10 Minutes with Girl Talk

An interview with Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk at the Catalpa NYC music festival on July 29, 2012.

We've always assumed that Gregg Gillis, the mash-up master more commonly known as Girl Talk, would be a pretty cool guy to hang out with. Not only does he have the art of throwing a dance party down to a science (literally — the former engineer triggers hundred of samples, loops, and beats live on this laptop at each show), his taste in music — which ranges from '80s classics, to tunes from the Clueless soundtrack, to great old school hip-hop — suggests that he's as obsessed with all things pop culture as we are. We sat down with Gregg before his performance at the Catalpa NYC festival, and discussed everything from the evolution of his Girl Talk sweatsuit ensemble, to the craziest thing he's seen a fan wear to his show (spoiler alert: it's nothing). Read on for all of the fun!

One of our favorite things about your performances is the element of nostalgia. Is there an era of pop culture or music that brings particularly great memories back to you?

Yeah, I feel like it's like this for most people — it's when I was a teenager in the '90s. Nirvana is my favorite band, and then rap like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Public Enemy, and that whole era. I love going back and exploring every era of music and I like them in different ways, but I think what hits you when you're 12 and 13 — when you're just open and not too cynical or anything at that point — it can hit you in a sincere way, in a way that's hard to be matched for the rest of your life.

Obviously you have an encyclopedic knowledge of music, but are there any other areas of pop culture that you're really into?

I love all pop culture — I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night, and I go to the movies once a week almost. I like movies on the same level as I like music and I try to absorb as much as possible — so it ranges from, like, checking out the Katy Perry movie to getting into the classic '70s horror films. I do like TV even though I don't watch much of it, so I do little bits and pieces. TV like takes a lot of time, so I'll pick up a series every six months or something.

Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet?

For me it's a weird thing because I technically work on the computer on music, and so at any given moment I can go check my e-mail or look on Facebook or whatever. I really love WordStarHipHop.com where they release all the new rap videos, so I just click refresh all day long. I like watching interviews with people, and there's an aspect of the music that I do where I don't have to hear anything, it's visual, and I'm quantitizing the audio, so I listen to other music while I'm doing it. I love listening to interviews, with rappers specifically; it's what occupies most of my day. So, yeah, I'm pretty obsessed.

You've developed this signature look — you always come onstage in a hoodie and sweatpants. How did this style come to be?

I think it was pretty much function over form — I am a fan of sweatpants, and I wear them all the time, but I'm never like, "This look is awesome!" In the early days, there were some different eras of outfits before I kind of got going on this one.

Like what?

In the early days the performances were leaning a little bit more towards ridiculous, so I'd wear more of a costume, like an extravagant showman — maybe a workout-ish theme, but more glammed-out, more extravagant. Then for a while, I had a day job, and I thought it was funny to just come from my day job and perform in what I was wearing that day, like a button-down shirt tucked into dress pants.

Now that I'm touring a lot, on the road I like to just perform and get rid of the clothes, because when they sit in your bag all wet it's a problem. So, this has become the easiest thing to wear. The shows are very athletic for me and I kind of got going on it — it's something I didn't really think about that much. All of a sudden, I'd been wearing the same thing for five years. I spend thousands of dollars on Hanes.com.

Has anyone's look at your show ever really caught your attention? What's the most outrageous thing you've seen?

People know that you can get onstage with me — that's an aspect of the show — so people dress up thinking that will help them, and it does. My friends will go and grab people, so if there is someone who catches their eye, that will go down. So costumes are heavy at the show, and it gets a little blurry between what's an outfit and what's a costume. I've seen it all as far as outfits and stuff like that goes. I'd say what catches my eye is nudity, which happens from time to time. I feel like you know when you see nudity at a show, that's when it's reaching a really legitimate level. When you're at a concert and there's boobs being flashed… it's a real concert.

Over the years performing as Girl Talk, have you noticed any songs that are your "secret weapon" — no matter where you are in the world, people go nuts?

I did a remix of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" about four years ago, and that was one that has never really left my set — everything else has changed but that. I've literally played it at 90 percent of the shows for the past four years, and that's kind of my go-to. It feels like I'm always debating with myself, should I just get rid of it? I have a lot of other stuff I could put in there, but there's just something about it. The set's always changing but there's that thing… it's become such a tradition that I feel weird getting rid of it.

Any chance we'll ever hear "Call Me Maybe" at a Girl Talk show?

I recently acquired the a capella version, so I have been fooling around with it. I was actually working towards doing something with it tonight, but I'm not there yet. I have a few options, a few ideas — I do love the song, I think it's wonderful. I like music like that, it's such a "white chick" song. It's like Vanessa Carleton "A Thousand Miles," it's a great pop tune. There are always benchmarks and it's just fun when one of these songs comes out that's just everywhere — people hate it and love it. That's true pop. Not many songs can reach that level, but "Call Me Maybe" definitely went there.