On Monday, mash-up maestro Gregg Gillis released All Day, his fifth album under the Girl Talk moniker — another batch of schizophrenic pop combinations (Simon, Garfunkel, and Lil Jon, together at last!) that raises all the usual questions: Is this art? Shouldn’t someone sue him for not clearing sample rights? Does Radiohead’s “Creep” really pair well with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”? Whether one agrees with Girl Talk’s methodology or not, last week he sold out his February 24 Terminal 5 gig in under 90 minutes. Not bad for just a guy and a laptop. Vulture spoke with Gillis yesterday about All Day, the Karate Kid soundtrack, and what he has in common with Glee.
You released your last album, Feed the Animals, with “pay what you want” pricing — but All Day is a free download. Was this a legal decision?
No, it was mainly based around just trying to get [it] out there as effectively and efficiently as possible. Doing the “pay what you want” download went really well for us, but I think that can be a little confusing when you’re advertising it to people. You pay attention to a lot of things [online] for a second, and if it’s not free, in your face, you might not be interested. I’ve made a fine living off doing shows and that’s what I’ve been accustomed to; that’s the full-time job for me. Going into this record, I was thinking about the fact that I didn’t need to make any money off it; to build up the fan base even more, I thought the free release was the way to go.
The perception that some people might have is that creating a Girl Talk track isn’t particularly difficult. How long did it take to construct All Day’s opening track, “Oh No”?
I built the record up as a whole and then broke it up into tracks the day before it was released. But the whole thing took two and a half years to put together. A typical solid day of work would be about twelve-plus hours. And if I got one minute of the album done in those twelve hours, then that would be good. For instance, with the opening of “War Pigs” that moves into Ludacris and then “Empire State of Mind” — that’s something I’d been performing live for a long time. [But] editing the album version would still take me twelve-plus hours to get the transition perfect, to get it seamless. But the ultimate goal for me is to sound like it didn’t take much effort.
Are you able to listen to pop music these days without thinking about how it’ll fit into a Girl Talk song?
I go in and out of that mode. I’m dated in the way that I listen to music, in that I love buying CDs. When I go and pick up the new Rick Ross CD and throw it on, there might be certain things that jump out at me like transitional things, such as a drum roll. But when I’m listening to full records, I’m usually not concerned with samples; there’s so much music out there and I love drawing from familiar sources, naturally.
The most popular explanation for your success is that your music reflects our accelerated culture. Do you buy it?
It makes sense. I definitely have to say that it happened accidentally. I wasn’t sitting there thinking, What can I do to sum up the times right now? or How can I capture the attention of this younger generation? Since I’ve started, the general aesthetic has stayed the same, but I think as a culture we’ve moved towards more attention-deficit media. At the same time, as the album is made as one whole source of music and is intended to be listened to as 71 minutes — as attention-deficit as it is, it requires a lot of attention. In a lot of ways, it’s a counter to what’s happening now. It’s anti the one-MP3 thing and is more intended to be a sit-down, listen-to-the whole thing experience.
You sample Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” — what’s your memory around that song?
It’s a Karate Kid memory, for sure. I taped Karate Kid on VHS and it just became a staple. It’s always that scene on the beach with Karate Kid juggling that soccer ball. I love to reach in and touch those nostalgic connections. I think when you get down to it, it’s a big part of all styles of music. I think when you hear an Arcade Fire song, a lot of people can reference a U2 song; I think with any band, you hear a song and it kind of reminds you of another song just a little bit.
Thanks to Glee, everybody now knows what a mash-up is. Do you watch that show?
I haven’t seen it, but I am curious. I love TV and so many shows look like they’re mind-blowing, but I don’t have time to watch TV anymore. I wish I did. I’m interested to check it out and I’m interested in it on a conceptual level. The original remix is the glee club …
They’re bringing it to the masses.
I’ve definitely paid attention to it just in terms of its impact on the Billboard charts. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that. It plays on an idea similar to what I’m doing, in that it’s presenting a song in a new style, or taking it somewhere else. It’s a remix, is really what it is.