It was bound to happen. Mashup producer Girl Talk (a.k.a. Gregg Gillis) got famous mixing together hits by Beyonce and Jay-Z (among many, many others). Then, one night in Paris, hip-hops golden couple showed up to check out one of his raucous sets.
So what went down? Us’ Jennifer Peros found out when she caught up with Gillis at the US Open Rock The Set event at Terminal 5 in NYC August 24 where he played with indie darlings Matt and Kim.
UsMagazine.com: Why are you so excited to perform at the US Open Rock the Set?
Girl Talk: I'm excited to play wherever I can play. I tour all year round so I play to a wide variety of audiences. Sometimes stuff like this can be weird and sometimes it can be cool. I used to play so many shows that were weird that I like to take that on and I enjoy trying to break it down with people. If it's a stiff audience, I like the challenge.
Us: Do you have to change your music because this is a more sophisticated audience?
GT: I don't really change much. I've always kind of treated it like a band. It’s never a major change and I do what I’m going to do regardless of the audience. If they're with it, they’re with it and if not, I love to try to push them to get into it. Ninety-nine percent of the shows I play these days are positive and in my mind they're good, so if there is something that's a stiff show, it's fun for me because it's a challenge. I feel like the style of the way we do performances with my friends on stage giving me a hand throwing toilet paper and confetti on people and all that, it's like we kind of confront the audience to some degree. We don't do the background thing. We are going to be in your face and either you're with it and if you're not.
Us: Do you sit there that day and be like 'I’m going to play this tonight' or do you just go when you’re up there?
GT: It’s rehearsed. In the course of an hour-long set, I may play 400 or 500 samples so it's one of those things where I have to rehearse the set. So I go over it, memorize it and practice how to play it. But during the show, there are so many tiny little pieces I can improvise, small little parts. I can repeat something once or skip over something. Depending on what the audience is doing determines how I play it. Sometimes it has to be a little more aggressive if the audience is stiff. Or if everyone’s with me, it can be a little more relaxed. It's kind of like having a loose set idea in mind and then improvising with it.
Us: How do you get away with using all that music?
GT: When you do this, you put it out there, and it's in a gray area. You don’t know if it qualifies for fair use until someone actually challenges you. I believe that it should qualify and I'm willing to go to court if it goes there. But no one has challenged us thus far. I just think the world's perspective on intellectual property is shifting a little bit. Ten years ago when I was doing this, a new Destiny's Child song would come out and I'd do my own remix. You wouldn’t find too many unsolicited remixes of Destiny's Child in 2001. But now, a Lady Gaga single comes out and the next day, there are hundreds of remixes already. I feel like the world perspective changing has helped to make what I do not so radical and it's a little bit more common.
Us: Have you heard from artists you've mashed up?
GT: I've heard in interviews people like Sophie B. Hawkins talk about it positively. I've played with Big Boi from Outkast and he's been really nice about it. It's kind of been all over the map.
Us: How about Beyonce, Gaga, Jay-Z, Kanye...?
GT: No. I've wondered about them. I have heard a story about Kanye but I've never heard him actually say it. Someone said he was working in a studio and brought my record in four years ago. It was a friend of a friend saying he was like 'check this out.' But I never know how far it gets out there because I interact with the people who come to the show and the fans but I'm so isolated from that other world, it's bizarre.
Us: Have you ever looked down during a show and recognized anybody?
GT: One time I played at a club that Beyonce and Jay-Z were actually at in Paris. I'm almost positive they weren’t there for me, they were just there. It was the opening of a new club and I was there early, naturally, because I was playing that night. They were kind of there when no one was there, which was kind of embarrassing. They had an area kind of sectioned off and they were having a good time. I was like, 'damn, Jay-Z and Beyonce are at this venue I'm playing.' I think when you do enough shows and you travel, you're bound to end up in the room with someone with that superstar status.
Us: Was there ever a song you tried to remix that just didn't work?
GT: Lots. I would say more than do work. Off the top of my head, The Cars' song "Drive," I really love that song and I've tried it out a million times and it worked with many things but I love that song so much, I just want it to be perfect. There are many things I could include but I only include it if it's 100%. It has to be transformative. And there are some things that work in the live context better than on record and certain things that I don’t think will work live but do on the record.
Us: Any new songs you're loving for fall right now?
GT: I've really been into this Soulja Boy song called "That Booty," which I don’t think is associated with fall at all but it's a song I’m feeling the most right now.
Us: What's your ultimate goal? Are you at where you want to be?
GT: It's funny because I never really intended for this to be a career and a lot of the people I looked up to didn't really make money off of it. It was a very small sub-culture. There was really no example of success where it's like 'I'm in a band, so it could be as big as Led Zeppelin' or 'I'm a rapper, so it could be as big as Jay-Z.' It was never like that. I'm a laptop guy who remixes pop music, so it can be as big as these couple other guys doing it. At this point, it’s far beyond what I ever thought it would be and I’m really happy where it’s at. I’m still riding this wave and trying to make it as big as possible.