to avoid criticism in an age with tweets and blogs that share people’s opinion with the world. The added pressure didn't distract him from making a new record, though. “You never want to end on a sour note, that’s why it’s like every record goes further and further. Going into the new record I was focused on doing something that would be better than the last one, and that was the goal.”

How has Girl Talk managed to push himself further on every record? Well, he feels his level of detail in production has gone up from album to album. “When I listen to Night Ripper, it’s a record that I still love a lot and is still a lot of people’s favorite record from me. I just think the production on it is a lot more raw and a lot less thought out and put together. I think the stuff on All Day is a lot more calculated and I had a lot more source material that I could pick and choose from.” He also focused on not cramming every possible sample into the album, giving the samples some breathing room. “I feel like it’s a level of detail to really sweat over every bit and piece of it to the point that it sounds smooth enough where it doesn’t sound so disjointed and technically challenging.”  

Then there is the issue of controversy, which Girl Talk has been familiar with since he first began making music. “I think when Night Ripper came out a lot of people had never really heard a record like that before, so it was a novelty to people and they were really quick to dismiss it based on that. A lot of people were really waiting for that record to die off and never hear from me again.” There have been issues of copyright laws and infringement used against Girl Talk, however there has never been any legal action filed against him. “The way the majority of the public views it is: If you use unauthorized samples it’s illegal, end of story. But actually it’s a grey area.” Girl Talk is unsure about why he has never been challenged, yet he likes to think that artists and record labels are thinking along the same lines as him. “I think a lot of the bands now are excited about being included on an album, they see in no way am I taking sales away from them and it’s potentially turning a new generation and different demographic onto styles of music.”

There are people who are openly on the same page as Girl Talk, most being his beloved fans who turn his shows into blissful mayhem. Although Girl Talk is all about interacting with the audience, he does admit that as his shows have gotten bigger he has incorporated other elements such as flashing lights, onstage dancers, and a toilet paper launcher to help engage the audience. “I do truly have to concentrate on playing the laptop 95% of the show,” he admits, “but outside of that I like to just take my body to the limits. I like to go nuts. When I get up there, I wanna just work myself until I’m ready to puke.”

Despite controversy, Girl Talk still reaches a variety of fans, from college students to congressmen. “I feel like my lifespan in the music world is maybe longer than people expected.” Perhaps what has kept Girl Talk alive is the unique ability to stitch different styles of music together while also opening up the demographic of listeners. “I definitely want to make the sort of music that a 15 year old can get down to, a college kid can dissect conceptually, and a 50 year old can get nostalgic over.”

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