MP: Hey Gregg!
GT: (laughs) Where you at right now?
MP: We got to Boulder in time to be evacuated with the fires.
GT: Oh, damn.
MP: This magazine is kind of like a mash up: yoga mixed with art, with sustainability and humanitarianism, with hip hop and punk rock. It’s like a punk rock yoga. (laughs)
GT: Right, right. (laughs)
MP: I saw you at Wanderlust last year. All these kids were having the time of their life. and I felt really old. (laughs) I’m 32, and I’m thinking, Oh my god, I cannot keep up with this!
GT: Nah, I feel ya. I’m 30 now. I’ve been doing this since I was 18. When I was 18, I was playing to 18 to 21-year-olds, and then, when I was 25, still playing to 18 to 25-year-olds. As I’ve gone on, the crowd has gone in both directions, both younger and a little older now than it’s ever been. It is an interesting thing to hit 30.
MP: (laughs) It was interesting to see the crowd itself. They were in their 40s at a yoga festival in this trance group meditative state, sitting next to 17-year-olds, screaming. (laughs)
GT: Ultra respect for the yoga crowd. The one thing I took away is they are extremely open minded. The music I do and even the show, as far as the uplifting, party vibe goes, we’re a little confrontational. I’d say the context of the lyrics that I sample, or even the way that we approach getting it out there, it’s a little aggressive, but in no way did it feel like the crowd at Wanderlust, either year I played, felt at all confronted by it.
MP: No, everybody loved it. I was there to interview you, and I was thinking, I’m not gonna make it through the end of this. I was like, Where are the girls? I thought it was a girl band.
GT: (laughs)That was part of the intention, with the name. It’s always funny that it still exists now, the project, 12 years later. I kind of picked out a name that was intentionally sounding like a Disney project, or girl group, but in no way was I expecting it to be something that turned into this long term project, something that turned into my defining thing. (laughs) But that’s basically what happened with it. Initially, the name was intended to be very Disney, very pop, very teenager sounding.
MP: (laughs) Especially when you have this avant garde kind of noise roots.
MP: I’m gonna jump into our artist series of questions. What is it that excites you most right now with life?
GT: I travel a lot. For the past 3 or 4 years, I’ve done 150 shows a year. I love getting out there and traveling and doing shows and all of that. But when I can be home, it’s a special time. I do have some weeks coming up in the summer where I will actually be in my house, and I love working on new music and all of that. I would say more than anything, I am always excited for gaps of time where I can actually hang out with my friends. But right now it’s feeling really summer in Pittsburgh, and it’s a beautiful day, and I just made plans yesterday to go to a water park with my friends in a couple days. (laughs) So, I’m most excited about going swimming and riding water slides, shooting off fireworks, and playing basketball, and things like that. That’s what I really love doing. Summer is a great time.
MP: What inspires your work? I don’t think a lot of people get it. I just read in the New York Times about your looping and timing and memory, and you gotta hit at this certain time. I was having a panic attack just thinking about you having to do that with people watching. It’s not just hitting play on stage. What is it on an emotional level that inspires you? Where do you draw from?
GT: Since my work is almost always based around samples, a very direct answer is I listen to music constantly, and I’m always hearing things I love that I’m excited to use. I find these parts to assemble something else. In that way, it’s like gambling, where there’s always the chance for a win, but you don’t necessarily know when it’s gonna come ‘cause my process is very trial and error. I hear something I like, and sometimes, I think it’s gonna work, and I will cut it up, try it out, try to work with other material. Sometimes, it falls flat, and other times, it works out, so in that way, I’m constantly listening to music because I enjoy it. I think there’s always room to grow. I’ve always enjoyed taking pre-existing sound, songs I like, songs I want to share, and manipulating them and trying to do my own version. So just knowing there’s that potential for that thing out there that I haven’t discovered yet, really gets me motivated every day. I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and listen to music in order to try to find something to work with.
MP: I notice that a lot of your work is juxtaposed. From mixing Miley Cyrus with hip hop with old school seventies. You’re throwing all of these compilations together. You throw things together that very few other artists are doing.
GT: Yeah. The goal for me is, I build the record that I put out as one individual song. Even though it’s broken up into tracks, to me it’s like one hour-long piece of music. In assembling the whole thing, I’m really thinking, okay, it’s gonna end here, it’s gonna start here, and I kind of have the idea of the journey. But [a]the goal is for it to be a really complex collage, and I like to stay within the “top forty” world with the samples. I want it to jump around, especially where it sounds kind of randomized, where you can’t expect what’s gonna come next, or you don’t know the pacing of the samples. That is the goal, to really put together as complex a collage of pop as possible while it’s still accessible to some degree. I want it to be very dense, and I want places where it’s going to be unpredictable. I’m a big fan of pop music and pop culture, so I’d like it to just be loud and the whole thing to be kind of in your face, in terms of jumping around and everything. I like it to just be brash and even bratty to a certain degree. It’s how aggressive it is in terms of the diversity of the source material.
MP: Awesome. What is it that makes you feel vulnerable, as a human being?
GT: Feel wonderful?
MP: Vulnerable, not wonderful. (laughs) That would be lame.
GT: (laughs) Yeah I was gonna say, “That’s a crazy question.” Vulnerable. I think at least with my work, that’s an interesting question for what I do, especially. Since it’s all sample based, it is me expressing myself, and the goal of the work is always for it to come across as original material, as transformative material. I want the material I make to be mine; that’s always the goal of the record and of the show.
I think when I do feel vulnerable is when I’m putting myself out there with these samples. I’m basically setting myself up for people to hate it. And just being open about it. You know, you’re putting yourself out there, knowing that a lot of people are gonna be like, “This is stupid,” or “This guy is corny.” I know that, but I’m willing to take that step forward and say, “I’m cool with this stuff.” That way, I do feel slightly vulnerable. I am ultimately comfortable with what I’m sampling. That is what I’m doing, and this has become representational of Greg Gillis. People know this Girl Talk thing represents me.
You know, I’ll put out an album, and people review it, and some people love it, and some people tear it apart. By nature of the project, I’ve always wanted this to be something where people react strongly to it. So that way, you can feel a little vulnerable when you see people tearing you apart on the internet or saying, “It’s the end of music.” “This guy is a total hack.” I’ve read it all. But at the same time, even though I feel a little vulnerable with that, I do feel comfortable. I’m happy that people can hate it ‘cause I feel like all the artists that I really love, they’ve had a strong contingent of people who really hate their work as well.
MP: Isn’t that the case with anybody who does good work or has a strong voice?
MP: Great. How do you handle pain? How do you handle rejection? As you were saying when someone says something about your work, but as a human being, how do you process and deal with pain or rejection?
GT: I think it’s hard to define how I process pain. (laughs) Maybe, it might be the most difficult question I’ve ever heard. I do think I’m fairly optimistic in life, so I’m willing to take it. When there’s something negative in my life, be it in the art or the music world or in my personal life, I really just want to face it as immediately as possible. I don’t run from it. I just want to immerse myself in it, get through it as quickly as possible, understand it, and look into what is positive about it. What is the aspect of this that is gonna be positive to maybe get me through it, that’s going to make me stronger?
MP: On stage, there is so much passion and fire. And you seem to go into this other consciousness, like it’s a meditation or trance. I’m feeling that in your personality when I’m talking to you. This guy moves a lot of energy in his body.
GT: With the shows, even today, I still always feel like no matter the show, whether it’s two-hundred kids at some small college, or a festival, or whatever, I feel like there’s always something to prove. I think when you have a project like this where it’s been the past twelve years of my life, and I do spend pretty much every free minute that I have working on stuff and preparing, you take it very personally. At no point have I ever been on stage and been like, Ugh, I’m tired. (laughs) I’ve never allowed myself to mentally go there. When I’m performing, this is what everything builds up to, and everything has allowed me to be here. I’m passionate about the project, and I think it definitely comes out of me in the performances.
MP: Are there any particular causes that you support?
GT: On the surface it’s always been the music and what I’m doing with samples. It’s always been the fair use movement and that whole world. That’s something I’ve always been down with: creative commons and people being able to license their music and allow other people to reuse it and recycle it. That discussion was something I had to sell more, be more convincing of, five or ten years ago. Sharing information, art, music, and everything on the internet now has become a part of everyone’s lives. In that way, it’s been really nice that what I’m doing is less conceptually radical as original art. I’m always down to support the creative commons and all those people. A lot of people from that world have definitely reached out and have given me a hand or advice, from Lawrence Lessig to all the rest of those types. Yeah, definitely shout out to that whole world.
MP: And next time, before I hear you play, I’m not gonna do five hours of yoga and be exhausted. (laughs)
GT: (laughs) Yeah. You got to let the show be your yoga.
MP: Let the show be your yoga! (laughs) Now you’re Yoda. Awesome.
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