By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Gregg Gillis doesn't care if you hate "Jock Jams," you jagoff. The dude behind Girl Talk's songs of rapid-fire samples wears his love for tumbling music like a badge of honor. We caught up with Gillis before his headlining appearance at LouFest.
Allison Babka: I'm excited to chat because you're a Pittsburgh guy. You grew up around Bridgeville, Penn., and being from eastern Ohio, I knew Bridgeville because of the Chuck E. Cheese's and [defunct toy store] Children's Palace there.
Gregg Gillis: Wow, I spent a lot of time in Children's Palace and Chuck E. Cheese's!
I had birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese's!
I had birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese's, too! It's crazy, I haven't heard the name Children's Palace in a long time, but yeah, we used to jam out there all the time.
So if I said "Sarris'," [a Pennsylvania candy factory] or "jagoff" [Pittsburghese for "annoying person"] or even "pop," you'd know what I was talking about.
Absolutely! I probably say "jagoff" every day of my life. I love saying it. It's entered pop culture. Sometimes it will be on TV outside of Pittsburgh, and it always gets me excited.
I've noticed that you often wear a Pirates cap. Are you just a baseball fan, or do you support all the Pittsburgh teams?
I support all the Pittsburgh teams. I'm a Pirates fan, but I think the cap is more of a love for Pittsburgh in general. I follow the Steelers a little more than the Pirates, and I like the Penguins as well, but I just love the city and the uniforms here. Black and yellow. All of the teams and the city are represented by the same color scheme, so if you're wearing black and yellow, you're reppin' for your city.
You had been accepted into the super-rigorous biomedical engineering program at Case Western University. You focused on tissue engineering and could have become a real-life Dr. Curt Connors from Spider-Man, growing weird shit in petri dishes. [Gillis laughs] How did music become so much bigger than that for you?
I started my first band when I was fourteen. I played a lot of different music and even ran a small cassette label, so I was always obsessed about music. Despite loving it, it wasn't really a career option, so I always did some kind of music project on the side. I started doing Girl Talk and college around the same time, around 2000. After I graduated college, I put out a few records and sort of toured before I got a new job and continued to do Girl Talk, driving to New York or driving to Cincinnati to do shows. Then I put out a record in 2006, and I thought it was a bit more accessible than the things I did previously, that it was interesting and that there was a small chance of it making a small splash on the Internet. But it just took off on a level that I really didn't anticipate.
At that point, I continued to do the day job. But I was getting offers from overseas, and by March of 2007, I thought, "Ok, I've got to do something." So I thought I would do music for one year, and then I could get another job. Things just started rolling and haven't stopped since.
How long do you think the music will go on?
I think it will go on forever, but it will be really different. The first record I did in 2002 is very experimental, and I think my fans now would not like it. If you read the reviews on Amazon.com, people talk shit on it, and it's funny. I plan on releasing some music that would be somewhat of a departure from what it is now. I never want this to be static. My big thing for each record and tour is for it to never just be what it was before. I never want to just have "Girl Talk Party To Go, Volumes one to ten." I want to raise the bar for myself and change. That's a lot more important for me than just seeing this as a career. So yeah, I'm excited. I'm very satisfied in a way that keeps me eager to experiment.
How will you keep growing?
There are so many different places to go with sample-based music. Recently, I've been experimenting with still using pop music, but cutting it up differently. Most of the music I sample is recognizable, so I've been working on stuff where it's a little more difficult to tell what the source material is. I'm also sampling slightly more obscure things, and a couple of years down the road, there could be a collaboration. I have some ideas of what I want the next step to be, but I can't officially say yet.
When I first heard your work, I thought, "That's some damn fine cheerleading competition music." Are you the modern-era Jive Bunny?
[Laughs] I feel like in the past, people were condescending or trying to say something negative about my work by comparing it to "Jock Jams" on acid. But when I heard that, I thought it was cool because I love "Jock Jams." I love that element and that energy. I think there are a lot of different influences that go into my music as far as it being detailed or changing rapidly, and I think it relates to cheerleading music and "Jock Jams."