Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Girl Talk: The Monster of Mash

How Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis rocketed from biomedical engineer to Rolling Stone.



Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis performs at a recent show.

Photo by J. Caldwell


Photo courtesy of Illegal Art
 

 

Just four years ago, Gregg Gillis spent his weekdays sitting in a cubicle analyzing data about medical instruments. At 5 o’clock sharp every Friday, the biomedical engineer tore out of the office park toward Pittsburgh International Airport, re-emerging on Monday morning with bags under his eyes.

Gillis’s co-workers were unaware of his double life. He never told them that, after work, he would go home and engineer creations of a different sort on his laptop: “mash up” tracks that pair strange musical bedfellows. Under the stage name Girl Talk (which he chose because it sounded like the antithesis of a one-man electronic band), Gillis combined Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” with Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy.” He blended Fleetwood Mac, Three 6 Mafia and the Smashing Pumpkins into one impossibly delicious MP3 smoothie.

Bloggers swooned over the new style. Gillis’s mix mastery made him a music sensation—sampling from music’s brightest stars, using a computer to compose albums that feel like standing in the eye of an hour-long pop music hurricane. While Gillis has yet to be challenged, he argues that his sampling falls under copyright law’s doctrine of fair use.

“I wanted to make experimental music out of pop,” Gillis says. “I wanted to make something challenging and very involved as far as the composition goes, but also something my friends who don’t listen to experimental electronic music could listen to.”

In 2006, the weekend red-eyes started paying off, and Girl Talk concerts were selling out. Actress Natalie Portman heard the buzz and turned up at a show in New York City. “It was like, What the hell is this?” Gillis says of the encounter. But even after wowing the Star Wars princess, it was back to Pittsburgh for Monday-morning meetings and Excel data parties.

“I’m a quiet guy in the workplace,” Gillis says. “It’s hard to explain what the [Girl Talk] project is. To break it down to my co-workers was just not possible.” So when break-room chatter required him to report on his weekend plans, Gillis left out the concert in London. “I was always so interested in having a show and getting onstage, and I don’t know why because it doesn’t connect to any other aspect of my personality.”

In 2007, after his album Night Ripper earned accolades from Fast Company and Wired magazine, Gillis finally had to give up his day job. But despite success that has taken him around the world, Gillis refuses to give up his hometown. The 29-year-old rock star still lives in Polish Hill with his longtime girlfriend and a beagle named Wally. On weekends, you can find him perusing the racks at the Monroeville Best Buy or Paul’s CDs in Bloomfield.

“It’s really easy to maintain the life I want to live here,” Gillis says. “I’m never bored—there’s plenty of music to see, plenty of nightlife. When I am here for two to three days per week, it’s mellow for me. When I get on the plane to come home, I’m excited.”


breakdown of girltralk track

Click here to see an interactive visual breakdown of a Girl Talk hit
.
Note: Additional tracks on the site may contain explicit language.



It’s easy to see why he needs the reprieve. His shows are raucous, with Gillis cueing tracks on his laptop from a stage packed with dancing fans and a large LED screen. By the end of his sets, he’s often stripped down to his boxers, crowd-surfing in an inflatable raft or helping his stagehands launch 300-some toilet-paper rolls into the audience.

Yet despite being in the midst of a 50-city tour and releasing a new album, All Day, which reached No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s “Hot List,” the Chartiers Valley High School and Case Western Reserve alum wouldn’t mind putting the suit on again one day.

“I definitely could see in a few years wanting to cut down on touring,” he says, adding that he doesn’t ever want his motivation for making music to be the money. “If it gets to the point where there’s no income coming in from this—cool. It’s been a great run. Let’s get back to the cubicle and do science.”

 

Girl Talk's Favorites in Pittsburgh

Eats: “I eat in East Liberty a lot. There are two Ethiopian places there and the Royal Caribbean. I go to Gooski’s on Polish Hill to grab a drink or see a band. Remedy in Lawrenceville. Tessaro’s in Bloomfield.”

Artists to sample: “On All Day, I sample Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Black and Yellow,’ which is definitely a nod [to the city]. I sampled Donnie Iris a few times as well. ‘Ah Leah’ is a classic.”

Day-off routine: “Laying on the couch and letting the TV eat away your day.”

Sports: “If there’s a Steeler at your show, that’s legit!”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Battle of The Hollywood

Dormont's historic Hollywood Theater faces an uncertain future after news of a potential sale prompted an immediate public furor.

Three Rivers Champion: Cecile Springer

A self-proclaimed “loudmouth,” Springer says her favorite part of volunteering is meeting other people and persuading them to do what she wants them to do.

Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Reviews of "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name," "Den of Thieves" and new animated releases, plus local movie news and notes.

Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

What is Pittsburgh's best breakfast joint? Dive bar? Yoga studio? Local singer? Meteorologist? It's time to nominate your local favorites in multiple categories.

Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

The list of 20 was narrowed from 238 proposals Amazon received in October. So which other cities made the cut?

Restaurant Review: or, The Whale

The Downtown restaurant is a captivating, if costly, catch.

Celebrating 5 Pittsburghers Who Built Careers Behind the Bar

Pittsburgh is a city that celebrates its neighborhood bars. In some of those spots, second- and third-generation regulars are pulling up their stools to be served by someone who started pouring drinks decades ago.

Second Chances: Crossroads in the Kitchen

People working to overcome substance abuse problems and ex-offenders discover a welcoming environment in restaurant kitchens.

How to Pamper Yourself in Pittsburgh

Looking to beat the winter doldrums? We round up the best places and experiences for a little personal indulgence.

Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

The Tongdee family now operates Burgh Thai in Verona.

The Growing Popularity of Shooting a Clay Pigeon

Skeet shooting is taking off as a favored western Pennsylvania hobby.

Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

The mystery thriller is latest to cash in on the city’s filming opportunities.

Andrew McCutchen: Thanks for the Memories

It's hard to overemphasize McCutchen's impact on the Pirates and its fan base.

How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

A lot of grooms-to-be propose on Mt. Washington. Not many decorate beforehand.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

The list of 20 was narrowed from 238 proposals Amazon received in October. So which other cities made the cut?

Comments

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

The mystery thriller is latest to cash in on the city’s filming opportunities.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

The Tongdee family now operates Burgh Thai in Verona.

Comments

Bitter End’s Chicken Dinner Fundraiser

Bitter End’s Chicken Dinner Fundraiser

Chefs Becca Hegarty and Rick Easton to cook comfort food to help Hegarty’s mother.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

What is Pittsburgh's best breakfast joint? Dive bar? Yoga studio? Local singer? Meteorologist? It's time to nominate your local favorites in multiple categories.

Comments

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Here are some of our favorite ‘Burgh-inspired gifts for him, her, kids, foodies and more.

Comments


The Battle of The Hollywood

The Battle of The Hollywood

Dormont's historic Hollywood Theater faces an uncertain future after news of a potential sale prompted an immediate public furor.

Comments

Tequila Cowboy: Fine For Some, Apparently a Bad Idea for Others

Tequila Cowboy: Fine For Some, Apparently a Bad Idea for Others

The bar, which hosted a bizarre incident involving a top Steelers coach, is fine enough for the post-collegiate set.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

Comments

Steelers Must Avoid ‘Captain Ahab’ Approach to the Jaguars

Steelers Must Avoid ‘Captain Ahab’ Approach to the Jaguars

The Patriots are to the Steelers what Moby Dick was to Captain Ahab and that kind of obsession can backfire.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Reviews of "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name," "Den of Thieves" and new animated releases, plus local movie news and notes.

Comments

The Post is Quite Good, I, Tonya is Even Better

The Post is Quite Good, I, Tonya is Even Better

Reviews of "The Post," "I, Tonya" and "The Commuter," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

A lot of grooms-to-be propose on Mt. Washington. Not many decorate beforehand.

Comments

These Elaborate Proposals Were Sure to Get a “Yes”

These Elaborate Proposals Were Sure to Get a “Yes”

Thinking of popping the question? Take a note from these grooms-to-be who set the bar high.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Former Art Institute Housing to Be Converted into Condos

Former Art Institute Housing to Be Converted into Condos

Downtown is booming as plans develop for yet another new apartment building.

Comments

Lesson Learned: How Design Changed a North Allegheny Classroom

Lesson Learned: How Design Changed a North Allegheny Classroom

Frustrated by his sterile white classroom, teacher Greg Geibel earned an A+ from students when he transformed the space into something resembling a modern coffeehouse.

Comments