February 23rd, 2011
11:25 AM ET
Talk about a career change: Gregg Gillis - known to some, most likely, as the guy behind Girl Talk - has gone from being a biomedical engineer by day to serving as a one-man laptop band.
Girl Talk channels a diverse array of popular music spanning the last 50 years. Gillis' latest album, “All Day,” consists of 372 samples over the course of 71 minutes, blending various genres and decades - no wonder his music is described as a “pop collage.”
You can hear, for example, the Rolling Stones' “Paint it Black” with Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow," plus the Young Rascals' “Good Lovin’” and Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” all fused into one song at the same time.
“Going out to a bar, listening to an iPod on the bus, going grocery shopping, music is just always around you. The stuff I like to sample are those familiar songs that you just hear walking down the street,” Gillis said.
Perhaps the music’s familiarity also lends to its popularity. “All Day” was released as a free download out of the blue one Monday morning in late 2010. The album was the No. 1 search term on Google for part of the day, and the viral response crashed his label’s website due to an overload of traffic, despite a lack of promotion.
But just four years ago, Gillis was working as a biomedical engineer in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He had been performing as Girl Talk in his spare time and on weekends since college, but it was more of a side project - something he did for fun. Yet when he released his third album, “Night Ripper,” the buzz began to build and he found himself struggling to find a balance between performing and his day job.
“It was very surreal, at times playing a show in Seattle on Saturday, [a] sold out, crazy show, [and then flying home] and landing at 4 a.m. in Pittsburgh, getting to my house by 5 a.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. and going to the office… none of the people in my work knew. I wasn’t trying to keep it secret; it was just so low-key at first,” Gillis recalled.
By 2007 he was doing enough performances to quit his day job, and now he spends much of his time trying to pump people up with his energetic style of mash-up music.
Although his concerts are technically a one-person “laptop show,” they specialize in engaging the whole audience. Fans are showered with confetti, balloons, beach balls and toilet paper. Gillis selects audience members to come on stage and dance for the entire show, on top of also bringing several friends along on the tour to interact with fans.
And then there's Gillis in the middle of it all, with his laptop wrapped with protective saran wrap, triggering all of the music in the midst of the madness.
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