Those who don’t entirely get what Gregg Gillis has accomplished with Girl Talk will argue that he’s made a career out of catering to those with rampant ADHD, an affliction he might seem to suffer from himself. How funny, then, that his fifth and latest opus, All Day—a record that’s meant to be listened to as one extended track—was easily the most painstakingly constructed, intensely laboured-over release of his already much-lauded career.
You want epic? That’s as good a description as any for the album, which stretches out for an hour and 11 minutes, incorporating a whopping 372 samples, many reimagined as the craziest mashups ever committed to microchip. Think Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” welded to Fugazi’s chugging “Waiting Room”, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” married to Lil Jon’s “Get Low”, and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” layered with the Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies”.
The whole thing is a pop-culture junkie’s dream, where the more you pay attention the more you get out of it. Just when you’ve processed the fact that Gillis has managed to connect the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” with Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”, Rye Rye’s “Bang” rides in, going on to team up with Steve Miller’s “Jungle Love”.
Because the sampling never stops on All Day, with multiple songs often stacked on each other, the ADHD tag tends to get laid on the man known to his fans as Girl Talk. Reached at home in Pittsburgh, the outgoing and charismatic musician—who once held a straight job as a biochemical engineer—finds that label funny, considering how painstakingly slow it was to pull All Day together. For two-and-half years he worked steady 12-hours days on the record.
“I feel like there are many elements of this whole project,” Gillis notes. “If you look at it on the surface, it’s very easy to box it up and be done with it—put an easy label on it. But if you dissect it, it looks a little different. For example, so many artists today are so focused on the idea of making a single. The idea of making an actual record that’s between 40 and 80 minutes is kind of an old-school idea.”
There’s a good reason for that: Gillis can actually remember a time when records were meant to be digested in one sitting, and albums weren’t dumped into an iPod that’s been permanently set on shuffle.
“I like the band Yes,” he enthuses. “And Rush. And a lot of prog stuff—even newer stuff like Don Caballero from the ’90s. I don’t think any of that music has ever been referred to as ADHD, but it’s similar to what I do in that it’s constantly changing and super-technical, even though the songs are sometimes 20 minutes long. I like records which are technical but accessible to where people can just listen to it as pop music.”
“Technical and accessible” is as good a description as any for All Day, which Gillis released last November 15 as a free download. The technical part was, naturally, the record’s creation.
“It took me four to six months just to edit it all down—all of last summer,” Gillis reveals. “That’s when I’m making all the decisions, working out final transitions, and, definitely, losing my mind. The process is very rewarding when it’s done, but it’s like cramming for a test until then, something that you gotta do every day, even though some days you don’t feel like doing it. I kind of lose it—I lock myself away and don’t see very many of my friends because I work till 8 a.m. every day and then go to sleep until the afternoon.”
Planning is a big part of that process.
“A lot of time was spent looking at text on a piece of paper, and figuring out how the songs related to each other,” he says. “I don’t want too much ’60s music in any section. If I have an R & B vocal section, I want that far away from the next R & B vocal section. I did a lot of analyzing beforehand and thinking about it all, and I think the album reflects that.”
As for the accessible part of the equation, All Day is definitely that, more so than any Girl Talk record in the past—unless, of course, you’re one of those pre-iPod-generation killjoy purists who’d never dream of slapping Pat Benatar on the same playlist as Bush, Blue Oyster Cult, Miley Cyrus, Missy Elliott, Billy Idol, MGMT, and Alanis Morissette.
There was no reason for Gillis to try and radically reinvent the wheel with All Day; giving a good indication of how popular Girl Talk has become over the past half-decade, demand for the record was so great that servers began crashing when the album went up online. Still, those expecting more of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them mashups found on past Girl Talk albums like Night Ripper and Feed the Animals might have been surprised that he decided to tinker with a proven formula this time out. Look no further than the release’s opening, which—with Ludacris’s “Move Bitch” riding shotgun—finds Gillis stretching out a snippet of Black Sabbath’s mighty “War Pigs” for a full two minutes and 10 seconds. More than ever, he was happy to ride extended samples on All Day.
“With this record, I wanted it to be even more unpredictable than ones in the past,” Gillis says. “Like with Night Ripper, I feel there’s kind of a general pacing to it that stays throughout—like you know how long the sample is going to stay before it moves on to the next one. With this record, it was like, ‘All right, I’m going to use the Black Sabbath sample for two minutes, and then use a Jane’s Addiction sample for 30 seconds.’ It goes from very quick to the very long, with the longer samples kind of coming in like a breath of fresh air. It’s all about allowing things to be more complicated, more unpredictable, more all-over-the-place.”
And if that meant shattering all ADHD notions about himself, then it’s about time.
Girl Talk plays LIVE at Squamish on Saturday (August 20).