Girl Talk transforms and manipulates with musical mashups

Kevin C. Johnson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

ST. LOUIS — Girl Talk has perfected his recipe for the perfect mashup.

For the past decade, Girl Talk (musician-DJ Gregg Gillis) has been expertly mashing up and sampling a mind-boggling mix of tunes from different genres and eras with releases such as “Night Ripper” (2006), “Feed the Animals” (2008) and “All Day” (2010).

Gillis says his most successful mashups are the ones that come across as “transformative.”

“I like taking familiar elements and manipulating them and making them go somewhere they’ve never gone before,” Gillis says. “I love these songs. I’m not trying to improve them.”

Gillis has been brash enough to mix the likes of Black Sabbath and Ludacris, Radiohead and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, General Public and Jay-Z, and Beastie Boys, Lady Gaga and Iggy Pop, all on his album “All Day.”

“I want to reconceptualize them,” he says. “And when you hear it, I want it to sound natural like it was recorded that way, rather than someone stitched it together.”

The Pittsburgh artist also subscribes to the more-the-better theory, cramming as much material as possible into his work. He likes his mashups to be “dense, heavily layered and complicated, but not difficult to listen to,” he says.

His favorite mashup these days is his Black Sabbath and Ludacris collision, which he feels best represents his progression. In his early work, he’d seek out the one connection in seemingly unrelated songs.

While he was able to work wonders with Black Sabbath and Ludacris and a number of other creations, there’s a whole list of favorite songs Gillis has yet to make work, such as the Cars’ “Drive” and Van Halen’s “Jump.” He has been able to use them in live sets, but has yet to use them on a recording.

“Sometimes I don’t want to have too much ‘80s or too much ‘90s, or this works here so I can’t use anything like it next to it,” Gillis says.

Though his completed projects such as “All Day” may imply otherwise, Gillis insists he’s no record collector.

“I’m not a collector and I don’t seek out rare albums. But I like buying physical projects — buying albums and owning them,” he says. “I like the process of going to the record store and picking things out, and I never give anything away or sell it back.”

His use of highly recognizable samples suggests a litany of potential copyright lawsuits, but Gillis says, “I haven’t had any headaches thus far — knock on wood.”

He says potential lawsuits used to stress him out, but so far none have arisen. He even says some labels have supplied him with material.

“I didn’t get into this music to push the boundaries of copyright law,” he says. “I’m putting out music I believe qualifies under fair use. I don’t think it’s creating competition for the source material. And in many ways it’s the opposite.”

He is looking forward to playing his new material during a set he describes as layered. He says it’s a tighter, more heavily synced show than what fans of his last tour might remember, with added lighting, video and more.

“I always wanted my shows to be somewhere in between the energy of a really fun house party and an arena rock show, especially in recent years as I’ve been able to play bigger venues,” he says. “I’ve been focusing attention on making the show visually stimulating and overwhelming, chaotic and fun.”

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