Sunday, August 26, 2007
My Interview With Girl Talk
Like it or not, the world of music is changing. Sample based music is more popular than ever, and as software becomes increasingly user friendly, more people are remixing, reworking, and reshaping music. Girl Talk is one of those people. Armed with a laptop, some editing software, and a keen ear, he has quickly become the poster child for a new form of sample based music. Taking other people’s songs and editing the fuck out of them, Girl Talk is blurring the already fuzzy line between modern producer and musician, and the world is taking notice. Everyone from Rolling Stone magazine to Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) is giving him props for his unique take on popular music. Despite his recent superstar status, Girl Talk remains a humble guy more than willing to break down his craft. Listen up as the man himself gets deep in this exclusive Heavy In The Streets interview.
DJ Sorce-1: Your album Night Ripper sampled from lots of different genres and eras of music. Have you ever thought of doing an album like Night Ripper made up of one specific genre or artist?
Girl Talk: In the past, around 2003 or so, I was thinking of doing an all Hall and Oates album because they’re one of my favorites. I heard Gym Class Heroes is actually doing something like that now. I haven’t thought about doing an album like that recently though. I’m in such a mode of making music in the same way I’ve been making it. I’m constantly sampling different things and trying out different combinations so I think I’d have a hard time dedicating myself to one band. Maybe in the future I’d tackle something like that, but right now I’m still doing stuff in the same style as Night Ripper.
DJ Sorce-1: In Night Ripper, a lot of the samples come from very recognizable and commercially successful songs. Have you ever though of doing a project where you utilize more obscure material?
Girl Talk: I kind of just sample what I’m into at the time. When I started doing Girl Talk, the general idea was to make new music out of familiar sources so that the familiarity of the music would be a big part of it. My first record was more experimental, and I think back then I was more in tune with what was going on in the underground music world. These days I’m really dedicated to listening to the radio and I’m kind of a pop fiend. If I ever got to the point where I listened to underground music all the time, I might get into a project based around more obscure music. I think that ideas been worked out by a lot of hip hop producers over the years with the classic crate digging style of making music. A lot of people into digging are often searching for an obscure sample. The heart of what I do a lot of the time is that many of the samples are recognizable. You can see how I’m manipulating them because you already know the original song.
DJ Sorce-1: Yeah, so part of the experience is the fact that it all comes from recognizable music.
Girl Talk: There are always bits and pieces I use that are a bit more underground that I think sound good. That’s the main criteria, whatever will sound good. But if I did an album of all obscure samples I think it might lose some of the charm.
Girl Talk "Touch 2 Feel" Video from Unstoppable Album
DJ Sorce-1: You sample a lot of commercial stuff, and I’m assuming you don’t like all of it. How has sampling so many different styles of music changed your perception of music? Have you stopped judging songs as harshly since you started doing Girl Talk?
Girl Talk: Yeah. I honestly like all of the music I sample. Normally when I hear something that isn’t appealing to me, it’s because I don’t understand it. Clearly there is an audience for it and every style of music has someone who thinks that it’s the best style. I try to always appreciate everyone’s perspective, and I can almost get down with anything. Most music that comes from the radio is popular for reason.
I really just appreciate music in general. I try not to think of it in terms of good and bad. I think that’s kind of a weird way to look at music. Most people have their opinions, and to them, some music is good, and some is bad. I don’t really look at it that way. I think you can appreciate music on different levels.
Girl Talk and Paris Hilton
DJ Sorce-1: That’s a cool outlook. I absolutely did not like a lot of the stuff on Night Ripper as individual songs, but when it was put together a certain way I loved it. It made me realize that there must be something about the originals I like if I like them reworked.
Girl Talk: Yeah, it’s easy to have the knee jerk reaction to dislike something that everyone else likes. I think a lot of disliking music publicly in terms of talking about it is a defense mechanism. People are afraid of being embarrassed if someone else doesn’t like it, so they’re always trying to be into things that people can’t make fun of them for. That’s why pop music gets such an overwhelming reaction. People love to hate it.
Girl Talk - New Year's Eve 2007 in Chicago (entire concert)
DJ Sorce-1: Have you ever considered doing a strictly instrumental composition of recognizable samples?
Girl Talk: Night Ripper is my third album, and I think on the second album, it was a bit more like that. There were vocal bits and pieces here and there, but a good chunk of the album was based around more original sounding electronic music. A lot of sample choices on that album were smaller bits. There were big interludes that were just based around beats and musical percussion with small samples coming in and out. I don’t think I’m gonna be making the same exact style of music like Night Ripper forever. I’m always making beats on the side, so maybe I’ll get back to the more instrumental driven style.
DJ Sorce-1: I know people like Grizzly Bear and Beck have contacted you to do remixes. Have you ever had any rappers approach you about doing beats or remixes for them?
Girl Talk: Yeah, some major label guys have been contacting me about beats. The only official release I have is for this rap group from Pittsburg called Grand Buffet. I did a beat for one of their songs on an EP a few years ago. That’s something I could get into hardcore. I’ve been surprised by the indy response to the music with people like Grizzly Bear contacting me for remixes. It’s cool, I’m happy to do it, and I really like their music. I would just expect more of the hip hop world coming at me and asking for stuff. But yeah, I’m always making beats.
DJ Sorce-1: Are there any names you can drop of people who have been inquiring?
Girl Talk: Not really. A lot of it is just major label bullshit. They just want a preview and see who they can pitch it to. My very brief experience with major label people is that they’re all about them pretending like they’re your buddy. They just want to make contact with you and have your email address in their folder and that’s it. So I don’t think there will be any releases in the future on that level.
DJ Sorce-1: In the Pitchfork interview that you did a little while ago, you described making music as a mathematical process where you use a wav editor and a calculator. I was wondering if you had any formal musical training. Even though a lot of your stuff is laid out according to the beat, you also have to have an understanding of tones and pitches to make sure there isn’t clashing of different notes.
Girl Talk: I don’t actually have any formal musical training besides playing saxophone when I was little. I have a hard time with a lot of that aspect of music. I’m lucky to have a lot more musically inclined friends I can pass stuff along to for feedback. I just let my ear do the work. With a lot of hip hop on the radio now, things are often out of tune or off key. That has its own appeal to it, even if it is slightly off. Because of that, it frees me up to let my ear do the work and not worry if everything is completely in key. Whatever sounds good to me I put out.
DJ Sorce-1: I was reading on your blog about a remix project that you’re working on called Trey Told ‘Em. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Girl Talk: It’s a project with me and a friend of mine named Frank Musarra. He’s been a long time collaborator of mine. I pass all my mixes to him before I put them out. He’s a bit more musically inclined than me, and he’s a really good computer producer as well.
I’ve been getting a lot of remix offers, and I’ve had a hard time keeping up with them. A lot of times with remixes they almost force you to do music that wouldn’t be in your normal style. Even if I like the song I’m remixing, if I was working it into a Girl Talk song, I would probably use 30 seconds of it at most. They want me to build these whole tracks around their tracks, which is a weird thing for me to do. A lot of times people don’t want me to use samples. They want me to have original instrumentation so they don’t have to deal with sample clearances and things like that.
The project with Frank is something that doesn’t have a sound attached to it. When I make music as Girl Talk people expect a certain sound. I think Frank and I work well together, and we make a different style of music. I’ve been staying busy with that, and we’re finishing up an Of Montreal remix sometime this week.
DJ Sorce-1: From what I heard on the MySpace page it sounds really solid so far.
Girl Talk: Thanks. It’s a bit more musical. There’s a lot more synthesizer work and original instrumentation than I would ordinarily use in Girl Talk.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you think your success as an artist is going to have any effect on copyright and sampling laws.
Girl Talk: I don’t know, I think it may have already. I haven’t been sued, which I think speaks volumes because of how far reaching the last album was. The album was talked about in Congress during a trial on internet law. Anyone who could have potentially sued me has probably heard it and they’ve been open to it.
Night Ripper is a piece of music that most people have treated as an original album. Everyone from Rolling Stone to blogs review it like an album, as opposed to a DJ mix or something. It’s an album composed of all samples, and if I was trying to clear all the samples and pay royalties to everyone, it would be impossible. I’d have to sell a CD for a couple hundred dollars just to pay the artists back for the amount of samples used. It’s not really reasonable. Either there’s a style of music that’s impossible to make and sell at the same rate as other CD’s, or there should be some sort of roof where you only pay so much in royalties so you can sell the CD at a reasonable amount. I don’t think the way the law is written up really makes sense when it comes to making an album like this.
Everyone is remixing music these days. It’s becoming a popular fad, and music remixing software is becoming a lot easier. Major labels need to learn how to harness and support remixing as a way to promote their artists. People doing remixes on the Internet often times helps out these major label artists, and I think in the case of my album that was the case. I don’t know if it Night Ripper will effect the laws necessarily, but I think it will help people to look at sampling in a bit of a different way.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) on Girl Talk and DJ Drama
DJ Sorce-1: It’s always interesting how the major labels won’t budge on their view of sampling and royalties. The kind of music you’re making is only going to continue to grow, and the labels are going to have to find a way to work with it.
Girl Talk: Yeah. There’s this weird perception right now that if you play bass, drums, or guitar, you’re creating completely original music. First of all, the people playing these instruments didn’t invent them. Second of all, the cord progressions, note systems, and way they tune their instruments are all defined by someone else. Even their styles are influenced by someone else. It’s clearly them taking pre-existing ideas, putting their own twist on it, and making something new. You can do that with sampling, but I think people are a little slow to believe that because it’s a new technology. I think you can play a sample just like someone can play a guitar, and it can be just as original.
Girl Talk Makes A Beat
DJ Sorce-1: You’ve made it very clear that you’re not a DJ and you’ve tried to keep yourself separate from that label. Are there any DJ’s that were an inspiration to you when you started out?
Girl Talk: When I started out I never really listened to DJ’s other than people like DJ Shadow. His music sounds completely different than mine, but I think we use a similar idea. We make original sounding music out of samples. As far as party oriented DJ’s, I wasn’t into that when I first started Girl Talk. I was more into John Oswald, Kid 606, Negetiveland, and all those people who do different versions of sound collage. A lot of people don’t label those guys as DJ’s, but they work in the field of samples. That was my main inspiration. Since then I’ve heard a lot of amazing DJ’s. It’s a very specific and amazing art if you can master it. But it’s not what I’m doing. I’m more related to someone like Kid 606 or Jason Forrest in my mind, and people don’t refer to those guys as DJ’s.
DJ Sorce-1: So many people don’t understand what you’re doing that you often get attached to labels that aren’t accurate. I guess in some ways what you’re doing hasn’t been done, so a lot of people don’t know what to call it.
Girl Talk: Yeah. If your definition of a DJ is anyone who works with pre existing media to make new media, then I fall into that category. I’m never offended by the term. I say I’m not a DJ with major respect for DJ’s. I just don’t do the same thing that they do. I don’t think there are a lot of people that perform live the way I do. It’s very in between. You go see Daft Punk play live, and that’s considered a live performance even though most of their songs are based around samples. You’ll go see a DJ play and they’ll spin records of familiar songs and maybe do amazing blends and creative things with the records. I fall in between. Everything I play is original mixes and it’s completely based on other people’s material. I think more and more people will start doing performance oriented things that revolve around samples, and new labels will be created. Hopefully this will lead to less confusion…maybe it will lead to more.
Girl Talk - Open Source Cinema Interview
DJ Sorce-1: Do you have a preference between studio recording and live performance?
Girl Talk: They’re really different. For me, the art that I do is based in the composition. The final product is all about the CD. I make conscious decisions and go second by second to edit everything together. With the live show, it sounds similar to the CD, but it’s definitely a loose version. I do it all live, and sometimes I can’t do the transitions I want live. It flows nice, and people won’t really be able to pick out mistakes, but in my mind there are all sorts of things happening that I don’t want to happen at a particular time. I enjoy performing live, and it’s kind of the pay of, but it’s definitely the loose, sloppier version of what’s on the album.
DJ Sorce-1: I know you put a ton of emotion and effort into your shows. Do you think you’re ever at risk of getting burned out on touring?
Girl Talk: I’ve had a pretty smart schedule. I had a day job for a long time, so I was only performing on weekends. I quit my job a couple of months ago and kept the same touring schedule. I’m in Pittsburg Monday through Thursday and then usually I just have shows on Friday and Saturday. I think that helps out a bit with not getting exhausted. I always try to have at least a couple new things musically so the shows aren’t boring for me. Before a lot of shows I’m kind of tired, but once you go out there and see everyone paying money to see you party, it’s very hard to turn your cheek on that. Even if I only see five people who paid money to come and see me, I get excited to perform and have a good time. For the most part during the week I chill out and work on music pretty hardcore. Most of the shows on Fridays and Saturdays are really my weekend so I actually want to party and have a good time.
DJ Sorce-1: That sounds like a smart balance. Do you usually bring a backup laptop in case your computer crashes?
Girl Talk: Yeah, I always have a backup sitting there, which I rarely have to go to. I’m pretty confident in the software I use and feel that 99% of the time it won’t crash. It’s really just about the people at the shows. People jump up on stage, and I sometimes perform in the audience. I protect the computer as best as possible. I always cover it in saran wrap before the shows. But people sweat all over it and knock into it, so that’s the real threat right there, someone breaking it. That does happen from time to time, but like I said I have a backup, so it’s usually not too big of a deal. Sometimes there is a lot of pressure though. I’m a one man band depending on one piece of equipment, and if it goes down all music stops.
DJ Sorce-1: I read about a recent airplane incident you had on your MySpace blog. The landing gear wasn’t working properly on one of your flights, and it sounds like things got incredibly scary. When stuff like that happens, does make you scared to travel?
Girl Talk: Since it’s usually just me traveling, I fly to almost every show. I’ll drive to anything that’s six hours or closer, but usually I fly. That’s the first time anything like that has ever happened to me. When that was going down I felt like, “Screw this. I really don’t need to be going to this show right now, and I really don’t need to play shows every single weekend.” It freaked me out a bit, but for the most part I’ve had pretty good luck. Flying is nice. It’s a bit annoying constantly having to deal with cancellations and stuff like that, but I’ve grown to learn how to enjoy the airport pretty well.
DJ Sorce-1: I’m afraid of flying. If that happened to me, I don’t think I could get back on an airplane the next week and be ok with it.
Girl Talk: (Laughs) Yeah. It’s weird. The shows are very fun, but it’s not necessary for me to do the amount of shows that I do. So when that I happened, I thought, “Man, I could just be sitting at home checking my MySpace but here I am dying trying to get to Louisville, Kentucky.” It does make you second guess your career choices.
DJ Sorce-1: It seemed like from your write-up that you were really going to have to crash land…
Girl Talk: They basically told us that the backup landing gear was working, but we should still brace ourselves. They were seriously showing us the exits and explaining where to go if there was a fire in different parts of the plane. It was very much like, “OK, were going to wreck right now, but we’re going to handle this the best way we can.” Even when they said the backup plane gear was working, I couldn’t tell if they were just saying that to chill people out. It was pretty messed up. Everyone was cheering when we landed successfully, so I think everyone was in the same state of mind.
DJ Sorce-1: Jesus, that’s intense. Hopefully you never have to go through anything like that again. Can you tell people a little bit about what to expect from your next album?
Girl Talk: I always work on new material for live shows. In the past, with my other three albums, I never really said, “Ok, this album is going to sound like this.” It just kind of naturally happened after a year of making material for live shows. The past year I’ve been experimenting with playing material in the fast, mash-up style of Night Ripper. I have a whole lot of stuff compiled at this point, so I think the new album will be in the same ballpark as Night Ripper. I’d like to tighten it up even more so, and I think I have even more material to pick and choose from than I did with Night Ripper. I really can never tell until I actually start editing it together, and I want to start doing that as soon as possible.
To read an earlier interview of mine with Girl Talk, click here.
To listen to more Girl Talk, visit his MySpace page. To check out his website, click here.