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Girl Talk

All Today's Parties

Sep 01, 2008 Fall 2008 - Jenny Lewis Photography by Crackerfarm Bookmark and Share

“I still question it, because I feel like anyone can make great music,” replies Gregg Gillis when asked about his status as the current king of mash-up remixes, the leading face in the most faceless of musical movements. Only a few days after the online-only release of Feed the Animals, his much-anticipated followup to 2006’s breakthrough Night Ripper, Gillis is in a grateful mood. After all, just over two years ago, he was working a day job, thrilled to be performing for crowds of 30 in his native Pittsburgh. Now he regularly plays to packed sweaty dance clubs and strips to his boxers for festival crowds, his latest album’s confounding avalanche of highly recognizable samples is lovingly dissected within minutes of the album’s availability for free download, and his name has even come up before the U.S. Congress regarding copyright and fair use. But sitting on a sunny park bench outside of his Pittsburgh apartment, cars on blocks across the street, it’s easy to imagine that nothing has changed at all.

“In high school, I was in a noise band, and it was very confrontational, and the goal was to piss people off and elicit responses,” he says. “If you come from that background, your goal is never for people to like you. You want people to talk about you or to generate thought, but never to like you,” he laughs, having just constructed an album with the exact opposite approach. “All of my records have gotten more accessible, and it is always like you go after a certain idea, and you want to make things with a certain level of difficulty and a certain amount of accessibility. I think I’ve gotten way better at it, to the point that I’m more in control of what I’m making, as opposed to the past where it would be more random.”

A truly postmodern 21st-century collage, re-imagining and recontextualizing the music of everyone from Lil’ Wayne and Radiohead to Rod Stewart and Vanilla Ice, Feed the Animals is an irony-free amalgam of laptop auteur gamesmanship and name-that-reference immediacy. Nirvana, Britney Spears, Missy Elliott—it’s all fair game, no matter how obvious or immediately recognizable the hook. If Night Ripper was an unlikely party starter for indie-rock kids who winked at its obscure references and apparent lowbrow audacity, Feed the Animals is disarming in its all-embracing love of Top 40 pop.

“With the new one, I wanted to take it more over the top, to be more pop,” Gillis explains. “I also wanted it to be more listenable and accessible but also more involved. The whole point of this is to make a really elaborate, excessive collage. Those things fight each other. If you’re making something that’s really technically challenging, a lot of times it’s not listenable….I wanted more weird time changes, and I wanted to make sure it was as smooth as possible….The goal for me is to make new music, and it is a challenge.”

Lest you forget that making a mash-up record is work, Gillis is quick to reiterate that he spent over two years working on the album’s final mixes, working through some 9,000 loops and hundreds of permutations before settling on the perfect 43 minutes. By his own admission, he was a bit unnerved by the attention that he knew would meet his latest experiment, and for the first time he sent mixes to his most trusted friends, asking for opinions on his rough drafts. But while he could have made his life easier by simply making an inscrutable and impenetrable piece of avant-garde sound sculpture, he pushed in the opposite direction, making an album that everyone with a passing familiarity with pop music could intuitively grasp.

“If you mine some old, obscure sample and flip it and no one has any reference to it, it’s very easy for that to be perceived as a new entity because no one knows what it is. I want to flip this song you’ve heard a million times and make it my own,” he says firmly. “I think for this style of continuous mix album, I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do,” he continues, coming as close to self-congratulation as any point during the interview. “I’m 26 now, and I can’t imagine playing shows at the level that I am doing now past 30. I used to have a day job, and I imagine that I’ll go back to that eventually. I’ll make music forever—I’m confident in that—but I’ll be happy for this to run its course. I want to enjoy this year, and past that I don’t really care. I don’t have career goals for this. It has gone way beyond what I expected,” Gillis says, smiling. “At this point, I’ve hit as heavy as I can hit.”


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