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The sample life: Q&A with Girl Talk

Mash-up party guy Gregg Gillis, AKA Girl Talk, talks to 
Ryan Hemsworth before his sold-out (sorry!) Pop 
Explosion show.



Ryan Hemsworth: Where are you?

Girl Talk: I'm at my home in Pittsburgh for a couple of days...can you hold on a second, someone's knocking on my front door.

A few moments later...

GT: Hey. A delivery guy had a little treat for my dog---blew my mind.

When I describe your music to people I sometimes say, 'If you like music, you'll like Girl Talk.' Do you agree?

GT: I think it's the sort of thing that references a lot of music, so if you like pop music in general, you may like a lot of the music I reference. But I try to make something transformative out of the source material. Since I sample so many things in the pop spectrum, and the majority of people like something within that world, at the very least I feel like people are going to be into something that I'm into.

Have you ever met anybody who's strongly opposed to what you do?

GT: Yeah, not necessarily face-to-face as much as on the internet, which is exciting. I've read things where people don't like the pacing of it, or they think it takes no creativity or it's the end of music. People obviously are going to hate on it on various levels.

I read that you started out trying to kind of make music like Kid606. Why did you eventually choose a more accessible method with your songs?

GT: I think it kind of just evolved. That was about nine years. I was 18, naturally I'm still into those things. I'm still into my first records. But simultaneously, your tastes grow a bit and develop. In high school I was into really experimental music. When I started Girl Talk, I didn't want to make anything with a steady beat. No beats at all, just completely avant-garde music.

And then I think during my college years I really grew into the idea and saw the power of something that is accessible in parties and different scenarios. I went out to more events where dance music became appealing; I mean, I was always a fan of hip-hop. I think I saw what context my music could function within. And I think over the years I grew more comfortable with making something accessible, and as that happened I grew away from the experimental and more into the pop, the actual things I was sampling. But I definitely see from the first records where it relates with the newest records.

Would you say what you set out to accomplish when you started differs with your goal nowadays?

GT: I'd say overall it's somewhat similar. The albums and the live shows are two different things for me. In the live shows I'm focused more on the functionality of it and trying to make people dance. As far making the albums goes, I was aiming for a whole different genre back then. I was aiming to make experimental glitch music and now I'm aiming to make pop music.

At the same time it's loosely the same goal, taking something that's familiar and make something that's new out of it. And even with the new album when I'm trying to make something that's accessible, the ultimate goal is to make something like people have never heard before. Something you can listen to and enjoy but also is pushing things further and introducing things you may not be familiar with.

What compels you to manipulate and change pop songs?

GT: I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop: Public Enemy, NWA, Beastie Boys, whatever. You start to understand that sampling is an instrument. It's a cool, kind of all-music. I feel like when you hear a new song and it sounds like something you've never heard before, a lot of times that's just an idea recontextualized from the past, put into this new light. Taking previously existing recordings and just doing whatever you want with them, it's like collaborating with all these artists.

I think it's like being in a band---when you play your drums fast then you're referencing The Ramones who you may love and that's why you like playing this up-tempo song. I feel like it's fair game to take the drum sound of The Ramones and make something completely new out of it.

Has your process for creating music affected the way you listen to music?

GT: Sometimes things jump out at me, but I can kind of get in and out of the mode of hunting for a sample. Within Girl Talk I try to sample what's in the Top 40s, but when I'm at home I like listening to full albums at a time, and sampling is the last thing on my mind. I'll sample anything but I try to work within that radio world.

Have there been any songs you've wanted to use but failed to incorporate into your mash-ups?

GT: I'd say the majority of stuff I've sampled doesn't see the light of day. A lot of times I'll cut up vocals or a riff and I'll try it out with like 200 different combinations of material, and two will stick out for me. From making [the album] Feed the Animals, there's literally hundreds of variations on material that could've made it but didn't.

Off the top of my head I can think of a few songs that didn't make it to Feed the Animals: The Cars song "Drive," which is one of my favourite songs. I've used it a lot over the years and love the way it works, but where it fit into the whole thing I felt like there was too much slower '80s content. So even though that's one of my favourite songs, it just didn't work there.

Do you have any advice for the people of Halifax on how to prepare for the Girl Talk experience?

GT: There's a specific etiquette at the shows and sometimes people have a hard time getting it. I like to invite people on stage and go into the crowd to make sure that the barrier is broken between the crowd and the performer. Sometimes people get confused and they think that getting on stage is the pinnacle of being at a Girl Talk show.

For me, the whole point is to put everyone on the same plane. My best shows are when the people at the back are going nuts. So I'd say that wherever you're at, there's no better spot. You make your area as insane as you want to make it. Don't sweat about getting two rows closer.

But do worry about sweat.

GT: Definitely hydrate.

Like This - Girl Talk

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