Tuesday, July 29 at 3 p.m. ET

Girl Talk/Gregg Gillis On New Album, Music Industry

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CLICK TO PLAY AUDIO: How many songs can you name in this 90-second clip of Girl Talk's "Like This." (Audio and Photo courtesy of Girl Talk)

Gregg Gillis
Musician
Tuesday, July 29, 2008; 3:00 PM

Gregg Gillis, who goes by the stage name Girl Talk, was online Tuesday, July 29 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss his music, his new album, "Feed the Animals," the process of finding and mixing samples for his songs and distributing the album online.

A transcript follows.

A former biomedical engineer, Gillis's 2006 album "Night Ripper" made the best-of lists of Rolling Stone, SPIN, Blender and Pitchfork. "Feed the Animals" combines more than 300 samples in a little more than 50 minutes. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) used constituent Gillis, who lives in Pittsburgh, as an example of why sampling should be allowed under copyright law during a 2007 Congressional hearing.

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Washington, D.C.: When you make your music, are you making it primarily for people to just listen to and dance with at home, or do you also think that your music is something DJs can play in a club? Do you agree that a lot of DJs are hesitant to play your music because there's the idea that the songs aren't really "songs"? Does this idea bother you, or how would you respond to that idea?

Girl Talk: I really aim to make transformative music that becomes its own entity. So because of that, I'd like for DJs to be able to play it. DJs play plenty of music containing samples. DJs can play MARRS' "Pump up the Volume" and it's not weird at all.

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Girl Talk: Ideally, people could listen to my stuff at their home, on their headphones, or dancing with friends. My main interest is making tunes that people can sit down and listen to at home. I'm not trying to create any sort of perfect club mix. If I were, then it probably wouldn't be as ADD.

But, if DJs can play it, then that's awesome too.

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Washington, D.C.: Greg, Don't want to force any trade secrets, but was wondering if you could discuss your production process? I'm assuming you're not solely working with instrumental/acapella cuts, and I'm unaware of dedicated software that allows the clarity of isolation that you are able to present in your work. You're not subtracting channels, correct? I'm hoping the answer somehow involves your BME days. Have always enjoyed your music. Thanks!

Girl Talk: For the vocals, I almost always work with acapella cuts. These have become so widely available online that it makes it a lot easier on me. For instrumental segments, I primarily loop actual instrumental parts from songs. I do some degree of EQ'ing and tweaking in Adobe Audition with every sample.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you think some artists benefit from exposure your remix might bring them? I had never heard of Grizzly Bear until I heard your remix of "Knife."

Girl Talk: Absolutely! I get myspace messages every day, asking about particular sample sources. I always see very young people singing along to James Taylor at my shows. I know people are hunting down some of these samples after finding about about them.

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Washington, D.C.: Radiohead has already come out to say that they wouldn't offer another "pay what you want" album in the future. Given your experience with the profit margins and the amount of exposure afforded by the model, would you consider releasing another album this way?

Girl Talk: Definitely! I want to get the music out to as many people as quickly as possible. This seems like the easiest way to do it right now! Buying any form of music seems donation-based to me. If you are going to pick up a CD from a store, you are basically donating some cash to that cause, because most likely, you could just download it free. I'd rather be upfront with the people who are spending money as my music.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: I just moved back to the DC area after living in Colorado for four years. The Fox Theatre in Boulder has probably the best sound system I've ever experienced and I would have loved to have seen you there. The 9:30 Club in D.C. has one of the worst sound systems I've had to suffer through (totally ruined my Raconteurs experience). Do you have any say in where you get to play when you go on tour? What are your favorite venues?

Girl Talk: Yeah, it's always my call on the final "yes" or "no." I work with a booking agent, and we try to get around the entire country as much as possible. The Fox Theatre show was really insane. I just saw a YouTube video of the Jesus Lizard playing there in the '90s, and David Yow gets completely naked. But anyway, I've never played the 9:30 Club, but I have known of it for many years. I'll be touring with my own sound man so I'm sure we'll be good to go!

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Philadelphia: If an artist specifically states that the artist never wants his or her music mixed by another, would you respect the wishes of that artist?

Girl Talk: I'm not specifically trying to piss people off, so I would be open to requests like that. But if their work happened to fit perfectly into what I was doing, I'd probably still be open to using it if I thought it fell under Fair Use. It's a new era of communication between bands/musicians and consumers, I think some people don't see that yet. Maybe if they saw how their work was used in a particular transformative way, they'd be open to it. Good question!

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Yarmouth, Maine: Hi Gregg,

I am interested in making mash-up music similar to yours. I was curious if you have any advice for a beginning laptop artist (I use a mac for what it's worth) about what programs to use and where to get different samples-- or more specifically how you separate the vocals from the beats?

Thanks so much for any advice you can provide!

Girl Talk: I use Adobe Audition and Audiomulch. Audiomulch is PC only though, I think. My advice to you would be to find some programs that make sense to you and dive in. I've been doing this for 8 years, and I think a lot of the early years of experimental really helped me out in the long run.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: Do you think most people feel a moral imperative to pay for music? As a musician who's often been told "Yo, I downloaded your album off of Limewire and loved it," I've often wondered if people understand what they're doing when they illegally download.

As someone who allows people to "name their price" when buying your music, do you see more people paying 0.00 or an actual price?

Lastly...to end this diatribe, I'm a big fan of your work. Keep keeping on...

Girl Talk: I think the idea that people feel a moral imperative to pay for music is fading out. I'm 26, and I really like buying CD's because I grew up buying CD's. I think with young people right now, it doesn't make any sense for them to buy music. When you're a kid, you don't usually have money and you want to hear music. If it was there for the taking, I'd totally go for it.

Paying for physical media is just a product of the past 100 or so years. It's relatively new in the broad scope of things. Like I said, I love buying music, but I'm also excited to see that era die out to see what kind of change it will produce.

For me, all of the free downloads are the best thing that's ever happened. It helps spread that music, more and more people get to know about. If they really like it, then they can support it and buy it. If not, that's fine. Maybe they will come to the show or buy a T-shirt or whatever. Something like what I'm doing would never be at the level that it is without all of the file-sharing and blogs and all of that. Before the Internet, it was extremely difficult to make a living off of independent/underground music. It seems a lot more common now.

With the name your price thing, I don't have any specific stats on me, but I'm pretty sure that the majority of people got it for free. Which is cool to me.

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Arlington, Va.: Chat Organizer: Including a clip was a great idea, but including a clip that had samples that has samples would have been an outstanding idea.

Along those lines, my question is how does that decision get made, original v. 2nd generation hook? For example, track 10, "In Step" samples Jermaine Stewart's "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off", but it could have used Gym Class Heroes "Clothes Off!!"

Girl Talk: Yeah, there's a lot of that, not even intentionally many of the times. So much pop has been recycled that's almost impossible to avoid it. Basically, I fool around with whatever I'm listening to. Oftentimes, I understand that it's based on a sample, but I like it in the new context. For example, the Ice Cube "Check Yo Self" part, which samples Grand Master Flash "the Message." I liked the added drums in the Ice Cube version so I used that. Other times, I need to go to the original to get a more clean/isolated sample. Many people think I sampled Len's "Steal My Sunshine," but that piano loop is never actually isolated in that song. I love that loop, so I had get it from the original source, Andrew True Connection "More More More."

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Washington, D.C.: As an artist that makes the most of current methods in digital music, do you find the records you make to be somewhat altered, or your sound to be in some ways redefined, by new possibilities provided by emerging technologies in audio, or is it more a case of trying to find a way to make them work for you and your sound?

Thanks.

PS - I still can't believe you used "Autumn Sweater". That made my year.

Girl Talk: I've been sticking to the basics as far as music making programs go. I've been using the same two basic programs, since I started doing this in 2000. Many of my friends are involved with computer music and take advantage of all of the new shit that comes out, that's cool, but that's not really my thing. I just like to fully understand the programs that I choose to use. I used to be involved with more processing of sounds, and that heavily relied on what program I was using. Anymore, I try to keep it as basic as possible, I want it to be almost exclusively based around cutting and pasting.

But as new programs come out, I can definitely hear the influence in many bedroom producers' tunes. One popular program these days is Abelton Live, and I can definitely hear it's influence on many peoples' stuff, especially in many people who e-mail me about their own mashup/remix/etc. work.

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Chesterfield, N.H.: It's obvious that you took the idea of a free online download of your CD from Radiohead. Unlike Radiohead, whenever someone downloaded the CD for free a questionnaire popped up and asked why download for free. Why did you add this questionnaire?

Girl Talk: That was Illegal Art's idea. Those are the people who release my records. We were both just interested in it, on a kind of social experiment level. The so-called "Radiohead model" is novel, and we were trying to learn from it.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.C.: GG -- love both "Night Ripper" and "Animals," but to me, the best drop is going from the Carpenters into Metallica on "Animals." How often do you have that "a-ha!" moment where you realize that something you really, really want to work actually does?

Also, my friend Kidtronik is opening for you in Nashville (I think) in October. Look out for him...he's good people!

Girl Talk: Thanks! It's funny that you mentioned that part because there were a few variations of it that I was playing with before making the final decision. Initially, there was a segment, with the introduction from Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode" in between the Carpenters and Metallica. But when I removed it, I loved the way it clashed together. I go through so many different combinations that don't work. I want them all to work! But they don't. So when it sounds good to me, it's a big relief! Just like, "Finally!"

I'm huge fan of CX Kidtronik. I've played with him in the past and personally asked him to be apart of that tour. All of the bands I'm playing with for that tour are friends of mine, actually.

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Old Guy Remix Fan Here: I've dug what I've heard of your work, but can you throw us old-timers a bone every now and then? Most of the time I have no idea what's playing.

Or is that the point?

Girl Talk: Haha, seriously!? My dad is 64 and jams the new album! It opens with Spencer Davis Group! Seriously though, I seem to use more older music these days. I keep getting deeper into the past. So maybe I'll make something a bit more up your alley very soon!

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NYC: Gregg I heard about you from an interview on either Fresh Air or This American Life and I bought the CD.

I love the music/your work and art. It is amazing what can be done with sampling. It strikes me as near impossible to know that much music and then put seemingly disparate samples together to make a single piece of music. And then putting it together. How hard is it to do that? Is it because you got an A in biochemistry? Or you know the Krebs Cycle by heart?

Also do those you sample respect your work and art?

Should I buy tickets for the live show in NJ in August? I hear the live show is off the hook.

Girl Talk: I love all of the aritsts that I sample!

I have no formal training in music. The music is rarely intuitive to me. It's just a long trail and error process. Maybe it's the engineering background? I don't know! I just found that if I'm willing to spend hours and hours on it, then I can produce something somewhat interesting.

The All Points West festival should get pretty insane!

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Atlanta: What's the name of the Mac program you use when you splice/mash songs together?

I saw your show at MJQ in Atlanta over a year ago, and had one of the best nights of my life. Just wanted to say thanks for that... it was the first of many, and my absolute favorite show of yours that I have seen to date. There was definitely a special energy in the venue that night.

Girl Talk: I use a PC. It's Audiomulch for the live show, organization, and sequencing. I use Adobe Audition for sampling and beat making.

Thanks! MJQ was a little while back! It was very wet!

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Philadelphia: I love your shows! Is it hard for you to concentrate on your music when there are so many people on stage? What exactly are you doing with your laptop, anyway?

Girl Talk: Hey! Yes, it's very hard to concentrate sometimes! I like it to be a celebration though, so I'm with it.

I trigger every sample by hand. Everything is as isolated as possible. There's a bunch of loops, for like a hand clap, a melody, vocals, hit hat, kick drums, etc. Everytime you hear a change in the music, it's me triggering those samples. Even when you hear music from the same song transition from a verse part to a chorus, I have to mute one sample and cue up another. If you ever see me leave from behind the laptop, you will notice that the same piece of music will loop over and over.

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Charlottesville, Va.: How long does it take you to create a song?

Girl Talk: For the past two albums, I build them as one big piece of music. Those took me two years each.

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Alexandria, Va.: For your last album you went the Radiohead route and did the whole pay what you want to play thing. I was just wondering if this was more profitable for you or do you see your albums as more of a promotional tool to racket up interest whenever you perform live, since I would assume that's where the money and the fun is.

Girl Talk: I never intended for this to be a career, and even though I'm living off of it now, I try to not to be concerned on how to sustain it. So for me, the music, the albums, the touring, all of that, it's about getting these things that I've created out to as many people as possible. I want to make the best album I can make. I'd love to make a classic piece of music, if possible. That's every musicians' dream.

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Bethesda, Md.: Has anyone given you upwards of $1000 to show their gratification for your "pay as you like" CD and could you have made a lot more money distributing the CD through traditional ways?

Girl Talk: Someone dropped $50 the first day! I don't think anyone has come close to the $1000 mark though!

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Chesterfield, N.H.: Since you've started performing live, you've built up a reputation that a party travels with your live performances. Do you like having this association? And how has this affected your music?

Girl Talk: Sure. It's definitely celebration/party style music. I make music every week, preparing for upcoming live shows. The responses at those shows heavily influences what I make. It's impossible to ignore it, even if I wanted to.

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Your Name: Did you take the name to honor Nick Lowe and/or Elvis Costello?

Girl Talk: I'm honoring Tad.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you have to pay royalties for all the samples you use? Is there any sort of licensing agreement with artists you sample?

Girl Talk: There's a doctrine called Fair Use in United States copyright law that allows people to sample without asking for permission if the work falls under certain subjective criteria, things like whether it's transformative, how it impacts the sample sources' potential sales, etc.

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Arlington, Va.: Gregg,

What qualities are you looking for in music you sample? And are there any genres in particular that you'd like to explore further?

Girl Talk: It's basically whatever I'm jamming to at the moment. Isolated parts, such as a guitar solo and drum breakdown, are easy to layer and collage. I want to get into classical music more.

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Washington, D.C.: I know that you add in little pieces of your own work into the albums that you make.

Would you ever, or have you ever thought of expanding on that? Would you throw in a song that was your music that you created.

Don't get me wrong. I think you make your own songs. But would you consider not sampling other artists for a song or album?

Girl Talk: On my album from 2006, "Night Ripper, " there's some keyboard/synth parts on the track "Hold Up" and on the last song "Peak Out" that are original instrumentation.

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Washington, D.C.: Talking to my friends, everyone has their favorite moment on "Feed the Animals." Mine is when you mash up Big Country and Tag Team. Do you have a favorite moment on the album?

Girl Talk: Hey, it's 4 p.m. everyone so I have to run. Thanks! Nice chatting! I haven't been in a chat room since '99.

My favorite moment on "Feed The Animals" is probably the 0.25 seconds of Veruca Salt right before the "Jesse's Girl" chorus. I like cramming the smallest elements in, especially when they sound natural.

Good night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Penn Hills, Pa.: What's it like for your congressman, the aforementioned Mike Doyle, to mention your name in a speech on the floor of Congress? Have you met him? How'd he find out about you?

Girl Talk: I ate hog dogs with him in Pittsburgh. He's very cool!

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Old Guy Remix Fan Again: And I'm proud to say that I first heard of you in the Wall Street Journal!

Girl Talk: Yes!!!!!!!

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