Interview: Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis

Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis, an awkward white guy with cat-like turquoise eyes, disagreed with me. His latest album, “Night Ripper,” is a pureed mash-up of hundreds of Top 40 samples, with each song layering twenty-some

Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis, an awkward white guy with cat-like turquoise eyes, disagreed with me.

His latest album, “Night Ripper,” is a pureed mash-up of hundreds of Top 40 samples, with each song layering twenty-some grunge, Dirty South rap and obscure indie blips into one danceable track.

I suggested that Gillis must be an indecisive iPod player, that kid in the car who switches from Missy Elliott to Neutral Milk Hotel to M.I.A. in less than a minute.

“I actually have a pretty good attention span, though maybe my fans don’t,” Gillis said.

Regardless of what Gillis said, his music is a slice-and-dice tribute to the last 50 years of pop music. Our conversation over the phone zipped by as we discussed copyright law, the Beatles and getting naked.

The Temple News: You’re in Pittsburgh now. What’s that like?

Greg Gillis: It’s pretty cool, it’s noon and rainy and looks like the apocalypse outside.

TTN: I read that you were living this double life just a few months ago, where you were a biomedical engineer by day and doing Girl Talk by night. But then you quit. Did your coworkers ever find out about this other universe you lived in?

GG: No, but I worked with 35- to 55-year-old guys who lived in the suburbs and maybe didn’t even read the arts and entertainment section of the newspaper. When I left, I just told them I was going to travel the world and find myself. It seemed reasonable to them.

TTN: You recently got kicked out of a Widespread Panic show because your onstage dancers were too drunk and rowdy. That’s quite an accomplishment. Does chaos follow you?

GG: I think so. One of my favorite bands is Nirvana and during their live shows, there was always a good chance that someone would go crazy or get kicked out. I like my shows to reach that point, where everything almost falls apart. Not many bands are like that these days and more people should push that envelope. It’s healthy.

TTN: Like your reputation for getting naked while performing. Please tell me you’ll strip at the Starlight Ballroom.

GG: If I feel inspired to. Someone in the crowd usually takes off their clothes and then I follow the lead.

TTN: You’ve blown up since Pitchfork interviewed you in 2006, and even then you were worried about legal issues. Get any cease and desists in the mail yet?

GG: No, and we haven’t gotten sued. The only problem we’ve run into is people being scared. A CD plant refused to print the album and some distribution centers won’t carry it. Most people get it electronically, which is cool, but at the same time I dream of doing the rock and roll thing and having people buy my CD in a store.

TTN: So to play the asshole for a second, how do you justify using other people’s work and not paying them for it?

GG: I am playing music as much as everyone else is. Right now, we consider only original instruments like guitar to be legit. But everyone from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones took someone else’s ideas and built off of them, which is exciting and completely natural. And that’s what I’m doing, picking up songs and manipulating them to form a new sound. Right now, that’s a progressive idea, but I think in the future it will be accepted as normal.

TTN: Can you describe your songwriting process?

GG: It’s very trial-and-error. When I hear a clip on the radio that I like, I text message myself the song and download it later. I have hundreds of these loops that I’m constantly adding to and the piece of music is continuously building.

TTN: Are you working on any new stuff now?

GG: Yeah. I like to test my songs out at shows, see what works and a year or two later I have something. The next album will probably have the same style as “Night Ripper.”

TTN: You were a big fan of noise in your adolescence. Do you think you’ll ever incorporate that influence into Girl Talk?

GG: It’s very tempting, especially because I’m at a point where people are paying attention to me and I can stir things up. I don’t know when I will feel comfortable enough to mess with my success like that, but I definitely want to eventually. I’d much rather crash and burn while impacting people than just do what makes me money.

Holly Otterbein can be reached at

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