Gregg Gillis is best known as his DJ pseudonym, Girl Talk. The popular mash-up act is currently on the road on a college tour, which will bring the artist to UCSB for May 15th’s Extravaganza. Gillis took time out of his hectic schedule to talk with Artsweek, answering questions about touring in Europe, his favorite artists and fans having sex onstage. The full interview is available at dailynexus.com.
MATTHEW: How does it feel now to be a household name?
GIRL TALK: It’s been extremely bizarre, I feel very lucky that I had six years prior to that of nobody knowing my name. It kinda keeps you grounded, and lets you know where you’re at. With any musician, when you become successful, it’s partially because you did something that was musically interesting to people, and it’s partially because you got lucky.
I think after Night Ripper, everything was very surreal, you know, headlining a 200-person club and selling it out was surreal, then going to play a festival was surreal, then going to do this or that – one step after another that was just very crazy to what I had been doing to the years prior to that, and it’s just been a two or three year run of nonstop shows and playing and interviews and this and that, so I’ve kind of just grown into it.
Are you planning on exiting the Girl Talk mash-up sphere and orient it toward your own material, or are you going to build on Feed the Animals now?
Well with sample-based music, there’s many different directions you can go. You can do the mash up thing and do a fun party sound or you can make more traditional pop music, do something like The Avalanches or DJ Shadow, or you can sound like Public Enemy. There’s just so many different ways to go, and sampling is my instrument of choice. I’ve really been doing sample-based music since I was 16 years old. I still feel like I’m learning new things.
So are you working on anything new now, or is it doing the touring thing?
The way the process has always worked for me, even from the first the first album onto now, is that the new material is based around performing live. Basically when you see the set now, which changes from night to night, typically it’s about 25 to 50 percent new material, [and] then on top of that, there’s about 25 percent reinterpretation of previous albums material. I like to constantly be remixing all that material and new material.
Just comparing Night Ripper and Feed the Animals, it really seems like Feed the Animals has a more planned soundscape of peaks and valleys. Do you feel that just from experience with the live shows you do, that you meant to work these speed shifts into the album or did it just come automatically?
I feel Night Ripper took me longer to put together because I was almost making it up as I went along. I wasn’t playing that many shows, so I had some idea, but I was just figuring it out in real time. Whereas with Feed the Animals, like I mentioned before, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do and I had a clear idea of specific parts and how those related to each other, so in my mind Feed the Animals was a more thought out process based on how many shows I had prior to it.
With your live shows, do you know what kind of venue you’re going into beforehand and do you orient your show toward that?
I don’t pre-plan anything too specific for many shows, unless it’s like a festival where I’m playing with some of my favorite artists, like I’m playing a show with Springsteen or Nine Inch Nails or Kanye; then I may do remixes of them, because I know they’re there, and I know people are excited to see them.
I think a traditional DJ can go into many different style clubs and play at 12 in the afternoon or on a beach or play at a nightclub for hip hop or do techno night or whatever and be able to play to that sort crowd. Whereas with my material, I feel I’m not there to necessarily just play songs for people; I want to play Girl Talk songs; I want it to be entirely my own material, all Girl Talk-made remixes, so when I go into any club, I like to play the way I would anywhere else. I jump around depending on what I think the crowd will react too.
What are the differences between [playing] the States and Europe?
I feel like in Europe, the idea of — this isn’t everywhere, just some specific countries — the idea of performing as a electronic musician or a DJ is viewed differently than it is over here, and I feel like my whole show and the performance, and even the music, is all a response to what I knew growing up in the United States.
In certain cities, when I get up there and make an actual performance out of it and start interacting with the crowd and doing that sort of thing, they’re just slightly foreign to that. They just haven’t seen or didn’t expect it out of this style of music.
Last question: craziest thing fans have done on stage?
I’ve seen people have sex on stage, which I think is about as crazy as it can get.