Music News

Girl Talking: A Q&A With Gregg Gillis

Girl Talk's audio tapestries — constructed entirely of sampled beats, verses, and hooks — are challenging the long-held definition of "musician." With the recent release of Girl Talk's latest album, All Day, Pittsburgh-based Gregg Gillis continues to skirt copyright issues, sampling other artists' music without paying or asking permission, and changing music as we know it in the process. All this from a guy who doesn't even own an iPod.

Girl Talk will be tearing down the house at the Marquee Theatre on March 23 — the show will almost assuredly sell out long in advance, so we figured we'd interview Gillis early. This is an excerpt from a much longer interview posted on our music blog, Up On The Sun, which discusses the making of his album, fan engagement, and the power of social media.

UOTS: You've got a gazillion songs from which to choose when you make a new mash-up. You've managed to work in nearly 400 sound bites from various songs on All Day. Describe the process of making a song. When you're building a song, do you choose a handful of riffs that you think would go well together, or do you just mix and match bits of songs you like and see how it goes?

GG: I really look at the big picture, so I'm always planning on building a whole album. I never really think in terms of songs or three-minute segments. It kind of all goes back to the live show, where I'm constantly cutting up samples and trying out different combinations. It's a real trial-and-error process. Once something kind of clicks, a melody or a vocal that I think works together, I'll try and incorporate that into a show.

When I perform live, I do all the sample triggering by hand, so I can take out a little piece and add a new thing. So I'm always trying to introduce a new element. From there, based on how it sounds [to] me and based on the audience's response, I'll go on to further tweak it. Maybe the drums just didn't sound good, or maybe they fell in the wrong place or I didn't like the transitioning. I'm always swapping these parts and changing these tiny little things within the structure. So by the time I sit down to do an album, I know where it's going to begin and where it's going to end. And I have a loose idea of maybe 75 percent of the album, like, "These songs will follow up to this song, and these things will go together." Then it's a matter of filling in the little gaps and making everything flow smoothly.

UOTS: Your fans got really into All Day right from the start. Very shortly after you released it, people were already trying to figure out the breakdown of all the samples you used. What does that fan engagement mean to you?

GG: It's awesome. It honestly felt like Christmas morning the day I released it, like the world gets to open this package from me and evaluate their new present and talk about how they feel about it.

I'm a big fan of everything I sample. The reason I got into it in the first place is because I wanted to kind of be a part of the music that I like and try to make something new out of it. Now that I've put the album out, the fans are engaging my music. There are various websites that are dedicated to the sample breakdowns and there are YouTube videos about it, and the Wikipedia

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Lenni Rosenblum