Exclusive: Girl Talk Waxes on Broken Teeth and Breaking it Down with Big Boi

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The beauty of sampling lies in the euphoric ‘Ohhhh shit!’ effect — that fleeting moment when a recognizable hook, chorus or bassline drops into a track. Reigning mashup king Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis) multiplies this feeling exponentially, deftly mining his audience’s unrelenting need for nostalgia.

With his fourth full-length album, last year’s Feed the Animals, Gillis has successfully cultivated the type of mythos and ritual commonly afforded to seasoned performers. Flavorpill’s Ali Gitlow rang Gillis up in the thick of summer-festival season to chat about choosing bands to tour with, crowd surfing over his family, the mystical potential of the year 2012, and a future foray into beatmaking.

Flavorpill: You’re doing a ton of summer festivals, and you played Mountain Jam in upstate New York recently.

Girl Talk: I’ve played at a lot of jam-oriented festivals within the past two years… It’s easy to kind of make your mark in a setting like that, where you’re clearly doing something different than everyone else. It helps to open up your fan base a little bit.

FP: You’re also playing at the Wanderlust Festival in July, which combines live music and yoga. Are you into it?

GT: I have never done yoga. [My tour manager David Scheid] is into yoga, and we’ve talked about it a bit. I’m potentially into it, I haven’t really done anything on that level… I don’t know what you would stereotype yoga people as listening to. So I shouldn’t say they’re not my typical crowd because I don’t know. That’s kind of the whole point of playing the festivals.

FP: On that note, do you have much say in choosing bands you’ve toured with, say the Death Set or Hearts of Darknesses? Those are very interesting choices.

GT: I like to go see a show and the openers are potentially doing something different than the headliner. So that way it doesn’t clash. When I do get a chance to pick a touring band, that’s what I try to go for. I don’t necessarily want to pick someone who’s going to be remixing pop music on a laptop. I want to pick someone who will get nuts and crazy on the same level as me.

FP: Do you think stuff like that is a challenge to your audience? Do you think people come in with expectations of what someone opening for Girl Talk would be, and then they’re like ‘oh man…’

GT: Yes, I definitely see that. I feel almost bad for my friends sometimes, and I try to make sure they understand what the crowd’s going to be like. As it’s progressed on, the crowd has gotten more diverse which is great, but it also means there are a lot more younger people there. Naturally… Night to night was really hard to predict how it would go down. Some nights, people would just go nuts to it and other nights people would have problems. It’s exciting because I come from more of an experimental and noise background, so occasionally at a show I will have a straight-up noise band open up. They will play fully well knowing they’re probably going to get booed and people will throw stuff.

FP: Have your parents been to your shows?

GT: Yeah. My parents have always kind of followed what I do. I was in a band prior to Girl Talk when I was in high school where I used to smash stuff and light fireworks at the audience, a very performance art-based thing. Girl Talk shows and Girl Talk music to them is so playful and refreshing and lighthearted compared to the high school days. The running joke in my family is that one show with my high school band, my mom ran out crying… seeing her son smashing stuff and going crazy, it was just too much for her to take.

FP: So that’s changed?

GT: Since then, they’ve been out to plenty of Girl Talk shows and they’re down with it… Thanksgiving, two years ago, they came out with my sister, who is four years older than me. It was her high school’s ten year reunion that night so she came out with a bunch of her high school friends who were all dressed up. They came to the show and were into it, but it was at a dodgy, smoky, trashy bar and they were clearly looking like outcasts there. At the end of the show… I decided to jump off the stage, and I actually dove over my dad’s head and I hit my face off my sister’s best friend’s shoulder. I fell to the ground, got up, and I had knocked my front left tooth out.

FP: Oh man…

GT: I got up and smiled because I felt something happen in my mouth, and my mom’s just like ‘Oh my god!’ It was a show with 200 people there, and my mom was like, ‘We’re takin’ you to the hospital!’ in front of the crowd. It was exciting, somewhat embarrassing, but beyond anything totally cool.

FP: Any stories about someone who you’ve sampled approaching you to comment on it?

GT: The coolest to me was, I had a show in Atlanta at this place called the MJQ Concourse. During the set, my sound guy came up onstage and said ‘Big Boi’s here’ in my ear. I was like ‘What?’ and he was like ‘Yeah, Big Boi is here. He’s hanging out in the visuals booth.’ I was kind of freaking out, so I started kicking Outkast on the fly as much as I could, and Big Boi’s solo stuff, remixes. The DJ booth was the only area in the club where you could kind of get some breathing room. So, Big Boi went up there and started hanging with my friends, and Andrew asked him if he wanted to run the visuals. Big Boi started running them. I was doing Outkast remixes on the fly while Big Boi was doing my visuals. That was a very surreal moment. Then after the show we got a chance to hang out and he was super cool. He mentioned he had seen me before and knew the drill.

FP: Last year you hilariously told MTV you’re planning a 24-hour set in 2012. Were you for real?

GT: I am excited about the potential of 2012. I’m not fully educated on the subject, so I don’t want to be a poser here. Some people have dedicated their whole lives to studying 2012 and what’s going to happen at the end of the Mayan calendar.

I feel like I wasn’t entirely truthful with what I said, but at this point I feel like I might have to go through with it. Enough people have asked me about it. I don’t know what it is, but on 2012, I hear that a good safe place to be is somewhere where bodies of water converge, like rivers coming together. And Pittsburgh, at the heart of the city, three rivers come together, and there is a little amphitheater you can play at right where the rivers converge. I would love to do a 2012 performance there. But I don’t know if I could actually pull off a 24 hour set, we’ll have to see.

FP: What else are you up to in the near future?

GT: Just working on lots of new music. I do remixes with my friend Frank under the name Trey Told ‘Em, and I really want to get that going a little more. One of our ideas for a long time that we haven’t done is make a catalog of beats, more hip-hop production, and just shop that around to see if anyone would be interested. We’re both big fans of studying the way a lot of hip-hop production goes down and being part of that. I’ve done remixed for people, but I’ve never actually just had something I could potentially sell for someone. That’s not something I’ve ever wanted to become dedicated to. I feel Girl Talk is always going to be the focus. I’m constantly fooling around and making beats, so I’d like to be a bit more proactive with that material.