Interview w/ Girl Talk

The appropriator of all things "pop".

Girl Talk puts hipsters and thugs hand-in-hand with ease,

operating in the realm only fans' imaginations have stepped into.

That realm of "what if".

What if Young Jeezy and Kurt Cobain hung out in the studio?

What if Biggie Smalls had been chums with Elton John?

Imagination becomes reality before your ears, thanks to Girl Talk.

Here's my unedited interview with him.

A much, much shorter version will be in the Coast within a couple weeks,

but I wanted to share this one, hopefully it's not too lengthy for y'all.

RH: Where are you at now?

GT: I’m at my home in Pittsburgh for a couple of days… Can you hold on a second, someone’s knocking on my front door.

GT: [after a few moments] Hey.

RH: Hey, it’s okay to talk?

GT: Yeah. A delivery guy had a little treat for my dog - blew my mind.

RH: That’s awesome.

When I describe your music to people I usually just say: “If you like music, you’ll like Girl Talk” – Do you agree with that at all?

GT: I could disagree with it. I think it’s the sort of thing that references a lot of music, so if you like pop music in general, you may like a lot of the music I reference, but I try to make something transformative out of the source material. So, I meet people who may hate the source material but kind of like where it goes and what it becomes and then I’m sure other people would like to listen to pop music or the same kind of influence but don’t like the way I put it together. I think the reference point is like that with any music where you have the influence and if they’re referencing the influence you have as well. So, since I sampled so many things in the pop spectrum, and the majority of people like something within that world, at the very least I feel like people are probably into something that I’m into.

RH: Have you ever met anybody who’s strongly opposed to what you do?

GT: Yeah, not necessarily face-to-face as much as on the Internet – which is exciting. I’d much rather make music that surprises people and gets other people really excited, as opposed to something that a lot of people feel in the middle of the road about. I’ve read things where people don’t like the pacing of it or the style, they think it takes no creativity or it’s the end of music. People obviously are going to hate on it on various levels.

RH: I read that you started out more-or-less trying to kind of make music like Kid606’s, why’d you eventually choose a more accessible, accepting method with your songs?

GT: I think it kind of just evolved. That was about 9 years, I was 18, naturally I’m still into those things. I’m still into my first records. But simultaneously, your tastes grow a bit and develop. In high school I was into really experimental music. When I started Girl Talk, I didn’t want to make anything with a steady beat. No beats at all, just completely avant-garde music.

And then I think during my college years I really grew into the idea and saw the power of something that is accessible in parties and different scenarios. I went out to more events where dance music became appealing, I mean I was always a fan of hip-hop. I think I saw what context my music could function within. And I think over the years I grew more comfortable with making something accessible, and as that happened I grew away from the experimental and more into the pop, the actual things I was sampling. But I definitely see from the first records where it relates with the newest records. It’s still in the same ballpark but with a different approach.

RH: So would you say what you set out to accomplish when you started differs with your goal nowadays?

GT: I’d say overall it’s somewhat similar. The albums and the live shows are two different things for me. In the live shows I’m focused more on the functionality of it and trying to make people dance. As far making the albums goes, I was aiming for a whole different genre back then. I was aiming to make experimental, glitch music and now I’m aiming to make pop music.

At the same time it’s loosely the same goal, taking something that’s familiar and make something that’s new out of it. And even with the new album when I’m trying to make something that’s accessible, the ultimate goal is to make something like people have never heard before. Something you can listen to and enjoy but also is pushing things further and introducing things you may not be familiar with. So I think that goal is still the same - I still just want to make something creative, new; something that people will talk about and get people excited.

RH: What compels you to manipulate and change the average pop song?

GT: Initially, I just heard other people doing it. I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop: Public Enemy, NWA, Beastie Boys, whatever. You just start to understand that sampling is an instrument. Once I got into people like John Oswald, Kid606 or Negativland, it’s just always exciting. I feel like it’s a cool, kind of all-music.

I feel like a lot of times when you hear a new song or band and it sounds like something you’ve never heard before, a lot of times that’s just an idea recontextualized from the past put into this new light - it becomes something powerful. I thought doing that very directly, taking previously existing recordings, songs people know, and just doing whatever you want with them – manipulating, cutting up, slowing down, combining them with other elements – I always thought that was just something very enjoyable.

I think it’s like being in a band, when you play your drums fast then you’re referencing The Ramones who you may love and that’s why you like playing this up-tempo song. I feel like it’s fair game to take the drum sound of The Ramones and make something completely new out of it, almost like you’re collaborating with these artists.

RH: I see you as this kind of appropriator of all music, but are there any kinds music you dislike?

GT: Um, I like certain things more than others. A lot of the stuff I might not like on a surface level I at least try to challenge myself to get into or at least understand why people like it. Things that I don’t throw into my CD player or want to listen to everyday, someone is listening to it, someone loves it, someone thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world. I just try to respect that viewpoint more-or-less. I believe in having personal taste and I obviously have no problem with people liking or disliking something better.

At the same time, I don’t think my personal taste is correct. It’s weird to me as you come towards the end of 2010 and people are making the best of lists and someone’s like: “This is the best album of these 10 years” – that just seems silly to me, everyone has individual experiences. It’s hard to just say: “this is good, this is bad, this is better than this”. I really just don’t see music on that level. I can honestly say I try to like everything that I hear -it’s super rare if I don’t take any of it in and am completely against it. I haven’t faced that point yet in music.

RH: Has your process for creating music affected the way you passively listen to music?

GT: A little bit. Sometimes things jump out at me, but I can kind of get in and out of the mode of hunting for a sample. Sometimes I have a four-hour drive by myself and I have some upcoming shows the next weekend and maybe I need some hip-hop in the set or some old funk or some 80s. All the time the shows can be changed or improved or something’s missing. So that’s what’s going on, I’m always looking for that next sample.

In that mode I’m not really listening to music, it’s like I’m looking for something. But also when I’m just jamming tunes, often things jump out at me, but it doesn’t interfere with enjoying the music. A lot of times I’ll just hear a drum break or a keyboard solo or vocals and I’ll say, “oh, I could work with this”. Within Girl Talk I try to sample what’s in the top 40s, but when I’m at home I like listening to full albums at a time, and sampling is the last thing on my mind. I’ll sample anything but I try to work within that radio world.

RH: Yeah, I was curious if the pacing of your music reflects aspects of your life and how you live outside your music.

GT: I think it just reflects my preferred aesthetic in electronic music. I really grew up with Kid606, Aphex Twin, or Squarepusher. I like all these artists because they’re so quickly edited, it seems skillful how it’s cut up but cohesive. So I try to apply that whole sound to collaging pop music. And I also like a lot of technical music like prog-rock – like Yes and Rush. When you listen to a Yes album there may be a 12-minute track on there that’s changing every 30 seconds.

So, you could technically call that low attention span music, or it could be long attention span music because it’s a 12-minute piece of music you listen to as a whole. That’s why I think I’ve made the past two albums as whole albums. I think you could argue either way, because it’s constantly changing and there are all these reference points, but the last album is 50 minutes and I made it as a whole.

RH: Yeah, I always feel that way when I listen to a single track from Night Ripper or something - it feels too abstract.

GT: Yeah, it’s a funny thing to me because I build it as a whole and spend two years making this album, and then actually breaking it up and naming the tracks takes me like, half a day. It almost undermines the whole process. I do it because it makes it easier to listen to, but it definitely takes away from it.

RH: Have there been any songs you've wanted to use but failed to be able to incorporate into your mash-ups?

GT: Yeah, I’d say the majority of stuff I’ve sampled doesn’t see the light of day. I cut up a lot of songs and you can find something that fits pretty easily, but I’m just a little obsessive compulsive about where things should fit. A lot of times I’ll cut up vocals or a guitar line and I’ll try it out with like 200 different combinations of material, and maybe two will stick out for me. And from there I might try to introduce it to a show one night and I may just not like the way people respond and that could be the end of it. I think on the album, for every sample I include, there’s probably five or ten that don’t see the light of day.

And off the top of my head I can think of a few songs that didn’t make it to Feed The Animals, the Cars song “Drive”, which is one of my favorite songs. I’ve used it a lot over the years and love the way it works, but where it fit into the whole thing I felt like there was too much slower 80s content. So even though that’s one of my favorite songs, it just didn’t work there. So there are a lot of things on my computer - in making Feed The Animals there’s literally hundreds of variations on material that could’ve made it but didn’t. In the live setting it’s exciting because I love to come out and do remixes of the album; remixes of the remixes. It kind of displays to people how this never ends, there’s never a final point and things continue to evolve.

RH: Do you have any advice for the people of Halifax on how to prepare for the Girl Talk experience?

GT: There’s kind of a specific etiquette at the shows and sometimes people have a hard time getting it. I like to invite people on stage and I like to get into the crowd and the point of that whole activity for me is to make sure that the barrier is broken down between the crowd and the performer. Ideally, at my favorite shows, you forget where you’re at. You don’t pay attention to being in the eighth row, you just lose yourself and you’re part of that show.

But yeah, sometimes people get confused and they think that being at the front or getting on stage is the pinnacle of being at a Girl Talk performance. But for me the whole point is to allow everyone to be on the same plane and wherever you’re at is a great spot. My best shows are always the ones where the people at the back are going nuts. I always feel the best about my shows where it’s going off everywhere, so I’d say that wherever you’re at is a good spot.

There is no better spot. You make your area as insane as you want to make it. Don’t sweat about getting two rows closer.

RH: But do worry about… sweat.

GT: Definitely hydrate.

RH: And music-wise are there any brand new creations we can expect to hear?

GT: Yeah, I’d say about half the material is new - or at least reinterpretations of things from the past. I don’t want to give away too much, I feel like there’s a more extended Isley Brothers remix I’ve been doing near the end of shows where I can focus on one particular song for 2-5 minutes depending on what’s going on.

RH: Feed The Animals came out kind of before Drake and all these new school rappers, can we expect to hear some of them in the new tracks?

GT: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been working on the new Drake track [“Forever”] and I’ve actually never played that live yet and so I’ve cut that up and just need to find where that fits. I’ve also done some remixes of “Best I Ever Had” in the past few months.

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