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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day.

Girl Talk is the ultimate mash-up artist. Usually a musical mash-up is comprised of two songs, but Girl Talk's album - it's called, 'Feed the Animals' - it features more than 300 musical samples.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Through the rhythm of the funk and rock, so I can get more busy just one more time to the beat...

BRAND: Girl Talk is Greg Gillis's alter ego, and Greg doesn't pay for the bits of music he uses, these 300 samples. And he does not ask for permission from record labels or bands. Greg Gillis says he started experimenting a while ago with his first band when he was just 15.

Mr. GREG GILLIS (Girl Talk): I wanted to see how weird music could get. We'd play like 30 seconds shows, just smash a lot of stuff. Go crazy.

BRAND: It sounds like the Sex Pistols or, you know, the punk scene in the late '70s.

Mr. GILLIS: Yeah. It was very punk to me, even though I couldn't really relate to punk rock that well when I was in high school. Well, I was also kind of like a bitter, jaded high-schooler, and like punk at that era was like Blink 182, is what it becomes, so it's kind of like, that's not extreme. You know, I need something that was more crazy. So, you know, I discovered some guys like John Oswald and Negativland, who were doing experimental music while using pre-existing pop music as the source material. So I just kind of got into that, and then when I was 18, I got a computer and I decided to just do a solo project where it's entirely based around collaging pop music together. And that's kind of where it started, and then over the years, it's evolved into more accessible terrain and kind of took off a couple of years ago.

BRAND: And it took off a couple of years ago, so much so that you're now doing this full time, right?

Mr. GILLIS: Yeah. I just quit my day job last summer.

BRAND: What was your day job?

Mr. GILLIS: I was a biomedical engineer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: That's - wow. That's quite a departure from being a deejay, I guess.

Mr. GILLIS: Yeah. I mean, for me, it was like in high school and college I was always doing music as fun.

BRAND: OK, well let's play some of the music. And what I want you to do is kind of take me through how you create the music and we're going to play a snippet of it. And maybe you could talk us through it as we're playing it about what you put in as we're listening to it, because I knew you're layering lots and lots of different songs.

Mr. GILLIS: Sure.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Ghetto superstar, like this. You're giving love, instinctive love...

Mr. GILLIS: There's so much going on here. That's Diana Ross. The song 'Like This' by Mims. This part now right now is the Carpenters, and in the background is - vocals again are Mims.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

Ms. KAREN CARPENTERS: Baby, baby, baby, oh baby. I love you.

Unidentified Woman #2: Like this, like this, like this.

Mr. GILLIS: This is just the Carpenters part.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

BRAND: And what's this?

Mr. GILLIS: This is Metallica 'One.' It's slowed down a little bit. It's kind of the breakdown in the middle of that epic Metallica jam.

BRAND: So how do you get the idea to butt-cut(ph) the Carpenters and Metallica?

Mr. GILLIS: That's very - like everything I do is pretty trial and error, and a lot of the ideas that go on an album come from a live show. So I always kind of experiment with new ideas and just try out little bits and pieces at a live show. And you know, I don't like to improvise during the show. Like as far as like a layer of Metallica with Little Mama, that's like a pre-thought-out idea because the whole album is pretty, in my mind at least, try to make it relatively smooth flowing and I kind of liked how that was almost like a stop sign for a minute, fading right from the Carpenters and the Metallica. But the album actually functions as a loop. The last vocals on the album are pretty much the intro to the first vocals on the album.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

Unidentified Man #5: Keep you heart, man. He's really smart. He sticks. These girls are smart.

Play your part. Sweet jones. Master Choosy lover never...

BRAND: None of these samples that you used, none of them you've gotten permission to use. They're copyrighted.

Mr. GILLIS: That's right.

BRAND: But you're using them, and you're kind of risking the bands suing you or the labels suing you.

Mr. GILLLIS: That's right, and there is, you know, a concept called fair use in United States copyright, that allows you to sample without asking for permission if it falls in a certain criteria. In a broader scope to me, it's like all music is based on influence. And, you know, when you're in a rock band, you don't really invent those guitars or invent those chord progressions, or even invent that, you know, the guitar pedal sounds. But you pull it all together, take a bunch of influences, re-contextualize it, and if you do a well enough job of disguising your influences, it's called original.

BRAND: You have 300 samples on this album?

Mr. GILLIS: Yeah.

BRAND: How do you get them? And what do you do with them? Where do you physically put them while you're putting them all together?

MR. GILLIS: I pretty much, you know, every day I sit down, wake up, eat some cereal, and, you know, look in my CD collection, turn on the radio, just figure something out. Always, there's always songs lined up that I want to get at. Basically, I don't collect digital music. I have maybe a hundred mp3s on my computer right now. But I do collect loops and samples of music, and organize them in a way that makes sense in my mind. And I kind of, you know, just do not worry about what I'm going to do with them and just kind of catalog and put them away. And then, it's a very big trial and error process for me, where I just try out tons of different combinations and, you know, see what works.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

BRAND: I know this might be impossible for you to answer…

Mr. GILLIS: Uh hum.

BRAND: But I'm wondering, is there a favorite part - is there a favorite part for you on this album?

Mr. GILLIS: It's tough. There's so many little bits and pieces. For me, it's like - you know, the actual raw combinations, or things I've heard a lot. What's always surprising me is when I'm editing an album, like the very small bits and pieces, so, I mean, it sounds ridiculous but I like a lot of parts that are like a quarter second long, that happens to like fit some things together very well. If there's a segment when I'm sampling Rick Springfield's 'Jessie's Girl,' and a Three Six Mafia vocals over the top of it and I use just this tiny little clip from Veruca Salt's 'Seether', and it's literally maybe like a half second.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

Mr. RICK SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Why can't I find a woman like that, like Jessie's girl?

Mr. GILLIS: But it just kind of really ties together two distinct parts and it just fits perfectly. And if you're listening to it, you would never really recognize it's from that song, it's just going to flow so naturally, so kind of nerdy things like that I'm into.

BRAND: Well, Greg Gillis, thanks a lot.

Mr. GILLIS: Thank you for having me.

BRAND: Greg Gillis's album, it's called 'Feed the Animals.' It's available online right now. You can pay whatever you want to download it. And the actual CD, the physical copy, goes on sale on October 21st. To hear full tracks from 'Feed the Animals,' check us out at npr.org/music.

(Soundbite of song from 'Feed the Animals')

BRAND: Day to Day is a mash-up of NPR News and Slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

CHADWICK: And I'm Alex Chadwick.

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