GIRL TALK is in town Tonight and Tomorrow night @ 9:30 Club. SHOWS ARE BEYOND SOLD OUT. We’re rerunning this though since it’s a good interview. Originally published Nov 17th 2010.
On Monday morning Gregg Gillis, AKA Girl Talk, released his latest sound collage in the form of All Day. 70+ minutes and featuring over 370 samples, Gillis maneuvers meticulously across several decades of pop music to give his ever growing legion of dedicated party people more of what they’ve been craving. With over 4000 “likes” via the Pitchfork announcement, thousands of Tweets, and enough downloads to choke his label’s site to the ground on Day 1, Mr. Gillis is clearly poised to tighten his death grip upon the reputation as a show-stopping crowd pleaser. 2011 dates are already selling out in major markets. Known for his wild live shows featuring myriad toys, audience interaction, and sweaty, visceral responses, the records elicit just as strong a response but on a cerebral level when blasting on headphones or the beat in your trunk. Go ahead, hit the All Day wiki and geek out, I’ll wait – listening to this record is FUN if you love pop music and you can tell he’s a fan who had a blast making it.
Last month, just as Gregg was putting the finishing touches on All Day, we gave him a ring in Pittsburgh to discuss the All Day, his affinity for southern rap, the unavoidable topic of Fair Use, and The Wire. Oh, and where to find a damn fine sandwich and a cheap beer in the ‘Burgh.
BYT: You mentioned in 2009 that the last 2 records were cousin albums and you were leaning towards songs with kind of a more traditional verse – chorus – verse in the future. Now that you’re finishing up the next one, do you still feel that way about the project?
Gregg: (laughing) Not at all, really. I do have to say I am interested in that idea, exploring more verse – chorus – verse, and I’ve gotten into doing that sort of work with, I do a side project call Tre Told Em with a friend of mine Frank. Anytime anyone asks Girl Talk to do a remix, I don’t really like to do individual remixes under the Girl Talk name just because it’s a very different style of work than what goes into my live shows and albums. I’ve been doing the Trey Told Em thing, just doing remixes, and then I’m really excited to do more traditional work and do traditional hip hop beats and just make songs. I love pop music and I feel like what I do, the Girl Talk stuff, is just this weird experimental take on it. With the new album, really, I wasn’t gonna do an album unless I thought it could go somewhere different than the last record and be better in some ways. After Feed the Animals I wasn’t sure I would do another album that would be an album length collage just ‘cause I didn’t think I could do it better than that one. Then, after a few years of touring and preparing for the shows where I’m always trying to come up with the most interesting material… naturally people coming out to the shows get the most excited about stuff from the album so when I incorporate new elements I prefer it to be something very special or specific to generate a reaction at the same level that people react to the album material. After 2 years of playing live I sat back and looked at all the material I had and it was a lot more than I had going into Feed the Animals. I sat there and just thought, conceptually, what will I do with this album? I felt strongly that I could take you somewhere different. I definitely feel at this point that Night Ripper, Feed the Animals, and this one are a trilogy. You know, they’re definitely connected. I feel like the new one goes beyond the last one, it becomes more dynamic. It’s hard to explain, I wanted to get it as complicated as possible but the same time more accessible.
BYT: In terms of you being a fan of hip hop, Southern hip hop specifically, is there a reason why you have an inclination towards that versus a more serious, New York hip hop aesthetic? Is it just what you like to party to?
Gregg: I think, on a technical level… to generalize, a lot of times southern rap has a more punctual, rhythmic flow. Sometimes more east coast rap, or even west coast rap, can be a little bit more complicated with the flow styles. A lot of the flows from southern rappers, specifically the Thee 6 Mafia stuff or UGK stuff, their flow is almost like percussion. It’s like a beat and it sticks to a very specific rhythm. I think, with the ways I get excited about starting with music, it’s just rhythmically things that are matching up, you know? Flows to a specific rhythm in a song and things like that. A lot of times it’s easier for me. And I am a fan of a lot of that music, straight up, whether I was mixing it or not. I would still be following all of that southern rap music and it’s something I’ve grown up with, Geto Boys and things like that when I was younger. But yea, I definitely think the flow of it works well for what I’m doing. On this album, it’s southern heavy as all the rest are but it jumps around all over from Nikki Minaj stuff which is, you know, a lot of times the opposite of a southern flow in my mind. Super sporadic and very detailed and ever changing to stuff like Project Pat which is more of that rhythmic style that I was referring to. That’s another thing too with the new one, I’m trying to represent as much as possible. It’s always trying to ramp it up beyond the last one and to me ramping it up is more diversity. I love the southern rap stuff but if I can make it less centered around any specific sound then that is where this new album has been heading. Compared to the last one at least.
BYT: All of the artists who’ve been part of your collages – have they been cool about it so far? Have you spoken about being more direct collaborators at some point?
Gregg: Yea, I’ve done a lot of college shows over the past year or two playing with a lot of hip hops groups like Three 6 Mafia or something. There, usually if I get a chance to say whatsup or we run into each other it’s super brief. Outside of that it’s only been a handful of people that seem like they’ve been actively, not listening but they know what I’m doing. Big Boi came to a show of mine a few years ago and we’ve played together this ear. I assume people like that, they definitely know whatsup, you know? He’s definitely aware that I’ve sampled his voice on my cd’s and sell them for money and he’s comfortable with that concept. I think the collaboration, it’s come more from labels. Label people reaching out to me with the idea of maybe working with production for some of their artists or rmaybe remixing a certain chunk of their catalog. Various people from major labels have come to me with those ideas but thus far I’m 100 percent consumed with doing Girl Talk the way I’ve been doing it. I would love to potentially do some more production based work, specifically with the Trey Told Em side project I mentioned earlier, or even collaborate with a particular artists to do something with Girl Talk. As it goes now, I just don’t have time for that. Doing this to the level that I wanna do it from having the show always change and having new material for the album and making sure the album’s something special beyond the last one, at this point I feel like I need more time than I even have. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t dismiss but for the time being I’m just fully consumed by doing Girl Talk the way I’ve been doing it.
BYT: Are you considering a physical release for the new record?
Gregg: We’ve actually been going back and forth on that a little bit. I’ve done a physical release for all the other ones but for this particular one it’s up in the air. I still believe that it should fall under fair use and I still believe that it should be legal to release but, at the same time, the profile of this project has been continually growing. It’s hard not to be concerned about copyright issues since they come up so much, especially as it keeps gaining popularity and as I’m playing bigger shows they’re getting mentioned in larger magazines and larger websites. At this point I’m not 100 percent on that but it’ll definitely be online by the end of the year, no doubt about that. I might even sit on the idea of the physical release, not even make that call, until after the online release. I’m guessing the actual release to the internet will be, hopefully, by the end of November. I can’t say that 100 percent but I’m really close to wrapping it up. We’re excited to just get it on the Illegal website, get it online the way we’ve done the last albums and then from there make decisions on whether we wanna press cd’s or vinyl.
BYT: In terms of volume, what you’re getting out there between Night Ripper and Feed the Animals, that trajectory I assume is pretty palpable. Does that have a hand in whether or not you’d put it out physically? The tens of thousands you’d have to produce?
Gregg: Yea, that is a good point and I actually wasn’t considering that yet. I feel like if we’re gonna do it physically there’s no real compromise. I do think putting it online will give us a good gauge of where it’s at, how many people wanna do it, but I feel like in doing this you have to be 100 percent about it. Basically, if we’re gonna do it I’d be fine if it was going out to 10 people or 1 million people. That’s where I feel your mind has to be at. That doesn’t necessarily change the stance on copyright and it doesn’t change the facts as how you should view it falling under fair use or not. That shouldn’t change based on the actual numbers of it. I do think that would be an interesting thing, just to get a gauge of how many people want to do it. In saying that we may not do it physically, it isn’t because I think it’s wrong, I’ve never done this style of music to challenge copyright law. I’ve done it just to make music. I believe that we shouldn’t have to go to court but there’s always the chance that we would. I’d be happy to do it, and fight it, and I believe in it but at the same time I don’t wanna be in court, I wanna be on tour as much as possible.
BYT: You mentioned going on tour and taking your friends out and everything. Now that this is a career, whereas 3 or 4 years ago you weren’t sure about that, has the pressure or dynamic on yourself changed in that regard?
Gregg: I definitely think there’s a lot more pressure where you do enough shows, it hasn’t not become fun but at times it can be more grueling. When I get out on stage and people are there ready to have fun, it’s never a bummer (laughing.) It’s never come close to that. At the same time, getting to that show, playing your 120th show, jumping on the 5th plane ride of that weekend, it can be a headache sometimes and definitely over time that continues to add up. There’s more work elements involved in it now but I hate to even complain about it because it’s a pretty cool job still. As the show’s getting bigger, the audience gets wider, the audience gets bigger, you’re playing better spots at festivals, and naturally to all of that there’s a certain level of pressure but I feed off of that. I feel like if that pressure wasn’t there then I wouldn’t be motivated to try to take it to the next level. I think that’s why this has lasted as long as it has, just ‘cause there’s always this motivation to top the last thing and make something better than the last one and keep raising the bar as much as possible.
BYT: Do you have a title for the record, and will you put any material out before you put the whole thing out?
Gregg: I do kind of have a title but I don’t wanna give it away since we’re not 100 percent set on it, and, I don’t think there’ll be any previewed material. I’m always excited for people to just hear it as a whole because I build it as a whole. Pretty much, like I said, I’m wrapping it up right now. Like the last album, as soon as it’s done I get it off to my friend who masters it and hopefully we’ll have it online within 24 hours of that. We bypass the whole typical release experience where you’re supposed to send it out to publicists a few months in advance or magazines that leak a song or whatever. That’s all well and good, I’m just more excited about the moment I finish the whole thing and everyone gets to hear the whole thing.
BYT: So what are you feeling right now in terms of hip hop that’s been coming out? The new Gucci stuff, or…
Gregg: I actually was just listen to some of the Gucci stuff, I got my hands on some of the instrumentals today. I haven’t heard that whole album but I really like the last Gucci Mane album. I’ve been picking up a lot of mixtapes at this gas station parking lot near my house, this guy sells ‘em. I’ve been listening to the Waka Flocka stuff which is cool to me, definitely intense. Whoever’s making the call for his production is always on point, all the Lex Luger beat stuff is really reaching a point of, pretty much, the heaviest synthesizer sounds I’ve ever heard in rap music (laughing.)
BYT: (Laughing) Yea I was trying to reconcile loving some of his songs and the songs being the most pro-gang song since early NWA.
Gregg: Right, right, to me it’s all entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with rooting for a serial killer in a horror movie just like there’s nothing wrong with embracing a certain level of violence in music. But yea, the Waka Flocka stuff is super heavy which I’m always interested in. I think from this past year, I really love the Rick Ross album. I thought that was great, a really good album to listen to multiple times. I think a lot of times, on newer rap releases, people are trying to cram as much content on there, really long albums. But I thought that was an album you could just throw on and listen to many times. You know, there’s a handful of tracks that sound similar but there’s a very large gradient of styles from the very smooth production to the more heavy, Lex Luger style beats. Of course, the Big Boi record this year was phenomenal.
BYT: Absolutely, waiting on that one for a long time.
Gregg: Yea, I was really pumped for the Big Boi album. I knew it had to be good but I was really surprised by how good it was. That’s another one that you can listen to over and over and the production really jumps around a lot and nothing gets too boring, there’s no one specific style. That’s really one of the most colorful rap albums I’ve heard just in terms of so many different sounds and so many different styles in one release.
BYT: I wanted to talk about is the DVD, I was watching the trailer and some of the Youtube vids and it looks like JP Coakley is the guy who is producing or directing everything with you?
Gregg: Yeah, it’s actually not gonna be a DVD, it was always planned to be a straight Youtube content sort of thing, but yeah, a fully-fledged mini documentary. We were considering doing it on DVD but then it comes down to some copyright concerns just ‘cause when I do an album, when you’re looking at the uncleared samples it comes down to whether it’s transformative or not, how it fits into the bigger picture. So, with the DVD we weren’t gonna have the entire show’s audio. It was gonna be more or less bits and pieces. I think a lot of times when you take some of those elements out of context it might change how transformative it’s viewed because the album’s intended as a whole piece of music. That was one of the main ideas, A – it’d be cool just too get it out there for free and get it out to everyone and B – the copyright concern was in the back of my mind as well so we went for the internet release.
BYT: Are you going to release it in chapters or all together at some point?
Gregg: It’s actually all up right now. I think it went up on Pitchfork for a few days initially and now it’s up in 3 chapters on Youtube. But yeah, JP Coakley, he’s basically just a college friend of mine who had a relatively similar career path as me. He went to school for engineering but was interested in video editing work and just picked it up and is making a living off doing that in a kind of similar way that I didn’t go to school for music or anything, I just kind of happened to turn it into my living as well. A couple years ago he followed me on tour, lived in the bus with me and did day to day 1 to 2 minute videos about what was going on. I really like his work and he put together the whole video which was a lot of work, it turned into a 30 or 40 minute project and he’d never made a documentary himself. He’d done a lot of video editing work so it was a large project for him and I think he did a great job with it.
BYT: In terms of that New Years show, the one at The Congress in Chicago, I was just watching some of the vids on Youtube and I hadn’t really seen anything, set-wise wise, like that outside of major arena tours or The Wall or a play at Kennedy Center. The fact that you built a house on stage, was that an homage to the house parties you’ve spoken often about?
Gregg: Yea, and the house is making a reference to the album artwork on the last album which has the burning GT in the front lawn. On that album artwork there is this one window which has a very specific shape and we kind of mimic that one window, I’m sure no one noticed (laughing.) The house wasn’t an exact replica of that but it definitely was a reference and that album cover itself was a reference to that culture. It didn’t have any specific meaning we just thought it would be kinda cool to have something that was a little devious and a little bit of a tearing down suburbia sort of feel. This went hand in hand with playing a lot of house parties and stuff like that. The main idea for that… I’m always interested in building the show up. That was something that obviously I can’t tour with, that was a one-time deal. We were on a tour a few years ago, and I tour with the same crew as much as I can, typically just a lot of friends, people who do my album artwork, people who help out with the stage show, and we kinda all bounce ideas around but very few of them stick. A lot of them I think are good ideas and one night we were on the bus, just listening to some tunes and the guy who does all my album artwork, Andrew Strasser, was just sitting there and flickering the lights on and off on the bus to the music, just kind of joking. We were all getting a kick out of it ‘cause it was just really stupid but that sparked the discussion that’d it’d be fun to have some lights on stage like house lights and I could just turn them on and off like strobes. That led to well, what if we just have a couch up there, a living room, and it just kept building. That idea was planted in the summer of 2009 and then over maybe 3 months we really got excited and had a lot of ideas and ended up meeting a few people that design larger stage shows, people who thought they could actually make it happen for us then it took them 3 months of planning. So it was just this big thing that really just started as a stupid idea that I didn’t really think was gonna go anywhere but it just snowballed. Luckily we worked with great people as it was a really insane experience trying to put it all together. Literally 6 months worth of preparation.
BYT: Cool, well I know people are excited here for your shows. I live in DC and obviously you get a lot of love here.
Gregg: I love doing a little Ben’s Chili Bowl.
BYT: Oh, reminds me, since you watch The Wire, I ran into “Poot” filming a rap video outside Ben’s with a wig on eating a half smoke. Got pics with Slim but the best is I ran into a Baltimore train station and ran into Snoop. I was terrified but thrilled.
Gregg: (Laughing) That’s awesome, are a lot of those people just hanging out in Baltimore and DC because they film there or people actually live there?
BYT: A lot of the cast are Baltimore or DC theater actors and one of the main writers, David Simon, is a Baltimore guy and his co-writer George Pelecanos is a DC crime novelist, hangs out in DC dive bars in Mt. Pleasant.
Gregg: Right, I’ve heard that.
BYT: Slim is actually the singer of one of the more historied go-go bands in DC that still plays every Thursday.
Gregg: That’s insane, I had never heard that.
BYT: Yea, the Backyard Band, then you have UCB as Wale’s backup band. So the go-go scene is still doing it’s thing in DC. So yea, those people are around and for my money that’s the best show ever on TV.
Gregg: Yea, I don’t really watch much TV but that’s pretty much the only thing I’ve watched since the summertime and it’s been mind blowing. I’m definitely gonna look into the Backyard Band after we get off the phone, I’m excited to check that out.
BYT: Yea, there’s also a couple Wire soundtracks with Baltimore club music like Mullyman and stuff. OK, some questions about your hometown – best dive bar to get a beer in Pittsburgh?
Gregg: For me, the dive bar that I roll to is Brewski’s which is, I guess, pretty famous or infamous in the Pittsburgh world. It’s in my neighborhood, I live in the vicinity of that area. It’s a good spot to catch a lot of local bands on the weekend, just a no bullshit style bar.
BYT: People keep telling me to go to Primanti Brothers, is it actually the shit?
Gregg: I’m actually a fan but I pretty much only end up eating there when I have out of town friends in town. It’s definitely the jam if you’ve been out drinking and it’s 3AM for food. I’m a fan but I don’t think it’s the best sandwich in town. I’m a fan of this particular sandwich called the Big Wheeler which exists at this place called Peptis. There’s one in the strip district, there’s a few all around but that’s my ultimate jam in terms of a hoagie or sandwich in Pittsburgh. Enjoy the ‘Burgh!