Girl Talk knows he won’t necessarily get your money, but anything you could spare would be greatly appreciated. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Greg Gillis (AKA Girl Talk) has an impressive record collection, surely the envy of audiophiles and compulsive hoarders the world over. Just listen to the first minute of Play Your Part (Pt. 1) from his latest album, Feed The Animals. You don’t make a song that samples Roy Orbison, Twisted Sister, Outkast, Temple Of The Dog and Pete Townshend without a vast wealth of vinyls and CDs. Skimming the top of Rolling Stone’s Hot List just won’t do.
I envision Gillis’s Pittsburgh apartment with records spilling out of every shelf, nook and cranny, in various states of organization and categorization reminiscent of Rob Gordon’s hovel in the film High Fidelity (or, of Rob ‘Fleming’, if you’re one of those staunch literary elitists who never believe a screen adaptation could surpass the book… well, screw you, Jack Black takes his snobbish musical nazi character to new heights, and Cusack’s plays a pretty convincing self-loather… while we’re on the subject, the ending in the film version Fight Club was better too, so there). Where were we? We’re talking about the buying practices influencing the creation of mash-up masterpieces from Girl Talk, music that’s almost as fun to listen to and play ‘spot the sample’ as it is to generate or build-up a party.
“I love going to the record store, because I buy a lot of mainstream music, Top 40 stuff,” he says, validating my theory that Greg is, at the centre of it all, a pop fan that just wants to hear things in a different way. “But I also get my a lot of stuff at the local independent stores, there’s one close to me called ‘Paul’s’, that’s where I get my more underground things.”
“Whenever I’m on tour,” he adds, “I’m always picking up new music, even at Walmart or Best Buy or something. Always stopping in on tour, picking up whatever I can. I don’t really collect digital music; I only have a few mp3’s on my computer. Any chance I get to walk into a CD store, I have a hard time walking out empty handed.”
2008 may well go down in musical history as the year that music makers, promoters, vendors and companies at large subtly began to admit that they no longer have any idea about how to make money from music. Institutions closed, record companies folded and big bands began taking their livelihood into their own hands, cutting out the middleman and selling their product straight to the listeners. Radiohead’s ‘pay what you feel’ system for In Rainbows was more of an experiment than a runaway success, (ok, it was late 2007… but work with me here) while Trent Reznor’s free downloadble ‘album’ was effectively 27 minutes of ambient noise, a thinly-veiled promotion for the next album and tour.
It’s all well and good for these two acts to rally against the corporate machine of music after a decade of support from their labels, but applying the same honour system to release Girl Talk’s Feed The Animals (fans could download the entire album for free of his record label’s website as long as they gave a reason, but they could also pay US$5 for a FLAC download or US$20 for a physical copy) took guts, balls, and whatever else people who make brave decisions possess. I’m sure Greg isn’t going hungry tonight, but he’s never made a chart-topping money-raker like OK Computer or Downward Spiral to fall back on if it all fell to shit. Are you mad, sir?
“The initial idea was from the label, Illegal Art, and when they threw it out to me I thought it was great,” he says. “I am all about being upfront with the people who buy my music and come to shows; it just seemed to acknowledge reality.”
“I know as soon it gets online, whether I’m selling it for $10 or zero dollars, people can get it for free, so why not acknowledge that?” he poses. “We said ‘ok, we know you can get it for free, but, if you want throw some money at us, that’s fantastic. That’s what music’s becoming anyway, even releasing a CD in 2008 is asking for a donation. You know that anyone with a computer can get it for free, so why not basically say what it is, and maybe have people respect you for that?”
When you see Girl Talk live coaxing the audience to join him onstage – because, when you get down to it, watching one skinny computer kid bounce around a laptop is not as much fun as it sounds – having 50 years of popular music distilled down to 30 second chunks has an effect that circumvents the cerebral and goes straight for the body.
But listening to it at home in isolation, through headphones or car speakers, picking out the sources of each snippet is just as entertaining. Musical trainspotting is the phrase an associate applied to it, which is as eloquent as he normally gets without dropping a profanity in there. Well Greg, which one works best for you? The venue or the verandah? The club or the couch? The party or the party that no-one else attends?
“It’s funny, I’ve heard that a lot, but I never really think of it like that,” he says with a chuckle. “I completely understand that now, but when I put it together, I think the influence of moving so quickly was from the electronic music I was listening to, like Squarepusher where it’s always moving but it’s cohesive.
“I’ve heard stuff like drinking games revolving around spotting samples and things like that, so that makes sense now,” he laughs. “I think there are so many different angles you can take with sampling, you can use it as an instrument. An example is the difference between my work and The Avalanches, they’re doing something amazing, I’m a big fan of their work…There’s not that many people focusing on it, so when you see the success that they’ve had, I get really excited.”
You read correctly, he even knows The Avalanches, home-grown electronic maestros who’ve been working on the follow-up to Since I Left You for eight years. I hope they’re not still looking for an album title, because Chinese Democracy has been taken. Either way, Girl Talk is a party in the head, and in the booty.
Girl Talk will bring the party to the Melbourne leg of The Laneway Festival, taking place around the Caledonian lane/Lonsdale St precinct of the city on Sunday February 1 and hits The Prince Bandroom for a sideshow on Thursday February 5. Of course, however, it’s sold out. In your face. So, you better go see him at Laneway. Feed The Animals is out now through Illegal Art/Inertia.