September 27th, 2007 | Interviews

joe mcgarry

Gregg Gillis has lunch with congressmen and sampled 167 different bands and musicians on his album Night Ripper. He speaks now to old pal Nikki Darling.

Tell me about the time you guys were kicked out of the MTV awards for spitting on a guy from the balcony.
It wasn’t the actual awards—it was the after-awards hosted by 50 Cent and LL Cool J and they had me play the party, and it was kind of awkward because they put me on really early, and there were lots of other technical difficulties, and the only other performer was Cee-Lo and he was playing some Gnarls Barkley songs. It was late at this point and things were getting kind of crazy. One of my friends was throwing up in the bathroom, and one of my other friends—I still don’t know if it was on purpose or what— either dropped or threw a glass of water over the balcony and it hit Lloyd Banks, and then he came marching into the room demanding to know who threw the water on him, and none of us saw my friends do it and he had a major entourage and then it got kind of crazy. It looked like we were going to fight or something. And then they kicked him out of my room because technically it was my back room, even though he’s a major recording artist. And then they saw my friend throw the glass away and they kicked all of us out instead.
Is it weird that I’m interviewing you?
No, I’ve had much closer friends interview me, so this is okay. I’ve been doing Girl Talk for seven years and I’ve always done some interviews, but prior to this year it was maybe three a year. After this year it’s like three a week, and I’m always doing the same thing now—I’ve got my little procedures down. And they’re always between 2 and 6 PM so its pretty routine now. When I’m talking on the phone with friends I’m sitting on the couch, but when I’m doing interviews my mouth gets kind of stressed and I have a glass of water and I’m walking in little circles around my living room. Or if I’m really in a routine I start to sort my clothes. Sometimes people throw the same questions out and I feel bad like—I have these molded answers in my mind. And sometimes I get real deep because they want to talk about licensing. People get crazy with me because there’s all these different things we can get into—ownership and philosophy of music rights.
Did you go to a lot of raves in high school?
No, I’ve never been to a rave. I want to get into it now but it’s a bit too late. I’ve always been into electronic music. I was not very social in high school—I spent a lot of time going to weird noise shows and making music in my bedroom.
How did you go from punk to electronic?
I played a variety of electronics in other bands—like when you take apart a kids toy and rewire it and make it make strange noises. A lot of non-traditional electronic instruments.
Why the suit for your early shows?
I think it used to be a bit more of an alter ego. When I first started out, I was going out there with a bunch of laptop artists and they weren’t really trying to make things entertaining, so I wanted to make it more showmanship-y, so I was just trying to push that vibe. I think it reflects even in my high school band—we weren’t showmanship-y but more punk rock and more in your face. But now I think I’ve faded out into my normal self, and I’m more of a naturally quiet guy. It’s kind of like Metallica where they played their songs a million times, and they like their songs, but maybe they’re head-banging because of the audience. You feed off the audience a little—it’s not necessarily how you would act if you were performing by yourself.
Does your top-secret job know you’ve got a musical side project?
Not officially. I told them I wanted to travel the world and take advantage of being young, and then only recently did they e-mail me about a certain question. And I e-mailed them back and mentioned that I was making music, but I didn’t mention my band name or anything.
How do you pick the songs that you sample?
Just anything I’m listening to. I’ve already sampled most of my favorite songs and so I’m listening for forgotten songs, but I really listen and turn to the radio as a research tool. Mostly I’m always walking around with a pad of paper, or I’ll send myself a text message or whatever.
Have you gotten in trouble for using your samples and not paying the artists?
There’s a thing called fair use that allows you to sample things if it comes into a certain category. I believe in fair use—it’s a bizarre thing where you have to be sued in order for it to be labeled as fair use. So I’ve never felt morally wrong for doing what I’m doing because I’ve never negatively affected any of the artists. In fact, I think I’ve opened them up to a broader audience. I’m interested to see how that pans out.
Are you afraid when people rush the stage that they might break your laptop or something? Or hurt you?
The only thing I’m ever worried about is that the show gets shut down early. I actually like when things are on the brink of being out of control. It means things are going really well. On the other hand, I know the audience will be bummed, but I really love it when things get crazy. I don’t fear for myself or a laptop—sometimes it’s a bit much, but I think it’s cool. I just wouldn’t want the people who came out to see me to not get the full show.
Does it feel weird to you that your music is more pop-based now and your fans might have no idea that your background is in experimental punk and noise bands?
Yeah, it’s funny. A lot of my fans now are people who wouldn’t have been my fans three years ago, and a lot of the things I like now are like experimental electronic, so it’s interesting. It doesn’t bother me at all and I know that what I’m doing now is very pop based. But now I’m trying to have a broader appeal and I love it. People who come out to the show come from all different walks of life, and it’s great.