Thursday, January 8, 2009

Girl Talk's Gillis talks about his 'live sample collage'

Gregg Gillis has seen it all during his live performances. People dancing on stage, smashing up venues and even shedding clothes.

Gillis, better known as mashup artist Girl Talk, and his music must have the power to bring out the wild side in people. A November show at Harvard University, for example, was shut down due to a crushing crowd.

"The shows, when they're going right, fit somewhere between going to see a crazy rock show -- where people are moshing around and getting physical and sweating it out -- and going to a house party," Gillis said on the phone from his home in Pittsburgh.

To make his music, Gillis picks pieces of artists you might not expect to work together (think Kelly Clarkson, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cat Stevens, 50 Cent or Megadeth). Girl Talk used music from each one of those artists (and more than 300 others) to create his latest album, "Feed the Animals."

The album is a collection of mashups, music made by taking pieces from separate songs and playing them with each other. Popular mashups in the past (like one of Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and Oasis' "Wonderwall") often have included the vocals of one or two tracks played over the instrumentation of another.

Girl Talk kicks the whole thing up a few notches, incorporating about 20 or so samples for just one song. The result is an interesting and infectious hybrid of styles that may find you alternately dancing to a hard-rock riff or banging your head to some hip-hop lyrics.

Fans can name their price to download Girl Talk's latest album from the Internet. It is available at

A live show involves Gillis alone on stage, picking song samples from his laptop. He often jumps into the crowd and invites people onstage. He sometimes has to warn the venue about what can happen with the crowd. He even has to wrap his laptop in plastic so sweat and beer don't destroy it.

"I broke three laptops in 2007," Gillis said. "Now I use one of those Panasonic Toughbooks. They're supposed to be for, like, military use. You can pour water on them and step on them and stuff."

Gillis sees himself as a live musician rather than a DJ because he creates all of the music spontaneously during performances. He may use many of the same loops night after night, but he puts them together differently each time.

"To me, it is live sample collage," Gillis said. "There's the energy of going to see a rock show where you're excited to see this beginning and end and this musician you like perform. But on top of that, there's this whole party element."