Are you ready to have your mind blown? Okay, get this: Gregg Gillis, better known as mashup maestro Girl Talk, didn't begin using an iPod until last month.
"I was forced to enter the iPod world," said Gillis, who got his iPod for Christmas three years ago, but only started using it recently, to play music on his tour bus. "I'm not anti-mp3 or anything like that. Obviously I give my music away for free, and the last album wasn't even available as a CD. But at the same time, I know the way I like to listen to it, and I'll be doing it that way until I'm forced to exit. Which could be sooner rather than later."
There may be no musician better qualified to speak on the state of digital media than Gillis. As Girl Talk, he perfected the art of the mashup, blending riffs, synths, beats and lyrics from sources as divergent as Ozzy Osbourne, John Lennon, Rage Against the Machine, Rick Ross, Depeche Mode and Rihanna to create five albums' worth of sweaty party action.
If that sounds like a novelty, get with the program - Girl Talk is one of the most in-demand live DJs around, headlining wild sets at Coachella and Bonnaroo, and he's become something of an ambassador for music in the digital age, not unlike how Chuck D was for hip-hop.
On Wednesday, Girl Talk comes to Jannus Live. From his home in Pittsburgh, Gillis talked about digital media and the state of Steel City hip-hop. Here are excerpts.
What is up with Pittsburgh? You've got Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller and yourself - it's the hottest hip-hop city in the nation now.
Yeah, it's a crazy thing. It's funny, 'cause for years, the talk was always, "Why is there no famous hip-hop that comes out of Pittsburgh? Why is there no scene here?" Wiz definitely broke down those walls and put the city on the map in terms of rap music. And now there's a lot of young guys, and people that have been doing it for a while, that are getting a little bit more shine now. It's exciting, because I feel like Pittsburgh has always been an exciting music town, from Don Caballero to Donny Iris to Black Moth Super Rainbow to Wiz Khalifa. Like any city, there's always something happening there; it's just a matter of putting the spotlight on it for people to realize it.
What is the No. 1 issue artists should be concerned about as it relates to the Internet and digital rights?
It's different for each person. It's really easy to look out for yourself, but sometimes you have to look at the biggest picture, what's best for the state of music. It does really relate to politics, being conservative or liberal, how you feel about how people should be taxed. Some people are really set on the way things work, and some people are really set that you should be able to make X amount of dollars from CD sales, or you should make Y amount of dollars from this or that.
The way music was was great to me. I still buy CDs. I love the idea of someone being able to be a millionaire off of record sales. But things are always moving, and music reflects what's happening in the world. So to me, the downfall of the physical music industry, things exploding and record companies not really having power anymore - it's exciting. I don't want anyone to lose their job, but ultimately, all of this change is going to result in new and interesting perspectives from a younger generation. Music existed before physical products were sold. Music existed before vinyl, before the wax cylinder. Music existed forever. It's never going to die. We lived through this very brief period where you could sell it on these physical mediums and make a lot of money off it. Now, that's kind of over.
What goes through your mind when you see a music video go viral, like the Bed Intruder Song or Friday by Rebecca Black? Are you just not interested in novelty?
I never want to work with those songs. With Girl Talk, I really am almost paying respect to pop music and everything it stands for. If one of those songs came through that was less of a joke, I would be open to it. Typically, I think with Rebecca Black or the Bed Intruder Song, it's more comedy-based first, which is all good. I'm down with it. I don't know whether I would want to incorporate it into what I'm doing. If it's Miley Cyrus or Kelly Clarkson or pop music that a lot of people might s--- talk, I am a fan of that stuff. I love to balance it out and make sure it has Fugazi in addition to Miley Cyrus. The people who really dive into the album, I think you can hear the sincerity to it.
Early in the days of the mashup, it was probably viewed as a novelty too. Maybe you've been called a novelty to your face. Did you have to go through that early in the day?
Definitely. And I still get it now from time to time. I'm fine if people don't like what I'm doing, or they don't think it sounds good, or they don't like it conceptually. But the novelty thing is something that I would take offense to. I've dedicated 11 years to doing this, and I've done five albums that to me are very different. In my eyes, what I'm doing is very much connected to a lot of the '80s and '90s hip hop records that were very sample-based, from Public Enemy to Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, to Daft Punk or J Dilla or whoever. So many people do sample-based music. I'm a part of that; it's just that I have my specific world.
It was funny, because when I broke into the national scene in 2006, I had already been doing this for six years. This was a project that was conceptual first and fully realized later. I knew I could grow, and I didn't think I was at the limits creatively of what could be reached with the project. It's like when punk rock comes around, or hip hop, or electronic music - when anything comes around, people are going to use the novelty label at some point and say, "This is going nowhere." At some point, there'll be mutations to what I'm doing. This particular sound will sound dated in 10 years, but it will go on to be something else, just like rap music 10 years ago sounds different than today. But it still has an impact.
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Gregg Gillis performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg. Tickets are $25-$30. (727) 565-0550, jannuslive.com.