Gregg Gillis is the man behind Pittsburgh postmashup party-starting phenomenon Girl Talk. His preferred sampling equipment is a PC laptop. Spencer Manio is a DJ/producer with Seattle's rock-hiphop bastardizers the Saturday Knights. Preferred sampling equipment: Emu sp1200 and a Pioneer CDJ. The Stranger got the two of them together on the phone to talk about ripping people off, choreographing backup dancers, and grunge.
SPENCER: Where you at?
GREGG: I'm in Pittsburgh.
SPENCER: I'm here in Seattle. I'm at work, actually, in the parking lot.
GREGG: Where do you work?
SPENCER: I work at this background-music-programming company. It's kind of like a Muzak-type deal.
THE STRANGER: Gregg, you quit your day job, right?
GREGG: Yeah, just a month ago. I was there for two and a half years while doing the Girl Talk thing. I had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I could actually do music as a career, just actually taking the step to be like, "All right, this is what I'm going to do for a living now."
SPENCER: By the way, I love the record.
SPENCER: I've been a DJ for a while here, and I wish I could have the time or the dedication to catalog everything and then put it together in one huge, you know, oral barf. It's one of those records where I'm like, "Finally someone did that shit."
GREGG: What kind of DJ stuff do you do?
SPENCER: I kind of grew up doing hiphop shit, so I can do all the scratching and tricks, but I never liked to DJ hiphop-style with hiphop records, you know?
GREGG: Yeah, I don't even know how to DJ in the normal sense. I've always just been a laptop dude. I own one turntable, and that's it. I've never tried to beat match records or anything. I've always just been making loops and samples, and not even worrying about playing a whole song out. I've never just played a whole song out in my life.
SPENCER: Yeah, I had this other project that I was doing a couple years ago called DJs on Strike that was kind of like this regurgitation of pop, taking the best bits and kind of spitting it out. We used to rock that shit live, and we'd get all dressed up. We'd make these Xeroxed guitars made out of cardboard and hand them out to people, so everyone would have a guitar to smash and rock out.
GREGG: I used to have a synchronized dance squad that would perform with me. We would work for hours on choreographing and getting our steps tight. It's always been my goal to make Girl Talk a concert and a party in one, and before I had to really force this entertainment on people, but now it seems like it's just naturally happening. People will just jump up onstage, and if I had official backup dancers and synchronized moves it would only hold the party back.
I know that the Saturday Knights EP originally had a bunch of samples on it, and then they went back and recorded a bunch of that stuff live, due to clearance issues, but that's not an issue for Girl Talk. Maybe you guys could talk about your differing experiences in working with samples?
GREGG: Did you guys actually have someone complain or a cease and desist or anything like that?
SPENCER: No, and actually in hindsight we probably would have been safe enough releasing those versions, because the way I sample everything is really chopped up, so it would have been pretty hard to figure out what those samples were.
GREGG: So you guys reproduced the actual samples on live instruments?
GREGG: It's funny that you would have to even play an instrument, playing like the same thing as the sample, and then it's legal? That's like the traditional way of thinking, that playing a guitar is an instrument but playing a sampler isn't.
That's always my argument, that you can chop up a sample and put your own production on it, tweak it, make it sound a little different, put it in a new context, and it's like playing that instrument. Or you can pick up a guitar and replicate it and that's the same thing, you know? You didn't invent the sampler you're playing, but you're still playing it; you didn't invent the guitar you're playing, but you're still playing it.
It's just funny that the music industry views playing a guitar as legitimate even if you rip people off, but when using a sampler, if you rearrange notes or chop something up, it's not, and you have to pay for it.
SPENCER: Yeah, we would always sample in a way that was cleverly put together and disguise it.
I want to think that that will be a thing of the past, and in the future you won't even have to do that. People have this mentality that taking any bit is wrong, sampling an idea is wrong, but people do it all the time on traditional instruments. All music is borrowing from something, you know? It's inevitable.
What are some of your favorite samples?
GREGG: My favorite samples are whatever I haven't heard anyone use before, but the "It Takes Two" beat is probably my favorite loop ever as far as something that's been used over and over and over again. As far as tracks that use blatant samples, my new favorite jam is on the new Bone Thugs disc. They sample a Fleetwood Mac song, and I think it's insane.
SPENCER: Yeah. All the classic soul/funk breaks definitely have their place, but when people take things out of the norm, when rap music samples Blue Öyster Cult, that's cool. I kind of have a soft spot for big classic-rock breaks too—big drums and big riffs.
GREGG: I'm into any hiphop guy sampling something that could be potentially nerdy or embarrassing for them to listen to. I love some Mobb Deep, and a couple of years back they sampled "She Blinded Me with Science," and the way they flipped it was just amazing. It was so dark.
SPENCER: Yeah, that was dope. I kind of miss when Prince Paul would sample these little easy-listening records, but you know with a heavy beat and the right MC, they just ended up being so hard.
What can we expect from you guys at Block Party? Anything unusual planned?
GREGG: It's become like the etiquette for people to come up onstage for Girl Talk. At some shows that's cool with the venue and other shows it's not, and it's always nerve-racking. Is the venue going to be pissed, or are kids going to be pissed? How is it going to go down tonight? The last time I was in Seattle, at Chop Suey, was one of my favorite shows I did this year. That was really fun.
There are some shows that are so crazy it's almost a disaster—shit will be getting knocked over, getting unplugged, and breaking—but the last time in Seattle was nice. There was that absolute craziness, but the music still actually lasted for an hour. It was cool.
SPENCER: Do you still do that Nirvana cover ("Scentless Apprentice") when you play live?
GREGG: A bit. I've been trying to phase it out a little bit, but since it is Seattle I might have to break it out.