Unless you were born with one of those silver spoons, you likely work a day job, sneaking time for your own business when not taking care of someone else’s. Trust funds (and ma and pa) remain indie rock’s unspoken funding source. Or, a couple weeks ago Patti Smith came down on guitar-slinging slackers:
“When people come up to me and say, ‘Patti, nobody wants to hear my CD and I don’t have enough money for equipment,’ I say, ‘Well, get a job.’ You do babysitting jobs, you work in the factory, you work in the bookstore or become a pickpocket. Work is really good for an artist. Artists should work.”
All true, but plenty of musicians–people packing clubs and looking fabulous on your favorite web sites–punch the clock as fish mongers, dog walkers, temps, social workers and scientists.
This and that in mind, Quit Your Day Job–a new weekly column penned by Brandon Stosuy (Believer, Paper Thin Walls, Pitchfork)–is set to focus on those folks for whom “9 to 5″ evokes more than Dolly Parton, Lady Sov, and a hogtied Dabney Coleman. Fittingly, we decided to get the ball rolling with Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, a man who’s overlapped the Ying Yang Twins and the Verge gloriously, and who could likely mash six different “9 to 5″‘s into the best workday anthem ever. Take it away, Brandon…
Girl Talk’s third album, Night Ripper, charted high on year-ends lists (#34 Pitchfork, #22 Rolling Stone, #27 Spin… #21 here at Stereogum). Nowadays, the ADD-style Pittsburgh DJ’s been remixing everyone from Beck and Good Charlotte to Grizzly Bear and Peter Bjorn and John. Coachella and SXSW gigs are great, but he heads to Vegas on Valentine’s Day for Fu-Sion, a two-day televised concert at the Aladdin Hotel and Casino, ringing in Chinese New Year with Kanye West, Gnarls Barkley and plenty of others who, unless they pull a Hammer, have managed escape the everyday job market.
I caught up with Gillis shortly after he returned home from a January 27th weekend warrior gig at Chop Suey in Seattle.
STEREOGUM: You’re a biomedical engineer. What does that mean exactly? Did you go to school for it?
GREGG GILLIS: I went to school for biomedical engineering, with a focus on tissue engineering. At my job, I have a biomedical engineer title, but my duties are unrelated to any tissue sciences. I do research and development on medical instrumentation. It’s kind of an experimental division, and we try to flesh out a bunch of weird, new-to-the-world devices. I hook other employees up with our devices and collect physiological information on them. Then, most of my time is spent sitting in a cubicle and analyzing data. There’s also a big chunk of time dedicated to answering Myspace messages.
STEREOGUM: Has the job influenced your listening habits or your approach to sound? Somehow, I imagine an especial connection to Matmos’ A Chance to Cut Is A Chance To Cure.
GG: Haha, yeah, I love that album. I don’t think there are any huge connections between my day job and my music. But, I think there is a general engineering mindset of approaching problems and tasks from the ground level up, just developing things from the basic building blocks. And with my work in Girl Talk, I use some older software and try to really approach constructing music from a similar mentality. Work is a great time for me to listen to music and figure out what I’m going to sample as well.
STEREOGUM: Are coworkers aware of Girl Talk?
GG: No. When I started working here about 2 years ago, there was really no need to tell them about my music. It’s a fairly conservative environment, and it just never came up. It’s only been the last 6 months or so that things have really exploded, and I’m in too deep to explain the situation now. Every Pittsburgh newspaper and magazine I’ve interacted with has agreed to not use my real name in interviews, just “Girl Talk,” and only publish this one picture of me with sunglasses and a scarf where you really can’t see my face.
STEREOGUM: Is it rough waking up and heading into work after one of those sweaty, raucous live shows?
GG: I am technically living a lie. I have jumped on a plane to do Friday and Saturday shows almost every weekend for the past 4 months now. It’s a little difficult to never talk about this in the work environment and to completely ignore the fact that I’m signing autographs and playing sold out shows when I’m not in my cubicle.
This past weekend was especially tough. I played Seattle on Saturday, and my flight to Pittsburgh on Sunday was delayed. I didn’t get home until 4:30 AM and had to be at work at 8:30 AM for a meeting. Airport security took my toothpaste, so I couldn’t brush my teeth in the morning.
STEREOGUM: Think you’ll quit anytime soon?
GG: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. I like having to not depend on music for money and have it be exclusively my fun time, but simultaneously, I’m in my 20’s and it’d be great to have a year or two doing nothing but music. And that seems totally feasible right now. If work slows down at any point and I wouldn’t feel guilty ditching out on a project, then I’d seriously consider it.
Is your co-worker a rock star? E-mail tips at stereogum.com.