Interview with Girl Talk

A few months back, rumors spread furiously about the potential transformation of the Jenny Craig Pavilion into a pulsating dance club. “Is Girl Talk really performing at our school?!” crazed fans of the mash-up genius would ask. “Yes!” I would tell them excitedly. Soon enough, the rumor, which was indeed true at the time of the questioning, proved itself to be false once Girl Talk cancelled.

Though Girl Talk, whose real name is Gregg Gillis, will not be playing at USD this semester, The Vista still got the chance to talk with him about how he got started and what it’s like to be surrounded by an abundance of intoxicated dancing fans onstage.

Gillis became interested in creating music around the age of 14 when he got into underground electronic music and discovered college radio. He was interested in musicians who didn’t need formal training and were more experimental than the mainstream.

“I was going to shows in Pittsburgh and saw weird new styles of electronic music,” Gillis said. “I grew up listening to hip hop and rap and was familiar with the art of sampling. In my high school band I started sampling pop, using radio songs and skipping CDs.”

Gillis, who went to school for biomedical engineering, never intended for music to be a career. “I operated within a very small subculture,” Gillis said. “My band in high school never played for more than 30 people. I looked up to other laptop artists that could draw 50 people [to their shows] in Pittsburgh or Cleveland.”

For anyone who has listened to any of Girl Talk’s four full-length albums, trying to comprehend how Gillis can combine hundreds of songs to create a 40 to 50 minute long mash-up session is nearly impossible.

“Most ideas [for albums] come from preparing for the live show,” Gillis said. With his last two releases, Gillis had performed the tracks live for a year and a half before creating each album. Though he doesn’t play his shows with the goal of creating an album in mind, he says that at some point he has enough material to take a step back and put it all together to form a full-length album.

With each new album comes a new onset of legal talk. Gillis doesn’t receive permission to sample the artists he samples. He simply takes components of their songs and puts them together to form a new work of art. How is he able to do this without being sued? Fair Use.

“Fair Use is a doctrine in the U.S. copyright law,” Gillis said. “It states that you can appropriate other people’s material without getting permission. It looks at how your work impacts potential sales.”

As long as Gillis’ work doesn’t create competition and remains transformative, meaning it has a level of commentary, Gillis will remain lawsuit-free.

“I believe that all art is based on re-contextualizing ideas from the past,” Gillis said. “My music isn’t taking sales away from someone. I’m not here to just present 300 songs.”

Thanks to the Fair Use doctrine, Girl Talk remains to be one of the most talked about and exciting new artists. One of the most intriguing aspects of Girl Talk are his live performances, at which fans bombard the stage and dance alongside Gillis as he works his laptop.

“That’s an exciting thing for me,” Gillis said. “It’s always the wild card. I just don’t know how it’s gonna go down. It adds an interesting visual component to the show. Sometimes it’s aggressive, chaotic and insane…The tour manager sits down with security and gives them a loose game plan.”

But the game plan varies depending on the venue. “A small more intimate venue can be a magical experience if everyone’s on the same page, if everyone’s hanging out.

The audience can feel like they’re in the band. You get lost in the moment. A festival can transcend the need for the intimacy.”

The major difference between small venues and music festivals is the process of getting fans onstage. At a small venue they can storm the stage on their own. At a festival, security prefers the fans to be recruited beforehand.

“I like to push for spontaneity,” Gillis said. “I don’t want it be some kind of VIP club.”

Outside of the stage situation, festivals are still something Gillis looks forward to. “You don’t get to do that everyday. Playing Lollapalooza last summer was one of my favorite shows. I had woken up two hours earlier and I wasn’t sure if people were gonna be fired up in the afternoon. I had a lot of friends there and it was a massive body. In that sort of environment it can be something entirely different than a club show. I felt like I had a legit draw…I felt like I had arrived on the festival scene.”

Girl Talk’s shows are what make him memorable. Thus the question still remains: why did Girl Talk cancel his scheduled USD appearance?

“I do as much as physically possible,” Gillis said. “I’m down for any type of show if the offer’s legit and there’s a fanbase there. I’m not really sure what happened with that.”

Associated Student’s concert director, Tom Nash, tells a different story:

“Our original agreement called for a barricade between him and the audience. Quentin from Public Safety absolutely required this to approve the show and we need Public Safety’s approval to do a show. Months later, after I started word of mouth marketing, Girl Talk decides he isn’t ‘comfortable with performing at USD’ because he thinks it isn’t going to be an authentic GT show.”

Nash also said that Gillis was concerned that the contract USD presented to him required him to play a Catholic-friendly show, though the real issue was the offensive language contained in some of the songs he samples.

Although Girl Talk supposedly dissed USD, he remains to be a musician with a large (and growing) fan base. He recently played Coachella and will continue to play festivals and shows throughout the summer.

Check out his tour schedule on his MySpace page at