Your (scattered) attention, please. Girl Talk is going to talk a bit about girls (and women, too). His music would be half as entertaining at best without the presence of XX-chromosome humans in the mix. But before we get to that important topic, a brief introduction.
Girl Talk (Pennsylvania-based Gregg Gillis) graduated from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University with a biomedical engineering degree in 2004. When he began playing out, he came off like a Midwestern Kid606—all manic, glitched-out IDM blurts with julienned pop and rap samples ricocheting at great velocity. Beginning with 2006's Night Ripper, Girl Talk became the mashup king, lacing dissimilar songs in brief conjugations to create a ceaseless stream of nostalgia triggers and shocks of the new—all at once.
He honed this attention-deficit-disorder MO on subsequent full-lengths Feed the Animals and All Day, using his engineer's scientific rigor to manifest ultimate party mixes that put decades' worth of radio fodder into a smart blender. One of Girl Talk's greatest talents is layering raps over unlikely musical foundations, typically soft-rock passages, punk tunes, or metal riffs. (Check out Biggie rapping "Juicy" verses over Quincy Jones's "Summer in the City" and Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" in "Smash Your Head.") Consequently, dozens of people mob the stage every time he performs live.
When you're creating tracks, do you think in terms of trying to strike a balance between male and female artists?
I definitely think of a balance of diversity in general. With the shows and the albums, that's a big thing—jumping around as much as possible while trying to keep it cohesive. It's nice to put them in calculated spots throughout the album to keep it moving. If I'm gonna sample Kelly Clarkson on a record singing, then I probably wouldn't sample another female pop vocalist back-to-back, if possible. The records are extremely calculated, but I like to keep the flow seeming unpredictable, in a way that will seem logical after you kind of digest it. Getting a certain amount of female content is a high priority, to a degree.
When you select a track by a female artist, what qualities are you looking for? Is it different from what you're seeking from male artists?
It's hard to pinpoint any specific qualities—just a very vague sense. The first thing with all of this is it has to be music I like. I happen to be a fan of a lot of music made by women or fronted by women. I'm a big fan of a lot of female rap and grew up listening to a lot of female-focused rock music, a lot of stuff from the '90s.
As far as rap music goes, oftentimes the female vocalists I've sampled are very precise and their flow is very technical. That's something that's needed sometimes, ranging from Nicki Minaj to Dominique Young Unique to more underground people. But even going back to Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown and people like that, I feel like they have a very technical, precise style that really works with what I'm going for. I like the vocals to work off the rhythm, first and foremost, with the rap vocals finding a connection between the flow and the rhythm of another song. So when people are spitting hard or being technical, that is more exciting and engaging. It gives me more to work with. That's definitely apparent on my last record [All Day], with vocals from Rihanna—people who are spitting pretty hard and combining it with a lot of different styles of music.
You seem to have a predilection for R&B divas and female rappers whose lyrics skew toward raunchy. Is this part of your overall strategy?
Yeah. When I put together the albums, I'm not thinking about how they'd function in the club, but I do think about it being fun and potentially something you could celebrate or party to. Sometimes, lyrics that are more party-related can lead to the raunchier side. I think that's a big component. The last record ended on UGK's "One Day," so at times there are very heartfelt bars on the record. There are definitely no rules, but yeah, in the shows, stuff that's a little more lighthearted can work into it, and that ties into the more vulgar lyrics.
A common tactic you use is to pitch up male singers' voices so they sound like women. What is the rationale behind that? Is it because you're pitching up everything to give the track more oomph, so the vocals naturally go up, too?
That is part of it. I perform on a program called AudioMulch, and when you're putting loops in there, it pitches it depending on the tempo. When putting together the music, I do like some level of dissonance to it—where it doesn't sound exactly like it could be on the radio. I mean, there's so much pitch-shifting on the radio, but I like the quirkiness of that, both with vocals dropped down and screwed and chopped, as well as things that are pitched up. Even on my earlier records, oftentimes I was going after a more technical sound influenced by what was going on in IDM. The pitched-up vocals and increasing the tempo allowed it to sound more technical. Just changing the cadence and pitch a little bit allows me to put my own stamp on it and take it a little further away from the original context.
Who are your favorite female musicians, both from a sampling standpoint and just for pure listening?
Sampling standpoint, I always love working with Lil' Kim vocals. She's also one of my favorite all-time female musicians. One of the more underrated female rappers is Diamond—who used to be in Crime Mob—that's someone I've sampled a lot over the years. Outside of that, there are a lot of rock musicians that I haven't sampled that I really like. I've always been a fan of Bikini Kill, and it may be uncool to say in Seattle, but I've always liked Hole. I really like Pretty on the Inside and Live Through This. Sorry if that's sacrilegious in Seattle.
We'll try to forgive you, Gregg.