His tour t-shirts accurately proclaim "I'm Not a DJ," since Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, is not onstage playing other people's music -- not directly, at least. Using sampling technology and software, Girl Talk builds new music based on samples from many genres, best described as an advanced musical version of the mash-up. After bubbling in the underground for years, a Pitchfork review of his 2006 CD Night Ripper brought him to the limelight and acclaim from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Blender. While his CDs are measured and precise, Girl Talk's live shows are the ultimate party; one that simply must be experienced to be believed. When an electronica act can sell out a Tuesday night Nashville show with tickets going for ten times the face value and a line of 100 people an hour before doors open, you know it's going to be a major party.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: Welcome to Nashville, have you been here before?
Greg Gillis: Yes, I've been here a bunch.
RS: And when was the last time you were here, do you remember?
Greg Gillis: I played this spot on February 9th of 2007.
RS: That was after the Pitchfork article. So do you think the article make a big shift in your career?
Greg Gillis: Yes. Prior to that I spent six years playing shows to between 10 and 20 people every night, and then after that a kind of cult following, things kind of launched to this very ridiculous level.
RS: When you were playing to 10-25 people, what were
you doing as a day job?
Greg Gillis: Biomedical engineering. This started in 2000 when I was in college, so it was like the first four years pretty much just touring when I could, going to school sort of thing, and then after school I traveled for like six months strictly touring. Then I just did a job for about two and a half years while still just doing the music thing, it was always just intended for fun.
Why Girl Talk?
RS: Where did the name Girl Talk come from?
Greg Gillis: When I started, I was very involved with the underground avant-garde electronic music scene -- very experimental stuff. I was fascinated by it, and it was something I had done for a long time with my band prior to Girl Talk. A lot of the ideas with the difficult music being progressive and challenging, were being recycled, using distortion and having crazy loops. and since it was what everyone's expecting, it became stagnant to me.
So when I started this project the initial goal was to do a lot more far out music, most avant-garde stuff, using pop as a tool of rebellion. I picked the most flamboyant, over the top name so people would feel like 'this name or band is completely inappropriate' for the contemporaries I was playing with at that time. What can I call this to make this sound like a ten year old girl's band?
RS: How did the concept transform from being something really
difficult into something that has such a party vibe?
Greg Gillis: I've always been a fan of pop and always followed plenty of styles of music. There's two components, there's one that is understanding the software and I was doing well with that. The second started at 18 and it has faded over the years – the epiphany that it's not the worse thing in the world to make music for people who can actually enjoy it. Based on my experiences as a teenager, the bands I've seen, and the sort of acts I was surrounded by in Pittsburgh, it always seemed lame to try to be successful, that if you're not really freaking people out then what are you doing?
That's cool, I'm still with that, but I just grew older and was like, 'well, it's not so bad to really have fun with it.' Even in the earlier shows when I was trying to do the experimental music, I was always playing the laptop and playing a lot of other experimental guises, and I always wanted to make the show fun. I was always screaming at people to loosen up and dance but I wasn't really making dance music. So I think it just slowly started, working on doing some stuff with beats a little bit and it just grew and grew and grew and then it just got to a point where it's like well I want to make pop out of pop now rather than making noise out of pop.
Playing with laptops
RS: On the laptop, what software are you running?
Greg Gillis: I use a program called Adobe Audition to make beats and sample things, and then to perform live and do all my arrangements I use a program called Audio Mulch.
RS: Your laptop on stage is a Mac, correct?
Greg Gillis: No, it's a PC.
RS: Has it ever crashed on you?
Greg Gillis: I've had it smashed on me. I've had the computers broken, but never, never like a crash. I broke three laptops last year and it wasn't software, it was more physical damage.
RS: Do you have a specific controller that you use?
Greg Gillis: At home, I use one, but live I can't. I've played at a lot of different venues and usually I like to interact with the audience to some degree and get in the crowd and get people on stage and this and that. It's gotten crazy enough so that with any piece of equipment up there, if it's not the laptop, it usually will just get broken, so I've just minimized it as much as possible.
RS: If you're in the crowd, how do you trigger your samples?
Greg Gillis: It's all loop-based. So when I leave the computer you're going to get the same loop, so I feel like that's an OK sound. I didn't ever have an album sound like that, whereas if it was a band it would have to be pretty much straight from the album. So I feel like it's taken the show to a whole different balance, where occasionally it's OK to just step out and just play. I think it almost gives people a really good physical kind of feel of how life it actually is, so from that they just hear the same loops.