When Gregg Gillis was 22 years old, he had an epiphany. Tired of making avant-garde glitch pop, he decided to ditch all that bloop-bleep and "make a straight-up awesome party record."
Less than two years later, Gillis — working under his nom de disc, Girl Talk — may very well have surpassed his goal. His frantic, no-samples-cleared disc, Night Ripper, mashes together booty-shaking rap (the Ying Yang Twins, the 69 Boyz), iconic indie rock (Neutral Milk Hotel, Sonic Youth) and, uh, ABBA, with little concern for cohesion or copyright law.
"It's a record that reflects my own personal music tastes, but there are a lot of people who listen to it who like top 40 rap, and then all of a sudden there's a Boredoms sample in there, and their minds are sort of blown," Gillis laughed. "It's a celebration of the sources — never some ironic thing. I like a lot of traditionally corny music — Hall & Oates are one of my favorite groups ever — and I was worried that people were going to think that it was ironic. But what I'm really trying to do is pay tribute to all the sources and then combine them into one great pop tornado."
And what a tornado it is: Though the Night Ripper liner notes thank 164 artists, Gillis claims he sampled closer to 300 different songs for the album, though even he can't be certain of the total amount. "It's difficult for me to identify each sample, 'cause so many of them are cut up and reworked over and over," he said.
One song, "Minute by Minute," combines elements from the Ying Yang Twins' "Badd," LL Cool J's "Around the Way Girl," Warren G's "Regulate," Juelz Santana's "There It Go (The Whistle Song)" and Neutral Milk Hotel's "Holland, 1945" and throws them over beats by Missy Elliott, Jefferson Airplane and Better Than Ezra. It's a display of beat-mashing skillz that puts Gillis head-and-shoulders above his plundering pals, though he's quick to distance himself from the burgeoning mash-up scene.
"Mash-ups sort of have a bad rep, just because they hit really big and then there's a backlash," he said. "To be honest, I'm not even a big fan of them. I've never really considered myself a part of that movement. I'm just trying to make my own music out of pop music. To me, there's not really a definition for it — it's just new pop music."
In May, Night Ripper was released through Illegal Art, initially available only via download from the label's Web site (IllegalArt.net). But due to the overwhelmingly positive response the album received (it quickly became the most blogged-about album on the Net), Illegal Art released the record to select stores, an unusual step because it only serves to raise the profile of the project. And given the questionable legality of the album, that might not be a good thing for Gillis or Illegal Art.
Neither artist nor label would speak on the record about the threat of legal action from artists, record labels or the Recording Industry Association of America, though a spokesperson for Illegal Art did e-mail MTV a statement that reads, "We're such a small label that we don't really pose a threat to the market of the sampled artists." Gillis said he's yet to hear from a single sampled artist.
To be honest, he'd rather talk about other things. Like his booming tour schedule — which is severely hampered by his 9-to-5 job in his native Pittsburgh — or the e-mail he recently received from one of his heroes, Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan. And though he insists he's happy with his newfound fame, he'll begrudgingly admit that it's put a serious damper on his social life. But so it goes with a suddenly somewhat famous superstar DJ.
"I'd like to think of myself as a real weekend warrior, but in reality a lot of my friends go out all the time, and I chill at home because I have to work in the morning," he said. "I try to make it a point to go out on Friday and Saturday, but a lot of times I have to make the call to not go out to the club so I can stay home and make party music, which is kind of ridiculous."