Interview Date: 12/29/2010
Run Date: 01/28/2011
Mash-up maestro Girl Talk delivered an early Christmas present at the tail end of 2010, with the free online release of his latest sampling opus, the critically acclaimed All Day. It’s the fifth overall release for the Pittsburgh native, and the follow-up to this critical smash hit 2008 album Feed the Animals. Bullz-Eye spoke with Girl Talk (a.k.a. Gregg Gillis) over the phone about how his life has changed since the release of Feed the Animals, what’s in store for the future, and what it’s like for an entire city to dedicate a day to you.
Bullz-Eye: How has your life changed between Feed the Animals and All Day?
Girl Talk: I think things have just gotten gradually bigger and more busy. By the time Feed the Animals had come out, I had already quit my job and started doing this full-time. So I feel like the whole project has just gotten a lot more organized. When Feed the Animals came out I was used to just touring by myself and maybe just a few friends. Now things have expanded to the point where I have a constant crew with me to keep up with the production of shows, and all that creates a lot more stuff to think about in terms of designing the show, with the lights and stage props and things like that. Things have grown to the size where I need a team, and it’s become a lot bigger in that way. Which has been a good thing. The rest is pretty similar.
BE: Has your recording process changed?
GT: I would say I've just gotten more technical in the way I work. My software and studio setup is pretty similar. I feel like every year this project has gone on, I've just gotten more efficient and just cataloging samples. I have a whole way to organize things on my computer. I think that is connected with the attention to detail on each album. That's a big component of making the music for me, actually being able to organize the thousands of samples and make a logical way to make connections with them.
It kind of relates to the material I've been preparing for live shows. I think when you look back at Night Ripper, there's a lot of moments on there that are based around a single loop or using a loop for, like, five seconds and then moving on to a different song. Whereas now, the use of samples is just slightly more involved. I think a good example is the beginning of the new album with the Black Sabbath bit where I sampled the Ozzy vocals and then full guitar parts from [“War Pigs”]. Even though it kind of sticks to the “War Pigs” sample for two minutes, it is changing just about as much as anything I've ever done. I think that's been a big thing going into this album is giving certain samples a little bit more breathing room. I was trying to make it more dynamic overall. So there are sections that are very detailed and there are others where you can kind of relax a minute.
It is a much longer album. It's 71 minutes compared to the last one, which was 54. So I figured if I'm going to do something bigger like that, it might be intense to listen to something as rapidly changing as Night Ripper for 71 minutes. I just paid attention to production throughout; I think it's more of a full sound. I worked with my friend Frank Musarra on some aspects at the very end to tweak a bunch of little things that sounded thin, which I’ve never really done before. For this one I really kind of labored over each individual part to kind of make it sound as big and as natural as possible.
BE: My favorite part on the new album is the part with the Toadies' “Possum Kingdom” and all the different songs you thread through it.
GT: Yeah, that's a great example there as well. If I were to use a sample of “Possum Kingdom” on Night Ripper, it probably would have just been that main guitar riff for 20 seconds and then I would have moved on. With this one, I try to build with it, and it builds and falls and there's transitions. That's kind of been an exciting thing. And I feel like if you hear that Toadies section that's very far away from something that's on Night Ripper.
BE: And the Toadies dug it, too.
GT: That was cool, too! I'm a big fan myself, and when you sample from such a diverse range of artists you really have no idea how they're going to react. You don't know who's going to be embracing it. They were immediately twittering with me and it was on their web page. If someone would have pop-quizzed me out of the 300 artists I sampled on the record on which ones would be really into it, I would have no way guessed the Toadies.
It makes sense to me; they've had a long career and they've put out multiple albums. But they probably know as well that there is a younger generation that may listen to Girl Talk who might not be familiar with their work. And that it’s not creating competition for them, but hopefully allowing other people to hear their stuff.
BE: Any other positive feedback from artists you've sampled?
GT: A few people have given certain comments in press. I remember reading a piece after Feed the Animals came out and they questioned Mike Patton about it. On Feed the Animals I sampled Faith No More mixed with Busta Rhymes. They asked him and he said he thought it was an honor to collaborate with Busta Rhymes. Big Boi has come out to shows of mine in the past and recently as well. I saw a publication asked him what he thought of my release and he was amped up on it, so that was really cool.
BE: The city of Pittsburgh seems to dig you too. They even gave you a holiday.
GT: It’s not an annual holiday! It was a one-time holiday. It was crazy! It' s incredibly weird! I mean, I love Pittsburgh and I talk about it a lot and I wear my Pirates hat pretty frequently. So I feel like a lot of people who know about Girl Talk know it from Pittsburgh. I don’t think I deserve any recognition but the city council kind of reached out to me. One particular guy, Will Peduto, hit me up in an email and asked me if I wanted to be recognized by the city, and I was like, “That's great.” But they didn't explain to me that it was going to be called Gregg Gillis Day until we went down there. That kind of came as a last-minute surprise. It was an honor.
BE: I've seen you twice in Pittsburgh and I notice a lot of Pittsburgh iconography in your projections and stuff. Is that a Pittsburgh-only thing? Do you mix it up for other shows?
GT: The visuals change night to night. Obviously I won't put any other sports teams up there. But sometimes some cities go with Steelers or Pittsburgh-based imagery. Fans of what I do know Pittsburgh is a component of this thing. I think it’s a big aspect of the level of influence I have – I don't know what would have happened if I would have grown up anywhere else. My specific connection to Pittsburgh, in my mind, links up how I got to this point.
BE: So no Pittsburgh stuff in Cleveland?
GT: No, I probably won't throw too many Steelers logos on the screen.
BE: Your live shows are pretty intense and have gotten bigger. How have your shows changed?
GT: [The last show of the last tour] was the first era of the people on stage with me helping out throwing toilet paper, balloons and confetti. And that Pittsburgh show [that kicked off this tour] was the first show of this new era of having my own lighting guy and a whole crew and a software guy who allows us to do certain things. That was the trial run, it was great that I could debut that in Pittsburgh.
It makes a big difference, especially when you're up there with a laptop, in front of a few thousand people having just a house light on you and your own custom lighting rigs and your own guys doing specific cues set to the music. Just checking out the YouTubes of that show afterward was like, “Wow, this is crazy.” I've gotten so used to performing the old-fashioned way, where it was just me that kind of having all that extra stuff made it so much more fun for me and so easy. I get used to certain responses to certain material. There's a certain flow to the set. I change bits and pieces to it, but I feel like even my crew get used to it – I felt like it was a similar sort of flow to it with all the production, but just amplified. Everything just went up a notch, I'm excited for this whole tour coming up.
BE: Why go free with the new album?
GT: It wasn't about the sampling politics or legality or anything like that. It was really just to get it out there as quickly as possible. When I put out an album, I know I make more off touring. When I put out an album the number one goal is for as many people to as hear it as possible. And putting it out for free was the way to do that. And I think it worked. I saw the excitement, the hype around the pre-release was a lot larger than I had anticipated. And kind of immediately after release, you see ticket sales spike and shows started immediately selling out and we had to change venues because we didn’t know how many people were interested and stuff like that. I think it worked out even better than I had expected.
BE: I remember reading that you wanted to do more “traditional” music. Do you plan on doing that as Girl Talk, or is that strictly for what this is right now?
GT: Right now the Girl Talk name is for what this is. Maybe five years down the road it will evolve into something else. Doing Girl Talk is full-time and when the album finishes up I really have to move on to preparing new material for the live show.
And I am excited on another style of material and for right now that works well with the stuff Frank and I are doing. (Note: Gregg and Frank Musarra work together as Trey Told 'Em, doing production and remix work.) We got some offers from some hip-hop artists doing some production. And in the past we've done some remixes for indie rock bands, and that was cool.
But my passion lies more in doing more traditional hip-hop production and our own hip-hop production. It's been a cool experience because Frank is capable of doing some things I'm not. He knows how to play guitar and bass, he has more of a musical background. If I cut up a sample and give it to him he can actually play a bass line on top of it, which is something I can't do. I'm looking forward to having some time to work on that. I think we both kind of follow modern rap pretty closely and I have many ideas as to where it could go and how it could be different than what you hear on the radio right now, kind of putting our own spin on Top 40 hip-hop.
BE: Do you want to put more samples into it again?GT: Yeah! I think a lot of producers are killing it right now. Stuff like the Lex Luger beats, stuff you hear on Rick Ross, it's just so big and so evil sounding at times it’s amazing. I love that. I'd love to have a hybrid of that mixed with something that's a bit more ‘80s and ‘90s with the samples coming and going. A lot of the Swizz Beatz production, like the “Start It Up” beat that he did for Lloyd Banks recently, that's an amazing song to me. I'd like to hear something like that, with samples coming and going. All of these… my favorite jams are kind of soul-sampling songs, like UGK's “International Player's Anthem,” those are just the best to me. Those are the coolest songs that come out. So I would like to do that but put a little different spin on it.