By Scott Collison
Juice Jam Interview
At the finale of Juice Jam 2009, SU students struggled to shift rage-gears in the middle of the day, leading to the most awkward dance party any of us Jerks have ever experienced. Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, didn’t seem too fazed when he took a few minutes to chat with Jerk after the show.
JERK: So, today was kind of subdued compared to other times I’ve seen you play. What do you think the deal was?
GIRL TALK: Well, it’s naturally the environment sort of thing. It’s daylight and lots of space and it’s a nice room, so, it was more active than I even thought it might be. Naturally, outdoors in the sunlight, lots of room, that’s the way it’s going to go down. Darkness just has such a crazy impact on like how comfortable you feel losing your mind.
J: What distinguishes your music that has kept you out of legal trouble?
GT: I definitely think there is a different mentality as far as people understood just using preexisting recordings. Sampling is relatively new. There’s tons of recordings from the ‘80s and ‘90s that incorporate it, but as far as the way it’s used now is only of the past 5 to 10 years.
One of the biggest changes I think has been the onset of a YouTube culture. Radiohead puts out an album and their fans make all sorts of fan video remixes.
J: So what has happened to allow that (remixes)?
GT: Everyone is connected to a computer, and one interesting thing is that this all goes off to influence how comfortable people are with this idea. So sampling is not like as radical as it may have been with John Oswald or 2 Live Crew or whatever.
When the albums became popular, it’s hard to say why I haven’t had a [legal] issue. I believe in what I’m doing, I think that it should be legal, but based on the history I have suspected that maybe someone would have an issue and try to stop it. First of all, there’s so many artists sampled, people could be like “well, no one else contacted him.” Also, we’re approaching it from a mildly academic perspective. [My albums] are put on this label Illegal Art; a guy named Lawrence Lessig from the Standard Fair Use center has actively been hyping what we’re doing. We have that more academic side to push the issue that maybe 2 Live Crew didn’t necessarily have.
J: And I think that’s really cool, because when I read interviews you’re very cogent talking about legal issues.
Yeah, and it’s kind of unfortunate to me that like Biz Markie or 2 Live Crew didn’t have the Stanford Fair Use Center because they could have just been like “well, we have this argument.” It’s kind of a grey area, like there’s fair use and you can do it legally.
J: Yeah, like you can quote a book.
I don’t think a lot of people really think about it though. Your average kid who is like out there jumping up and down and sweating maybe doesn’t know that. So it’s like if someone does sue me and we win, it just sets this huge precedent.
J: So you think the record companies are afraid to like make you a martyr?
Maybe, but I think they’re afraid that we might have a valid argument. And, I mean, it might not even be afraid, it could just be like they see the light that it’s like it’s not negatively impacting them.
I feel sad about where the music industry is going. You can’t buy CDs anymore but I’m also excited about that. Some things I’m like the biggest old school head as far as like going to the CD store twice a month and picking up CDs and like not bootlegging stuff, I’m not burning CDs and not collecting mp3s. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anything like that but the way I consider music is more of a 10 years ago sort of mentality.
I’m not trying to hurt the industry or anything. I don’t think anyone’s going to pick up my album instead of anyone else’s, but I think it turns a lot of younger people on to that sort of music. There’s a chance that they see it that way. And a lot of the labels, there’s various people within that structure, and I can say there’s been at least a few of those who have reached out to me to actually work with them. “Can you do a remix of our whole back catalog, can you work with this artist…”
J: That’s neat, I had read that hadn’t happened, but a lot of interviews are from 2006.
And again, you know, it’s not official, so I don’t want to drop any names or anything cause it’s like any A&R guy could say “would you want to work with this person” or sometimes it’s just like “can you make beats for this person” it’s completely separate from what I do or sometimes it could be “can you remix a back catalog.” Regardless I think a lot of people from that major label world are interested in embracing this idea as opposed to trying to fight it.
You know this whole generation growing up now, it’s like the years are ticking by and you know I’m getting a little older and like now there’s a lot of people attending shows who are like 15, 16, ten years younger than me, and they’re growing up understanding Girl Talk as a valid music concert experience which is very exciting to me.
J: That’s kind of weird to think about because I’ll talk to the hipster kids and they’re questioning whether this is even music, you’re just re-contextualizing stuff.
That’s definitely a valid argument, and I’m very excited about walking that line where you can argue either way and that’s one of the things that gets me excited to do what I’m doing. You know to me all art all music is based on preexisting ideas, you can hear Jack’s Mannequin you can hear the Cool Kids and point clearly to their references. That doesn’t make them unoriginal, it just makes them human beings who are fans of the arts and music and use those influences to make something new.