Interview Outtakes: Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis on Making Music and Liking Katy Perry over Lady Gaga


  • Dove Shore

Tonight is the long-awaited, very-sold-out Girl Talk show at the Pageant. In this week's paper, D.X. Ferris spoke with Gregg Gillis, the man behind the moniker. (Note: The author is a fellow Pittsburgh native who grew up in the same classic-rock-obsessed area and witnessed Girl Talk before it became a hot topic.) Below, check out some outtakes from the chat, in which Gillis talks about the music-making process, why certain songs appeared in certain places on GT's new album, All Day, and whether he's a bigger Katy Perry or Lady Gaga fan. We'll have a review of the show and photos of the mayhem tomorrow.

D.X. Ferris: Did you grow up listening to WDVE [the longrunning Pittsburgh classic rock station]? What was the trajectory of your growth as a music fan? Gregg Gillis: I had a weird trajectory in my life. I got really into experimental music--like straight-up avant garde noise stuff and extreme underground music-- when I was fourteen or fifteen. I rejected most older music because it just wasn't interesting to me. I never listened to much Led Zeppelin.

But at the same time, I've always been a fan of pop and rap music. And it was only around the time when I started to do the Girl Talk project, when I was eighteen, that I started to go back and say, "All right, these classic rock songs have been around me my entire life. I'm kinda into a lot of these." I never jammed the Beatles much until I was nineteen or twenty. I became a fan of it at a good time for Girl Talk.

If you pick it apart, I don't think anything is truly dominant [on All Day]. I did an interview today, and someone was saying, "Oh, there's more indie on this record." And I read something that said, "There's a lot of '90s." I feel like people get different impressions based on what they're really into. I try to keep a calculated diversity. I want it to jump around as much as possible.

Why did you choose to start the album with "Oh No"? [The track begins with the start of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," then drops in a vocal from Ludacris' "Move Bitch."] That's definitely an important moment, people hearing that as the first thing. And I love to have something I can kick shows off with. That combination of songs--Black Sabbath, Ludacris, with the drums from Jay-Z, with some other elements--that was something I had been playing a lot over the past year. When I got to the point where I wanted to assemble a new record, I said, "Okay, what is the most in-your-face [moment]?" I wanted something badass. As far as setting a tone for the record, I thought that was really good.

How do the albums come together? Are you constantly working on them? Or when you feel like you have enough material, do you lock yourself away in a bunker and start chopping it all up? The process of editing it goes down at my house, my home studio. But the structure of the record, it definitely starts to take place live. Live, I trigger all the samples by hand. Every week I work on new material. And when I find an idea that I like, I insert that into the set and take something else out. And certain nights, something might fall flat, or it might sound good following something else.

It's like a constantly changing collage. And it gets to a point where certain things start to take form. When I sit down to do the record, 50 percent of it is thought out. And then it's filling in the pieces outside of that.

Are you always taking notes on potential matchups? The situation is particularly weird, because the music, for me, is not intuitive. I rarely hear a song on the radio and go, "Oh, that song would go well with this song." It's more trial-and-error. The more material I have assembled, the more things I sample, the more potential success I have. So in doing that, it's hard to stop.

It is constant. When I have a free day, I'll work all day, put in a ten- or twelve-hour day. And once I put out the album, people are expecting new material on tour. It hasn't stopped in the past five years.

How much of your brain power does it take up? Is your head always processing this beat and that vocal? I can kind of turn it on and off. Sometimes, I wake up and check e-mail, and I know I'll be at it for an hour, and I can just put on a record and listen to it. I don't think about sampling it; it will be on in the background, and I'm just enjoying it. But listening to music to cut it up and to sample, that's a different process for me: I'll go through my CDs and listen to different things. I'll skip through the radio. On a day-to-day level, I constantly do it. It consumes at least 50% of my time. Girl Talk, "Bounce That" (fan video) How do you assemble the albums? Is there a different version of All Day? I build it, basically, in chronological order, from beginning to end. But at various points across the way, there's alternative versions of it. There's a folder on my computer that has hours of different takes, chunks from 30 seconds to two minutes of almost every other moment on the album. I'm naturally very neurotic and obsessive about it, so any given moment, there was probably twenty variations of that -- and five of which I liked and spent time debating over how it could make a good album.

You sample Lady Gaga on the new album. With an artist like that, do you feel an obligation to include a certain amount of new hotness, or are you a fan, or both? I'm a fan. I'm a fan of some of her contemporaries more. I'm more of a Katy Perry head, personally. [Gaga's] "Bad Romance," I like other material better, but the way that sample worked with the Aphex Twin song ["Windowlicker"], it became something else. With certain songs, it might not be my favorite song, but it can turn into something special.

What's the best decade? I got into music in the '90s, so that's what I'm into on many different levels. I love hip-hop from the '90s; it's a classic golden age. But also, Nirvana and all that stuff is some of my favorite music. And the electronic pop, like Technotronic. And also indie rock like Pavement. That's definitely my ticket.

If you're going to a desert island and you had to choose the collected works of one group, would you pick New Order or Depeche Mode? I probably listen to New Order more, but I might go with Depeche Mode, just because I might be interested in exploring that more. I don't own the entire Depeche Mode discography, so I'd like to get schooled on Depeche Mode.

Talk about the Iggy Pop-Beastie Boys segment. You speed them both up, and it just explodes. ["Lust for Life" meets "Hey Ladies," at 5:36 in "Jump on Stage."] That was one I had never performed live and made up while I was in the studio.

The "Lust for Life" sample was something I had messed with live over the years, with various a cappellas over it. The Rick Ross a cappella that follows, I had tried it out with. And there's a Lil' Kim a cappella at the same BPM I tried that out with.

That particular bit, "Hey Ladies," the vocal quality jumps around, with three different vocals coming in and out. A lot of things I tried to combine with "Hey Ladies" never fit, because there was so much energy to the vocal.

Sitting down with the album, I made that connection, where it sounds like "Hey Ladies" should be that tempo; it sounds more like a rock song. The energy was a perfect fit. And the Beastie Boys is a very nasally kind of vocal, and "Lust for Life" is a very driving, bass-heavy moment with not a lot of high end. So it matched very well.

And talk about ending the album with [John Lennon]'s "Imagine." That was one where I was going back and forth on whether or not to do that. That was something I had been ending my shows with, live. There are things I love for the live show, but I don't know if I want them on the record. On the record, I want the most transformative material. Sometimes something works well to generate a crowd response, but it might not be interesting, musically.

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