From Mashups To Mixtapes: An Interview With Girl Talk

Congrats on the Broken Ankles EP! People are digging the collaboration. How did you start working with Freeway?

Last year I wanted to work with samples in different ways, cutting them up and making them almost unrecognizable.  So I got to the point where I basically started making beats, you know, something that I thought resembled something people could rap on top of. Then I had the idea that I thought it’d be nice to do a project where it would be a collaboration and it would fit somewhere between one of my previous albums and a rap mixtape.

Freeway was always high on the list to work with and just talking with him and his people, they all seemed to be on the same page, and I really wanted to get someone who didn’t want to just do this as a piece of publicity or something to knock out in a day and be done with it. I wanted someone who was down to work on it, spend time, and someone who’s hungry to make something, and I wanted to do something that I thought would be really interesting. Freeway seemed like a good pick and in retrospect I’m really happy it worked out to be him just because he does have a great work ethic and we ended up getting along very well and becoming pretty close friends. The whole experience I’d say was good for both of us.

You also worked with rappers like Waka Flocka Flame and Jadakiss on the EP.  When you are looking for some of these rappers to work with, which element of their style carries the most weight?  Is it the flow, the timbre, or the writing that’s most important to you?

As [Freeway and I] were working on songs, we would come up with different ideas for people. I never really had a chance to work with rappers prior to this project, so it was exciting to pick people that would both be surprising and a good fit at the same time. Someone like Waka is very stylistically different than Freeway. Even though they’re both known for the high-energy thing, I think stylistically Freeway is known as more of a traditional lyricist, and Waka is more of a hyped-up rapper. Just for that particular song I loved the idea of them together because even though I think they are worlds apart, I saw a parallel there with the energy of it and I thought it fit that track. So I think with each song there’s kind of like, “Whose voice would sound interesting on this? What’s the subject matter? What’s the energy?”

Jadakiss was another guy I was considering for the project going in, so I was really excited that Freeway actually brought up his name and he has a working relationship with Jadakiss. He’s one of my favorite rappers of all-time, so, I thought that was a great fit.

Do you dig through the crates? What’s your process for finding samples?

[With] this particular project, it was actually some digging through the crates and listening to records I’ve never heard before, which is also fun ‘cause I think I do listen to a ton of music that isn’t normally featured in a Girl Talk show or on an album. So it was fun to be able to hunt and listen to obscure album for for samples. I do listen to a ton of music that isn’t necessarily on the radio so it was a chance to kind of go back through that stuff and stuff I’ve been listening to my whole life and say, “Oh, would this be good for a sample.” [On] the track Suicide on Broken Ankles, the sample there, it’s Add N to (X). I really grew up on Add N to (X) and I love that sample. I was thinking forever that would make a great beat but I didn’t think it would fit into the context of a Girl Talk show or album, it’s a little obscure. So for [Broken Ankles] this it was a great opportunity to go to [Add N to (X)].

And now in terms of the production of the album, what digital audio workstation were you using to write your beats in?

That album was primarily made in Ableton Live and I’m relatively new to it. For my normal stuff — for Girl Talk shows —  I perform on a program called AudioMulch and that’s normally what I compose on for the previous Girl Talk albums. I did use some AudioMulch on this album but I started getting into Ableton a couple years ago and this was my first project I’ve put together on Ableton. That’s been cool. I’ve been primarily using AudioMulch for like ten years so it’s interesting to kind of switch over and, you know, for me, I have a “not broke, don’t fix it” sort of mentality but I think switching over for a little bit was very liberating and kind of got the mind working in different ways and really opened me up to different ideas on how to compose music.

Will there be a follow-up to Broken Ankles?

Yeah, I think so. I can’t say 100%, but Freeway and I recorded a bunch of material that didn’t make the album that we both liked and that was kind of my call. I thought the project was working better in the shorter format like an EP. I think we definitely had enough to put out a full-length or something like that but I’d like to continue to work with them and he’s been coming out this summer to a bunch of shows. We’ve been hanging out a lot since then and we have been in the studio together, so I’d like to do some more work like that and in addition to that I want to, you know, I prepared a bunch of material going into this and we only used a small fraction of it so I’ve really kind of gotten into just making these beats and that’s something I’ve been working on any time I get some free time. I want to do more work like this even outside of Freeway, so I’ll do some other collaborations. So nothing locked down right now, but a few seeds planted, a few different ideas and people I want to reach out to.

Can you talk about what your ongoing festival set-up looks like production-wise and what your set consists of? Are you playing a lot of the EP or more of the older material?

We’ve had a new set design starting at Coachella in April. Some custom LED work and some inflatables and custom lights and things like that. On the musical side, I always lean more towards [older material]. The EP was well received but I still think people know me for a particular sound so I play bits and pieces of the EP, but I liked to even remix that. I think for a lot of people, when Broken Ankles came out, for some fans, they were even confused by it or expecting something that was closer to a mash-up album. I think taking bits and pieces of Broken Ankles and putting it into one of my sets; I like re-contextualizing it so it makes sense to people as within the same body of work ‘cause to me it’s not that big of a departure; it’s kind of just a cousin to what I normally do. So the sets this summer have been primarily new material but based off stuff that would relate to my previous solo albums like All Day and Feed the Animals. It’s kind of an extension of the last album All Day; I think it’s definitely a different sound, with elements of Broken Ankles thrown in there. I think the general sound has moved past All Day but I would say that would be the closest reference point that still is a hyper mash-up sound thing. But like I mentioned before, I have been dabbling a bit more into original production and set work and that kind of thing; I’d say that’s definitely a much bigger part of the set than it’s ever been. I think it’s in there in a way where I don’t want it to be a focal point; I just want it to kind of be a tool. Unless you’re into audio production, I’m hoping you wouldn’t even notice it, but to me it’s made a big difference. I just think it sounds nicer and has more balanced production. Even in some of the older stuff/albums, it’s more reimagined, taking those bits and pieces, remixing the remix, kind of building on older material and taking it into what I think feels appropriate for 2014.

What types of controllers are you using with your live set-ups? Since you’ve been exploring Ableton, are you playing with controllers like Launchpad?

I’m still sticking to AudioMulch Live; it’s just been consistent for me for live sample triggering. The way the set works for me is I keep everything as isolated as possible. I’m never really triggering a whole song or playing a song; you know, every high hat, hand clap, sample, vocal, all of that — as isolated as possible. So it’s a very detailed collage.

Before every set I rehearse and go over it, and I improvise within the set but I definitely memorize the entire set of what I want to do; I have an exact rehearsed set. And that’s the way I like it; I never considered myself a traditional DJ and I never wanted it to be like that. So I think with something like a show I have a way I want to do it but then I naturally make mistakes or decide to do something different. It’s something where I am proud of how before every show I can’t really know I’m blind ever; I have to go over that material for a few hours and get to know each piece because there’s just hundreds and hundreds of samples that I have to know where they’re added.

I think going back five or ten years ago I was a lot looser with it; it was a lot more improvised. So it was a lot more raw and I just think over time the shows got bigger and the production got more involved and at this point there’s a lot of cues in terms of videos and that stuff’s all done on the sly with a human being but he gets to know the set as well as the people on stage with the confetti and the balloons and all of that, so it’s something where it used to just be a total free-for-all whereas now it is kind of a rehearsed set and I’ll play all the material before the shows and we’ll go over specific cues. Things never go perfectly, but there is a loose game plan in how everyone thinks it may go.

You headline festivals and play lots of clubs; do you ever have fun just spinning low-key house parties?

Not at the moment. Back when the shows were a little bit more improvisational and it was a little bit more raw, I really was open to, if a show got canceled or something got mixed up I could just show up at a house and do a show. It’s still a possibility but I do really like the idea of just conceptually, anytime the show exists for it to be 100%, and just to always be something where I’m prepared with my people to perform. I never wanted it to be a traditional DJ set; with the production and everything that’s gotten involved with it, I’m really happy with where that is; it’s really a part of the show. So ideally, that would be part of it. So I would be happy to do a house party if we could bring all of that stuff and make it happen. It’s been a little while, but there was definitely a period where I felt like it was very fitting for the show. We did lots of random house parties — shows used to end prematurely all the time and showing up in someone’s basement doing something. But it’s been a little while. I feel like when I have time off, when I’m not playing a show, I really enjoy going out and dancing and hanging out, watching how other people play music, doing that sort of thing. I enjoy being on stage but I feel like when I’m not on stage I’m rarely dying to go perform somewhere. I’m more excited to engage with and consume music as a fan.

Okay, well, thank you so much for talking to me! I really appreciate it.

Yeah, no problem at all!

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