ACL Interviews: Girl Talk
We caught up with Gregg Gillis, the man behind Girl Talk on the phone. We discussed copyright law and how to make the panties drop, on both males and females of course, so read on to get an inside look at Gregg and Girl Talk.
ATH: Is there are an artist or a song that you wanted to use in a Girl Talk track, but for the life of you, couldn’t fit in?
Gregg: It’s part of the journey of things. For every sample that makes it into the records, there are probably 5-10 that don’t. In putting together an album, like the last one, where there is a little over 300 samples, it’s not like I made a list of 300 songs that fit together. It’s more that I put together 3000 samples, and those 300 were the ones that worked out.
ATH: Has doing Girl Talk ruined your ability to listen to music leisurely or are you constantly harvesting bits and pieces?
Gregg: I kind of get in and out of the mode for searching for samples. I think when I’m really hunting, like I feel like I need new 80s music, or hip-hop, in a set, then I kind of hunt for it. I scan the radio, or I search on YouTube. That’s very different from listening to music for me. I think when I’m just chilling out, actually listening to a CD, it’s a different experience. Certain things jump out at me that I can use in a set, and I might write that down. But, it’s not like that ruins the listening experience. I don’t play a traditional instrument, but I would guess it’s similar to if you play bass guitar, and if you heard a song, you might listen to a certain part, you might listen in your head to how they play it, but it’s not like you can’t enjoy that as music even with that going on in your head.
ATH: Do you see the battle over copyright law helping or hindering the popularity of Girl Talk? Why?
Gregg: I haven’t really had any battles. It’s all theoretical at this point. I’ve basically put out full albums that haven’t been challenged yet. It could go either way with the whole Fair Use issue, whether it’s legal or illegal. I think it’s an angle people have chosen to write about, and it’s an area of controversy. It’s also kind of a story outside the music thing itself. I think people like to look at the controversy with me, and I feel that in that regard its helped my popularity. More people have wanted to write about it, or turn my ideas into document movies. I think it kind of sparks people’s interest, but if you go to a show, 75% of those kids probably have no idea there is an issue. I think certain people have used it as a focus in magazines or what not, so I think in that regard, it has kind of helped me out.
ATH: What are you more proud of: The songs of Girl Talk or the attention you are bringing to copyright reform?
Gregg: I think it depends. It depends on what happens with copyright. It might be ten years before anything changes. I think I’m just one of the many that are using sample based music in new ways. If you look at hip-hop, people have been doing it for 25 years now, and there is all sorts of music from Daft Punk to P. Diddy to The Avalanches that have been using samples. It’s an interesting question because I do kind of think about the legacy of this project, and I think the copyright has technically changed. I think if something does dramatically change, and if I do have to be sued, then I think that would be the legacy. But, at this point I’m guessing people are thinking that there was a new movement in the late 2000s where everyone is using computers for remixes, and I happen to be part of that.
ATH: So you are famous for bringing people on stage during your performances. What do you plan to do in the future to keep the live show interesting?
Gregg: The show has evolved. I feel like its always sort of in context. I feel like the onstage thing is just one introductory part of the show. A small fraction gets to be up there, and there is a certain sense of etiquette that has evolved. You know you see a punk band, and you expect a mosh pit. Some people get in, but some people don’t; they just watch the show. I feel like that’s the equivalent of getting on stage, and it sort of depends on how big the venue is, and obviously not everyone is going to get onstage. I don’t think it’s what is necessarily what gets people into the show. As far as the show goes, I do feel like its been steadily evolving over the past year. Touring almost all my shows and having people interact with the crowd. You know, a couple people with confetti or throwing out balloons. It kind of has been growing over the last year. Again, it’s kind of about context, and I’m trying to do the biggest venues I can. But later I might like to do small venues in a town, and do a couple of nights in a row. But again, the show is always sort of evolving; I see a lot of people who come out to many shows, and I think for those people the show is always growing for those people who collect bootlegs and keep up with all the shows. I think it’s pushing those people in a direction that’s entertaining and challenging.
ATH: I’ve heard your music be described as “party in a box,” mastery mash-up,” and “white people hip-hop,.” What do you call it?
Gregg: I call it a collage. I think when I perform live, I think of the functionality of it. I want people to party and celebrate and have a good time. That’s part of the show. I think on record, I’m not necessarily trying to make the ultimate party mix. When I go out and dance, I wouldn’t necessarily want to do that to a peak of a song; I want the full song. I’m trying to make it fun and entertaining. I’m excited people want to dance to it and party to it. I was always thinking of it as an intricate collage that was always moving, that was interesting structurally, and entertaining musically. I always thought it could be fun, but didn’t consider the functionality of it as music. I’ve always listened to collage based music, like the Bomb Squad. I wanted to take that into my own direction and make very intricate, entertaining collage. I think in a lot of ways, the music references a lot of early hip-hop. In a lot of ways I think I’m kind of throwing it back to that era.
ATH: Being someone who has probably listened to thousands of songs, maybe tens of thousands, what would be the best songs in your opinion, to:
Gregg: “Lets Get Physical.” Always.
ATH: Played at your funeral?
Gregg: Bone Thugs n’ Harmony, “Crossroads.” One of the most underrated hip-hop groups of all time.
ATH: To make the panties drop?
Gregg: “My Pony” by Ginuwine. I think it’s actually called “Pony,” but I’m not sure.