Girl Talk finally gives up the 9-to-5 racket to focus on mash-up mastery

:: Girl Talk ::
 :: Ogden Theatre :: October 31 ::

By Lisa Oshlo

Gregg Gillis finally quit his day job. Better known as Girl Talk, Gillis has spent the better part of the last six years touring relentlessly while working 9-to-5 in the brainiac field of biomedical engineering.

Making music since his adolescence, Gillis began the Girl Talk project while a student at Case Western University in Ohio, never expecting music to be more than a side project and creative outlet. But as word of his talent spread, it became clear that making music was his primary fate.

Gillis’ main focus is on mash-up style remixes, wherein he deconstructs pop songs and creatively restructures them into new art, at once recognizable and unique. The end result is the kind of pants-off dance-off that makes everyone want to join the party.

The Marquee caught up with Gillis recently to discuss his roots, his evolution, his passion, and his art.

“In the early days the intention was a little different. Back then, I was trying to make more experimental sounds out of pop songs, whereas nowadays I’m trying to make pop songs out of pop songs,” Gillis told The Marquee. “So I think back then I was focused on tearing songs apart and manipulating them, almost like beating them up. Over the years, it changed into just wanting to make the albums more of a cut and paste exercise. I want to sample the songs without changing their tone drastically. Even after it’s manipulated I want it to retain the form of the original song. I think I’ve become a little bit more respectful of how I use the music.”

Gillis’ use of popular music has given some pause, and the New York Times Magazine called Girl Talk “a lawsuit waiting to happen,” but Gillis cites Fair Use, a 1976 copyright law that permits one artist to sample the work of another without asking permission, so long as the work is transformative and doesn’t affect the original artist’s potential sales. “Thus far we’ve had no issues,” said Gillis. “Everyone I’ve talked to from major record labels have been fans of the music and want to collaborate on projects. I feel morally sound about what’s going on.”

Gillis continued, “In this day and age, when most people are able to access music for free and then decide what they want to buy, I don’t feel like I’m creating competition. I feel more like I’m creating a new outlet for people to hear songs that they may want to listen to.”

Originally working as a biomedical engineer (specializing in tissue engineering), Gillis was forced to live something of a double life, DJ-ing most nights into the early morning hours. Since he hadn’t told his employer of Girl Talk early on, by the time things started to take off he figured it’d be an awkward topic to bring up. “The last year of my day job I played about a hundred shows and then had to work 9-to-5 with only ten vacation days. I had to really set my mind to maintaining both lives but it just got to be too much with the music,” said Gillis.

But Gillis is not complaining. Finally leaving his day job last year, he is now free to channel all of his energies into his music. He has refined his craft through years of sampling beats and testing them out on live audiences. “I just go about it piece by piece. Everything I do is sampling bits; I never queue up a whole song. The beat’s just there if I want to loop it, and then there’s a melody. I have a lot of memory dedicated just to loops in pop songs. I try to integrate them into the live sets and if I like the way it works up there, I’ll try to do it on an album,” he said.

Gillis has put out albums prolifically since 2002 when he was still a college student, starting in 2002 with the release of Secret Diary and continuing steadily through the recent (2008) release of his fourth full-length album, Feed the Animals. 2006’s Night Ripper became something of a party anthem and contained a mind-blowing 250 samples. “It’s endless,” said Gillis. “You could play any song right now and there would be something in it I could use. There’s always a good drum part or melody and even if I don’t like the song on a surface level, I might like the way the snare sounds or I might like the tone of the bass. Honestly, I’ve been doing this for many years, sampling music everyday; yet I still stumble upon something I can’t believe I haven’t used yet pretty much every week. When I turn on the radio I’m sure there’s a great song with a great part that I’ve yet to work with.”

Gillis is even hoping to step it up a notch for his Halloween gig at the Ogden. “I’m definitely excited,” said Gillis. “I’ve got some Halloween staples that I don’t get to play at any other time during the year, and I’m going to nail down a great costume. Halloween is actually my favorite holiday of the entire year, and I want to make the show especially awesome.”

:: Girl Talk ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: October 31 ::

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