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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

From glass and aluminum to ketchup and candy, Pittsburgh has made its mark, thanks in large part to the instantly recognizable brands that remain etched not merely on its buildings — but on its DNA. We look at 10 of those brands and explore how they helped to establish and define the Steel City.
Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Under a new CEO, Pittsburgh International Airport heads into its 25th year while attempting to woo flyers and flights and leave its empty, post-hub days behind.
Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Three men at NASA serve pivotal roles in maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been taking high-resolution photos of deep space for more than 25 years. And they're all from Pittsburgh.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittburgh’s Daya Dropping New Album, Headline Tour

Pittburgh’s Daya Dropping New Album, Headline Tour

The teen singing sensation from Mt. Lebanon’s tour concludes in Pittsburgh.
See it Now: Trailer for Filmed-in-Pittsburgh “Fences”

See it Now: Trailer for Filmed-in-Pittsburgh “Fences”

Directed and starring Denzel Washington, the first big screen treatment of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play arrives in theaters on Christmas Day.
2016 Athena Award Winners Announced

2016 Athena Award Winners Announced

Named for the Greek goddess of strength and wisdom, the ATHENA Awards are unique among regional honors for professional women because of the focus on developing the next generation of leaders through mentorship.
Watch: Tributes and More For Golfing Great Arnold Palmer

Watch: Tributes and More For Golfing Great Arnold Palmer

The golf icon from Latrobe, Pa. died Sunday of complications from heart problems.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

From glass and aluminum to ketchup and candy, Pittsburgh has made its mark, thanks in large part to the instantly recognizable brands that remain etched not merely on its buildings — but on its DNA. We look at 10 of those brands and explore how they helped to establish and define the Steel City.
Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Under a new CEO, Pittsburgh International Airport heads into its 25th year while attempting to woo flyers and flights and leave its empty, post-hub days behind.
Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Three men at NASA serve pivotal roles in maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been taking high-resolution photos of deep space for more than 25 years. And they're all from Pittsburgh.
Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

The Strip District eatery overcomes tumult and once again is one of Pittsburgh’s finest restaurants.
Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

The things that are best about us? They’re not things. They’re ways.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittburgh’s Daya Dropping New Album, Headline Tour

Pittburgh’s Daya Dropping New Album, Headline Tour

The teen singing sensation from Mt. Lebanon’s tour concludes in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
e2 to Close in Highland Park

e2 to Close in Highland Park

Chef/owner Kate Romane will move on to a new project.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


Halloween Hotlist: 10 Events That Prove Scaring is Caring

Halloween Hotlist: 10 Events That Prove Scaring is Caring

Pittsburgh is a wicked destination for spooky shenanigans. Here’s a sampling of what’s to come.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates’ Ship Sunk But Salvageable

Pirates’ Ship Sunk But Salvageable

Of all that conspired to derail the Pirates after three consecutive trips to the playoffs, the unanticipated implosions of Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano proved, in retrospect, to be more of a deal-breaker than anything else.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Green Chic: The Boxcar Planter Set

Green Chic: The Boxcar Planter Set

The geometric set is available through the hip Ace Hotel shop.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
If All Remakes Were as Good as Magnificent Seven, We'd Really Love Remakes

If All Remakes Were as Good as Magnificent Seven, We'd Really Love Remakes

Reviews of the "Magnificent Seven" remake and "Storks," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

This Pittsburgh couple wanted their guests to be just as content as they were at their wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Make Your Design Work for You: Mecox Opens In Pittsburgh

Make Your Design Work for You: Mecox Opens In Pittsburgh

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Mecox will be opening its eighth location, but its first in Pittsburgh, in Shadyside.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education

Thiel College to Break Ground on New Science Facility

The project will cost $4.5 million and will connect two previously existing structures.

Comments