Remixing Hitler: an audience with Girl Talk
“I wouldn’t not use anything.”
DrownedinSound is in Tufnell Park, London, having a hard time. We came armed with a Dictaphone and the intention of getting ridiculously eclectic mash-up maniac Girl Talk, AKA Gregg Gillis, to name and shame five tracks – just five tracks – that he would not use in one of his live sets. Like I said, we’re having a hard time, though we come agonisingly close to one-fifth of an answer in the dubious shape of The Eagles.
Is there anything you’d absolutely not ever use?
Gregg Gillis: No, I mean, even the most racist, horrible music made by, like, Adolf Hitler or something, I’d be open to using a piece of and recontextualising. I think you can pick anything and…
GG: Yeah, yeah, exactly – even with a song I don’t really like on a surface level I’d be open to using a drum fill or a snare sound or something.
So you’re saying that there are no songs ever made that you wouldn’t go in your set…
GG: I mean the only song I can really think of that I don’t like is Eagles, ‘Hotel California’. But I’m trying to figure out how I can get into it. Even that I could take a piece of…
What is it about that song?
GG: I don’t know, I’m an idiot for not liking it. I need to figure out how to like it I think. I mean for me it’s like all music – it hits me in a personal way and I like things at a musical level, simplistically, it sounds good or doesn’t sound good with me. But outside of that I don’t really try to judge music on that level at all. Every little bit impacts someone differently so I’ve tried to go beyond liking and disliking music and just liking all of it.
GG: That sounds really shitty for what you want to do, but…
No, no it’s fine. If that’s the truth, then…
GG: It’s just a fundamental feeling I have that if you don’t like something it’s because you don’t understand it.
But surely you can understand something and then still not like it.
GG: because it represents something you don’t like… Right, right but if someone loves it and you slag art it doesn’t make you smarter than them, you’re just different. You have to appreciate what they’re going through with that music. So even if I don’t like it I have to appreciate it. So based on that I would never not sample any song, even ‘Hotel California’ that I don’t like on a surface level.
GG: I wish I’d’ve been better prepared for this…
It’s OK, I only thought this up today. I’m not trying to get you to slag off people…
GG: No, no, no and I’m not trying to be a little bitch about it…
It’s just taking into account how eclectic your sets are…
GG: Yeah, yeah I’m sorry to be difficult. It’s just I strongly believe that I love every song I’ve ever heard.
Video: Girl Talk - 'Touch 2 Feel'
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OK. Have you got any future plans? Near future?
GG: I’m gonna try to get really into ‘Hotel California’ this next year. Outside of that there’s a lot of different music that I don’t really like, that I don’t understand yet so I’m going to try to get into it a little bit.
What don’t you understand?
GG: Like the jam band community has taken to me a little bit in the United States and I like the Grateful Dead a lot but I’ve never been into the jam band style so that’s something I want to look into. I probably need to do heavier drugs, that’s why I’m not into it yet.
[The Sceptres' ear-piercing shracks of noise fill The Dome]
GG: It’s like… [shouting] like anyone that’s ever played a guitar, when they play a G chord, do you think that they don’t like the G chord? I don’t think so. With me it’s like asking a guitarist if there was any note they’d never play and I’d be like ‘no, why would I never choose to…’
So you see music as a tool essentially, for your own reconstruction?
GG: Yeah, mainly I focus on sampling bigger chunks that are recognisable and there I draw limits on myself, on a surface level. I wouldn’t sample big chunks of ‘Hotel California’, but I would definitely sample, like, a note of it.
So in a way it’s quite subversive, just to drop it in there so that people don’t realise it’s there, or…
GG: Yeah, I mean in a way I try to be very not subversive, but I would definitely be up for taking a little snag of it. I’m sorry, I just like…
It’s fine, it’s OK.
GG: Does that make sense though?
Yeah, yeah completely.
GG: I hate to drag you down here and not answer the simplest of questions.
It’s just the way it goes y’know, you’re not gonna lie to me just ‘cause it took me half an hour on the tube.
GG: I know, I’m very positive I do a lot of good interviews, I just wish I had a better answer.
OK – so would you say that appreciation of music, that way of looking at music has any conscious relation to a sense of post-modernism or does it not go that deep?
GG: Yeah, I mean I think when you look at music like that you have to understand that everything’s a re-hashing of the past and music doesn’t exist without influence; it’s all an evolution of something else. To me, people think some music is bullshit and some music is good and to me the only thing that’s bullshit about music is people that think that way.
OK… so music critics?
GG: No, I love reading music critics. I read a lot of them - Spin, Rolling Stone, Blender, XXL – I love it as a guide to what something would sound like, it serves a point. What I think is bullshit is the million albums that were released this year – literally, in 2008 – and everyone’s like ‘oh these ten, they’re all our favourites’ and it’s all the same. And I’m like ‘man, it’s probably a cool album, but how can everyone be agreeing on this top ten?’ Clearly there’s politics and insanity behind it.
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I’m not sure about that so much. I think it’s just a group of people all listening to the same thing, or all claiming to listen to the same thing and then someone mentions it to someone else, they listen to it…
GG: I understand the psychology of it but it’d be nice if in an ideal world you could be detached to that and you just hear the music and not listen to what everyone else says. What’d be cool would be if critics weren’t allowed to read what anyone else was saying for a year and then at the end they all had to pick their top ten from that. They would all be different. The way it works now is that they’re all the same and that’s just bullshit. It’s interesting, I like the tradition of pop criticism, so that’s cool and very interesting to me, but it’s clearly, like, bullshit. Like, there’s not one Bob Dylan, there were a million of them, it could’ve been any one of them. With Kurt Cobain it could’ve been The Pixies it could’ve been anyone.
So some music critics might say there needs to be a year zero in music ‘cause there’s too much music around, where no-one’s allowed to make music for a year. That you can only make music if it’s absolutely necessary – would you flip that on its head and say there needs to be a blanket ban on music coverage in the media for a year?
GG: That’d be amazing! I’d be pissed ‘cause I wouldn’t be able to read Spin in the mall. But I wouldn’t mind that much, I would be more psyched if it was happening like that. I don’t think it’s a problem it’s just the way it is. With every area of music it’s just how it is, people interact, it’s not right or wrong, it’s just the way it is. I believe that every musician has a unique take on how much they’re recycling and how much they’re not. I think sometimes there are bands that just get slept upon and those bands that get big in an indie or experimental realm, there’s a lot of money or marketing behind it.
But some things are undeniable, aren’t they? If you go to a Dan Deacon show… you can see why some things are revered more than others?
GG: I love the Panda Bear record, Dan Deacon’s a great friend of mine but at the same time I think that could’ve been anyone.
GG: I don’t think those records were that significant, I don’t think any record’s significant, I think they’re all awesome. I think the Dan Deacon record rules, it’s one of my personal favourites, but it’s like there are so many records that rule. The Panda Bear record is pretty cool…
Could you not say that any record rules more than another?
GG: For me they rule differently but for a magazine to kind of grade it… that’s an individual view… [absurd avant-garde soundcheck shracking begins again, lending the following words an equally absurd sense of rising crescendo, turning Gillis’ words into a gabbled manifesto]… If there was a magazine called Greg’s Brain with just a picture of me on the cover and I reviewed every album and was like ‘this is how I feel ‘cause in third grade I went through this experience and I like dance music and Nintendo games but I also like punk rock and perfomance-based art that would make sense but a magazine as a collective, with one idea of things as good or bad, just doesn’t make sense.
Gregg’s most recent UK release, Night Ripper, arrived on Monday (review). We’re sure Girl Talk’s summer schedule will fill out over the coming weeks, but for now the wiry itinerary reads like this, America:
28 Athens, Georgia Georgia Theatre
4 Morgantown, West Virginia 123 Pleasant Street
25 New Haven, Connecticut Toads Place
2 Richmond, Virginia Toads Place
9 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Mr. Small’s Theatre
8 Jersey City, New Jersey All Points West Festival