-Adam Perry, a CC guest blogger, writes for Boulder Weekly, Denver Westword and his own blog Beautiful Buzz
Hello to Pittsburgh from Boulder, CO! Seeing Girl Talk — probably the best Pittsburgh act since Don Cab and certainly the most popular since Rusted Root — the other night at Red Rocks was pretty special for a Pittsburgh native like me, especially when one of his co-horts came out in a basketball jersey with the Steelers logo on it.
Girl Talk is a controversial music star, making a career of stealing snippets of famous songs and dancing in the crowd while his hybrid creations boom out of professional sound-systems, but one thing is certain: Greg Gillis is really an amazing story: a white kid from Bridgeville who is now an international sensation, selling out big venues and headlining festivals not as a musician, not as a DJ, but as a computer mash-up wunderkind. I recently got to interview Gillis for part of a Boulder Weekly cover story on the Monolith Festival at Red Rocks and thought I’d share the unabridged interview on this, my older brother’s rising Pittsburgh arts blog. Hope you enjoy!
Adam Perry: I went to high school in Bethel Park, PA and have since lived in San Francisco, Boulder and Santa Fe. What’s it like in Pittsburgh now? I’ve heard there seems to be an art and music scene popping up there – do you feel like that’s true, and if so…do you feel like you’re a part of it?
Girl Talk (Greg Gillis): Awesome! I went to Chartiers Valley! CV Colts baby. Pittsburgh rules. The Steelers won the Super Bowl. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup. We’ve had an unstoppable year. There’s always been a healthy art and music scene here. I started to go to local shows around 1996, and I’ve been exposed to a lot of great shit. Back then, I was into Operation Re-Information, the 1985, Don Cabellero, and a bunch of others. I was able to start a band where we basically just smashed stuff and threw fireworks at the audience, and people embraced it to a certain degree. It was a great place to grow up musically. And it’s still going strong today with local acts: Grand Buffet, Wiz Khalifa, Centipede E’est, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Modey Lemon, and so on. I’m friends with many of those people, and I play shows with them. Everyone is connected to some degree.
AP: Did you grow up listening to hip-hop, or just lots of different stuff? I’m curious as to how a kid from Bridgeville ends up on bills with people like the GZA.
Girl Talk: I grew up listening to hip hop and lots of other stuff. I got into hip hop initially, from Kriss Kross to Public Enemy. My mind was melted by Nirvana a couple years later and then I followed up with more underground material. Who wasn’t jamming “36 Chambers” when it came out?
AP: Do you play lots of instruments, or do you focus on being a DJ? I’m wondering if your mind now works in a different way while listening to music – are you ever able to just enjoy a single song, or are you just picking out what you might be able to co-opt?
Girl Talk: I don’t play anything other than a computer. I’ve never really considered myself a DJ. If I played the drums, I imagine that I would possibly focus on the drums when listening to Led Zeppelin, but that wouldn’t me I couldn’t enjoy it too. So when I’m listening to pop music, things are always jumping out at me to sample, but it doesn’t take away from the music.
AP: Monolith is a big festival at arguably the best outdoor venue in the United States – some say the world – but do you prefer playing in packed clubs? What are some good outdoor concert experiences you’ve had so far?
Girl Talk: I’ve had a summer full of festivals; it’s definitely different than the club experience, but I don’t think you can compare the two. Just an entirely different thing. I think both have benefits and setbacks. I grew up playing smaller venues, naturally, so that’s where the project will always be grounded. But I love doing the large outdoor thing. It’s refreshing. I saw Lil’ Wayne this summer in Pittsburgh outdoors, and that was a great outdoor concert experience. He nailed it. There were some great homemade T-shirts there.
AP: The last time you headlined in Boulder, a bunch of my friends from out of town were all excited to see you at the Fox and then left early because the overflow crowd of obnoxious C.U. frat guys surprised and annoyed them. How have you seen your audience evolving recently, as you gain more mainstream attention?
GT: Sure, I love it. I love the audience expanding. As you gain popularity, it’s going to become a more diverse collection of people. I don’t want there to be any rules as to what you’re supposed to look or act like to be at the show. If people are uncomfortable, then great.