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Night Ripper

When Girl Talk began in the early part of the decade, Greg Gillis didn’t plan on his musical project having the impact it has had nearly 10 years later. With the release of 2006’s seminal Night Ripper, he was cast as the next big thing in electronic music. Now, three years later, the touring hasn’t stopped and the coverage only seems to increase with every new town he plays. A week before his sold out show in Halifax, Gillis – from his home in Pittsburgh – chatted about copyright laws, the future of sample-based music and “H to the Izzo”.

Matthew Ritchie: In a 2006 article on Pitchfork’s website, you discussed being the recent “buzz band” and being excited for a backlash from fans and critics about your music. Three years on, do you feel you’ve experienced any of the backlashes yet?

Greg Gillis: To a small degree I think so. 2006 was right when national media started to pick up on what I was doing, and at that point I started to pay attention to things a lot more as far as what people were writing. I mean, three years on the constant exposure and touring and being out there, I’ve kind of been able to ignore that kind of stuff. I feel like when Night Ripper came out, at that point I had been touring for six years and it had been my third album. I think for a lot of people, they assumed that Night Ripper was my first album and that it was some sort of novelty project or whatever. I felt a bit of a backlash right there at that time.

I’d sort of read some of the stuff people were saying on the Internet, or whatever, and people would question even me performing live. It was ridiculous. You know, I had based the records on performing live and I had been performing for such a long time at that point that it was just weird. But I think when I went into my last album, which came out about a year ago now (2008’s Feed the Animals), doing that album I really wanted to prove to a lot of people out there are legs beyond Night Ripper and that I could take it somewhere new.

I feel like the backlash and some of the haters have kind of filtered out, so to speak, because they’ve kind of realized this music exists and it isn’t just some novelty effect that they thought about the album (Night Ripper) before. So yeah, I don’t feel as much of a backlash now. I think people have their opinion about what I do and I feel they don’t need to be as vocal about it as they were when I first came out nationally.

MR: With the idea of mash-ups and you being used strongly in the film RIP, what do you think of people casting you as a figurehead in a movement around breaking copyright laws and seeing you as the focal point in this new form of music?

GG: It’s a little bit bizarre. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie or not but when I was interacting with the filmmakers and they were following me around for a couple years – they even interview my parents and went out to the Coachella festival with me – I wasn’t sure of how large my part would be in the film. So when I saw it and I did have a central role in the film it was a little bit of a surprise. (Laughs) They never really highlighted that for me, like, “You know, by the way.” (Laughs) I guess I could have assumed that based on how much time we spent together, but I guess I didn’t really know. I was kind of thinking, “Maybe they’re spending all this time with a whole bunch of people and I’m one of many in the movie.” So I feel like in that particular film they represented me well. I mean, I said what I said and I don’t really have any regrets about that.

But one thing they kind of highlighted at a couple points in the movie is that it is not my goal to be a figurehead for that movement. It’s something where for the beliefs of that movie I support it and the movement I support. I’m a part of it and it is implied by what I do. Everything in the movie I said I believe in, but simultaneously, I didn’t get involved with this style of music to fight this fight. I got involved with this style of music because that’s the kind of music I like. I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop and electronic music and things like that. I liked a lot of sample based music. When I was getting going back in the day I always assumed this would be an underground project. I never thought it would have the success it has now. I always just made this music to make this music. It is something where in an ideal world we won’t even have to talk about these sampling issues and there would just be a focus on this music. Maybe that’s the way it will be in 10 or 20 years for sample based music. Unfortunately it is an issue right now and I am a part of it.

I’m happy to be a part of that film and I’m happy to talk about it when I can but it is not my goal to be a figurehead. If people push me in that direction, that’s fine. I’ll say what I have to say, but it is not my goal. It is some other people’s goal to be figureheads or poster boys in that arena.

MR: Do you wish that interviewers would stop asking questions about the whole copyright issue surrounding your music?

GG: I mean, I don’t really mind it. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to talk about it, but we do. It would be naïve of me to say, “I wish people wouldn’t ask me about it.” I make this style of music. With the last album I put out I knew it was going to be in the public spotlight and a lot of mainstream media would cover it and they would talk about the sampling. I think it would be ignorant of me to say that I wish people didn’t ask about it. There are some benefits and set backs to it. There is the part where it becomes kind of a sub-plot or sub-story to the things I’ve been doing and I know that it has generated a lot of press for me. A lot of the press I have gotten is because of the copyright issue. So because of that it has pushed my music to a wider audience, which is great. I’ve always pushed it to as far as it could go. So it is hard to be hurt or upset about it because it has benefitted me in a lot of ways.

MR: Hopefully in five to 10 years this won’t be the kind of question people ask you anymore.

GG: Yeah, I’m curious and interested to see where that goes. I think that naturally for the amount of press and hype that has been generated about my involvement in copyright, it means that the next person who comes along who does something related or takes it to the next level, it won’t be as exciting to talk about this issue. Hopefully, just in the amount of exposure I’ve gotten, it could potentially help someone in the future. Regardless of what happens in the laws, it won’t be as exciting to talk about these laws for whoever faces the same challenges in the future.

MR: Being that a lot of your songs and recordings will be remembered for shaping music this past decade, I was wondering what your favourite song or album has been of the past 10 years?

GG: Oh, man! It’s so tough. A few people asked me these questions recently and I wish I had a list of every album I’ve purchased. Favourite song? Off the top of my head, Jay Z’s “H to the Izzo”. I loved when that came out and it was such a summer anthem. For my favourite album, I would have to go with Mariah Carey’s Emancipation of Mimi, which I think is heavily underappreciated by many people. I’m a big Mariah Carey fan and I feel personally that it fuelled the summer it came out and that I had a really good summer. I feel like that album was everywhere I went.

MR: I feel the same way about Feed the Animals during my past two summers.

GG: (Laughs) That’s cool!

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