Illegal Art recording artist Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, kindly consented to do an interview with me after I contacted him following his stellar gig at Brooklyn's Studio B in February. Having gone to college with Gregg at Case Western in Cleveland, I've been attending his shows for around five years now, but the insanity in Brooklyn may have been the most fun I've ever had at one of his performances -- particularly because I was permitted to stay on stage and rock out (under the auspices of preventing the table Gregg's laptop was set on from collapsing) after bouncers had flung the rest of the revelers from the stage. We discussed his music, his day job, and our favorite basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Are you still touring on the weekends only and holding down the day gig engineering? Any plans to take a break for a longer tour or to do
sightseeing in any of the foreign locales you've played?
Yeah, I'm still working the day job. Work has been really hectic and busy lately. If it slows down within the next few months, I'd consider quitting. I'd love to wake up at noon everyday and dedicate more time to doing music. Also, I've had to turn down way too many shows outside of the USA because of the engineering job. Seeing the world would be great.
What's been the most exciting venue to play so far?
Maybe the Meredith Music Festival in Australia. I played at around 2:00 AM, and it was December, warm, and outdoors. I was on a huge stage in front of all of these people who had been partying for 3 straight days.
Artist to perform with?
It's hard to pick one but off the top of my head, I've loved sets by CX Kidtronik, Dan Deacon, Beck, Hearts of Darknesses, Man Man, Wolf Eyes, and Kanye West.
Favorite city to play -- aside from Pittsburgh or Cleveland, of course?
I like Morgantown, WV.
Most, if not all of your reviews mention the legal questions hanging
over your use of uncleared samples. Have you or Illegal Art been
contacted by any representatives of the artists sampled?
What's your perception of the effect that online reviews have had on the size of your audience? Can you attribute the household-nameness you've got going now to that glowing Pitchfork review (and continued press from their end), or do you feel Night Ripper is simply that much more accessible than your first two records?
I think the Pitchfork review launched things off for where I'm at now. But the album is definitely more accessible than my previous work so I don't know if the word would have spread regardless. I think touring around for the past 7 years and the previous releases helped build a foundation. I thought I was doing pretty well as a sample-based laptop music dude prior to Night Ripper. This has gotten way bigger than I ever imagined. When Pitchfork gives you a good review, they obviously have a huge audience of music consumers reading their site. They also have a huge audience of music industry movers and shakers reading. More mainstream media outlets start getting interested. It's a snowball effect.
How much time do you think you spend on each track, from the initial
idea to its readiness to be played live or dropped onto a CD?
It's tough for me to put a definite time on it. I'll spend 5 hours making beats and sampling songs, without trying to mix anything together, and I may get nothing out of it. Or I can sit down and sample a hook within 30 seconds and find a place for it with my live set. My live sets are a whole bunch of loops and samples that I have to perform live. It's kind of like a puzzle or something, where I have to progress through putting all these pieces together. This puzzle is just hanging out on my computer right now, and some pieces work better than others. I'm constantly swapping pieces and trying out new things and over time, major sections of it change. Eventually, I'll have enough for a new release. I put together Night Ripper as one track.
I read about your Lloyd Banks story on Myspace. Has anything else notably ridiculous happened while on tour?
It seems like something ridiculous goes down at every show. At my last
show in Bloomington, Indiana, some girl had these travel sized things of
Vodka on stage. She handed it to me, and I drank it. I guess I wasn't
supposed to drink the whole thing. She complained a little bit, so I told
her how to sneak into my backstage area to get a bottle of whiskey that I had in there. After the show, I went to my backstage room, and she had spilled whiskey everywhere. My clothes were soaked. And I'm not sure on this, but either there was some pizza dropped on my stuff or she also puked everywhere. We later shared a taxi to a party, but I didn't call her out on the questionable throw up.
LeBron James has been averaging over 30 points since the All-Star break after averaging about 26 over the first half of the season. He hit
15-of-17 free throws on Saturday against Toronto. Is LeBron the kind of
player who can simply will himself out of a slump? Would you rather have LeBron than Wade (or Nash, Bryant, Howard etc)?
LeBron is such a dynamic player that it's difficult for him to have a
complete slump. He doesn't need to score to be effective. He draws so
much defensive attention, regardless of how much he is scoring, that it
opens up the whole team. He has great court vision and is not afraid to
get his entire team involved. He's also a solid defender and rebounder. I
think it totally depends on the team as to which NBA superstar you need
the most. I think LeBron is the best fit for the current Cavs' rosters.
Are the Cavs one player away (say, adding a point guard like Bibby), or do they need to phase out Ilgauskas, Hughes, Damon Jones, and Donyell Marshall and build around their younger core of James, Varejao, Pavlovic and Gibson? Is Larry Hughes a bust, or do you see him coming out of his slump and becoming the Pippen-type slasher and defender the Cavs want him to be?
I think a solid point guard would really turn the team around. Mark Price should put on a jersey again. I've been a Larry Hughes fan for a while now, and he's actually looked pretty good at the point guard spot for the past 2 games. They won both games. That's not necessarily his traditional role, and I think he'd be more effective elsewhere on the court. I think a point guard capable of being in control would make everyone more comfortable in their roles.
What do you think of the navy blue uniforms?
They're alright, but normal blue and orange Cavs gear can't be stopped.
Anyway. Are you working on any remixes for other artists at the moment? What about a new Girl Talk record - is it too early to think about a release date?
I've been getting offers to make beats and do remix work for people, but
I've been too busy to really dedicate that much time to it. I just started
a new band with my friend Frank Musarra from Hearts of Darknesses. It's called Trey Told ‘Em, and we're going to be dedicated to doing remixes and production work. It's a way to do this type of thing without it necessarily having to have a “Girl Talk” name on it. Some of it will be
sample-based and some of it will not be. We're working on a mix for Tokyo Police Club right now.
I'm always working on new Girl Talk material for live shows. I have no
concrete plans on a next album, but it's definitely in the works.
Like many musicians, you've used our mutual friends to do your audio mastering and artwork for your releases. Has your recent success gotten them any extra work?
I'm not sure actually. I think I've helped out some resumes though.
Finally, as a "party" artist whose shows involve a lot of energy and a high level of drunken debauchery, can you forsee a time in the future when you'd feel "too old" to play to the college (and, in some places, high school) set?
It is kind of weird to me now that I'm older than many of the people
coming out to the shows. I've never looked to the future with any of my
music projects. I'm in it for right now. I'll get old eventually, and
maybe I'll learn to play guitar then.
Any shout-outs or other clarifications?
I'd like to say wazup to Richard's brother Ryne.
Also, I'd like to clarify some personal stuff from your review of Night Ripper. You made it sound like I was some indie rock dude who decided that I was done with that and onto making electronic music. I had been doing electronic and remix music since I was 15. I never gave up on anything. I've always been into pop music, experimental music, indie music, whatever. There was never any dramatic change.