Photo: Laura Buckman
Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis on His New Album, Making Listeners Puke, and Why He’s Pretty Sure He Won’t Get Sued
With an impressive knack for cramming hundreds of Top 40 hits into a single track, Gregg Gillis has become the undisputed King of the Mash-up. Musically braiding together Young Joc with the Band, Lil Mama with Metallica, he’s elevated the once-kitschy practice into an art form. On a recent blazing afternoon at Greenpoint Playground, Vulture sat down with the newly scraggly biomedical engineer–cum–party thrasher to chat about his new album, Feed the Animals, and why making his fans barf maybe isn’t such a bad thing.
I love your first record, Night Ripper, but sometimes when I listen to it, my head feels like it might explode. Do you ever worry about, like, seizures?
It’s funny because I think a lot people misinterpreted it as me trying to make the “ultimate party record” or something. But I like it to almost be disorientating and over-the-top. If it makes you nauseous, then that’s cool to me! I’d rather make an extreme piece of music than, like, an MTV Party to Go mix. If it makes someone vomit, then I made a pretty cool record, obviously.
Feed the Animals feels a bit less cluttered. Did you set out to make something more listenable this time around?
Yeah, I felt accomplished with Night Ripper and felt that I didn’t really have to prove that I could do something like that again. I’d rather just move forward and make something a bit more musical. So I focused on layering a lot of elements with more subtle juxtapositions. I think there’s more samples on this record, but you don’t hear it. I think Night Ripper was, to some degree, about a technical achievement, but with this one I wanted to use that template to make a really fun record.
How did you go about making the album? With so many samples involved I’d imagine it takes forever.
It’s a slow evolution. It takes me about a year or two to gather all the little pieces, then I edit it all together. I’ll think, ‘Okay, I want Big Country with ‘Whoomp! (There It Is)’ going into, say, Afrika Bambaataa going into the Cardigans. How do I make those transitions as smooth as possible?’ Even if I know how it will go, it might take me eight hours to make one minute of a song just to figure out different techniques to make it sound seamless.
What made you decide to release Feed the Animals using the “pay what you want” model?
To me, it just seems like all music is donation-based — you can download any song for free. Even buying a CD, to me, is just donating to the cause. After finishing the album, I just wanted to get it out as quickly and easily as possible and for people to hear it in the highest format. I live off people hearing it and coming out to shows, so this just seemed like the most efficient way to get high-quality MP3s out really quickly.
Have people been generous in their contributions so far?
I don’t really have any stats. The thing I have a gauge of is the Internet presence, the blog presence, press and stuff, which has been good. Radiohead legitimized the format so the album was reviewed in magazines within the same week it came out online. It feels like the people coming out to shows have all heard it. So it feels like everyone who should’ve heard it has heard it. Which is, in a simple way, the overall goal of putting out an album.
You sample some of the biggest artists in music on this record. How concerned are you about getting sued by one of them?
I feel morally sound that we shouldn’t be sued — I feel like the music’s transformative; it doesn’t negatively impact anyone. And there’s a thing called Fair Use that protects work like that. It’s definitely a concern, especially with the increased level of press this album is getting, but I feel sound about it and I think there’s a whole academic and legal movement supporting more creative and open exchange of culture and ideas.
You’re playing the All Points West festival here in a few weeks. How do you approach a big festival crowd like that?
Festivals are almost a lot easier for me, since the clubs are so chaotic. At my shows a lot of people jump onstage, toss drinks around. I’m cool with that and I love it, but it also increases the level of difficulty a good bit when people are running into me and screaming in my face. At a festival the audio’s usually crystal clear. There’s tons of people, but it’s not as nuts. So it makes it so much easier for me to physically perform. And a lot of the stuff I play is obviously pop hits, which can be refreshing for the crowd. You know, all the bands playing All Points West are great, but you’re probably not going to hear “Come On Ride It (The Train)” anywhere else that day. —Joe Colly