IF YOU ARE secretly hoping that Gregg Gillis named his one-man act Girl Talk after Stephanie Tanners band on Full House, the transgender magazine or the board game from the late 1980s, prepare yourself for disappointment. And if you pose this question to Gillis, prepare for an eye roll. As Gillis explains, he did not choose the name in homage to anything; he decided to go with Girl Talk because he liked how out of place it looked on a kiosk at experimental music shows. It always looked like they made a mistake, he says.
Gillis, 27, grew up in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh. Despite how many pop references show up in his music now, he admits that he wasnt a huge fan of the genre growing up. I didnt really dive into pop music until later, he says. So while his parents were pumping classic rock and Hall and Oates, Gillis was a self-described angsty teenager who hated the world and was more into Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Added to the grungy mix were avant-garde music and other offbeat sounds he discovered through college radio.
When he was 15, Gillis and friends formed a band called The Joysticks Battle the Scan Feed Relay to Your Skull.The band created music more along the experimental track, using childrens toys, multiple radios playing at once and skipping CDs to create songs.The band had an interest in juxtaposing bizarre sounds and pop music and found inspiration in the music of fellow sound experimentalists like John Oswald and Evolution Control Committee.
Despite Gillis interest in music, when it came time for college, he went off to Case Western Reserve University in Ohio to study biomedical engineering. I had the mentality that your main interest could never be your career, he says. He kept his interest alive though by splitting his time between studying and making music, despite his enormous workload. Im really excited that I graduated, he says. One of his required purchases at college was a laptop; with this he began to experiment with different ways to rip up and piece together songs.With his new machine, he was able to throw song samples together from every genre in a mash-up style; and in 2000, the laptop trials led to Gillis forming a proper act under the name Girl Talk.
Gillis toured as Girl Talk on summer breaks throughout college and released his first album, Secret Diary, in 2002, but upon graduation in 2004, he got a full-time engineering job. He recorded and released two more albums, 2004s Unstoppable and 2006s Night Ripper, before quitting his day job in June 2007 to pursue music full time. Heaps of positive feedback on blogs and in magazines and sold-out shows inspired him to drop the engineering gig. Besides, what music career is able to flourish on 10 vacation days per year? I liked living that double life for a little bit, but it got overwhelming, he says.
Since his departure from the 9-to-5 routine, Gillis has continued touring and released Feed the Animals on CD this month and as a digital release way back in June with the name your price model, made popular by Radiohead. When I finished [the album], I just wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible, he says, and with the open-ended paying option, Gillis says, that the music has a better chance of reaching more people.The latest album continues to marry snippets of pop, hip-hop, classic rock and other noticeable sound biteswithout fear of lawsuit, thanks to the fair use doctrine in U.S. copyright lawinto cohesive tracks that propel dance parties. My legs are like beat-up meat, he says, a credit to the raucous dancing at shows.The fervor of his fans has led to his left front tooth being knocked out twice in the same year; and he suffered through three broken laptops in 2007. But Gillis doesnt seem to mind. I like the shows to reach the point where things break. -- Girl Talk Nov. 15, 16 & 18 at Terminal 5, 610 W. 56th St. (at 11th Ave.), 212-260-4700; 8, $20. --