Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk
The mashup master on his other passion—sports
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As Girl Talk, Gregg Gillis is responsible for some of music’s most memorable mashups. On his latest record, All Day, he twists and tweaks tracks by everyone from Black Sabbath to Jane’s Addiction to Ludacris—and that’s just in the first song. As passionate as Gillis is about music, though, he’s just as passionate about sports. The A.V. Club caught up with him before his show at Villanova on April 8 to talk about his trip to the Super Bowl, Blake Griffin, and the ultimate jock jam.
The A.V. Club: So, in February you got to watch your Pittsburgh Steelers lose the Super Bowl in person. How did you land those tickets?
Gregg Gillis: I got a hookup from some promoters in Dallas that have done a bunch of shows with me. They’re a company that books various venues across the country, so when my tour ended in Dallas the day before the Super Bowl, I thought I’d at least throw the idea out there, though I was really happy to just go home.
I asked my booking agent if he thought we could get tickets, just like throwing it out there, and then these people got back to me and said it was doable. It turned into this crazy involved thing, like I had the tickets, and then I didn’t have them, and then I had them again.
I invited my dad to go, and he’s a lifelong Steelers fan. The crazy thing was that we had the tickets, but then it was impossible to get flights and hotels, because it was the week before the Super Bowl. And so we had to spend a fortune on my dad’s flight and a hotel. And even then, the flight landed at like 3 p.m. and the kickoff was at 5:30, and I’d heard it takes two hours to even get into the stadium through security. My dad’s flight was delayed 30 minutes, and he met some guy on the flight who needed a ride, so I picked both of them up, and we were just running to get to the stadium. And this guy my dad met was a Girl Talk fan, so I’m driving and on the speakerphone with his friend, and we parked a mile away and had to run, literally. I was in a sweat and my dad was struggling, but then we just walked straight through the security line and got to our seats 45 minutes before kickoff. We had time to get food, relax, and chill out.
It turned out amazing, actually. We had a great time. It’s a little disappointing with the Steelers losing, but it was definitely an experience. I’d never been to a pro football game with my dad, and it was really amazing. In retrospect, I’m happy we went.
AVC: What did you think of the Black Eyed Peas’ halftime show?
GG: I really enjoyed myself. I read reviews and everyone was bashing it, and it sounded really weird live, but I just assumed that was because it wasn’t meant to be heard live. You could tell that they weren’t treating the audio like a concert and they were just doing everything for the TV audience. Like, they didn’t hide anything. They set everything up in front of the people in the seats, and the Black Eyed Peas were just walking around in their suits instead of making some grand entrance.
At the game, the sound was really weird and low where I was sitting, which was about the 20-yard line. I watched most of it on the Jumbotron. I think the sound thing was the stadium, though, because there are a lot of old people at the Super Bowl, and they don’t want to hear the Black Eyed Peas, to have this loud music blaring in their faces.
So, I can’t comment on the audio, but the show was enjoyable. I liked the light suits. I liked Usher coming down from the scoreboard. We were watching a football game, and then five minutes later there was a giant concert with hundreds of synchronized dancers in glowing costumes, so that was cool.
I mean, a halftime show is always the forum for that five- or 10-minute performance, but it’s not a place to shock the world or put on a weird performance art piece. I was excited that they at least had a young artist play. I mean, I loved Paul McCartney and I loved Prince. They were cool performances, but they were so safe. People hate on the Black Eyed Peas, but they’re the dominating pop force right now. They’ve been around for a number of years and phases, and they’re an interesting group. Will.I.Am keeps up with what’s going on in the pop world, and you can tell he pays attention to what’s happening in electronic music and uses it as an influence. I think 20 years down the road, they’ll be this band that’s real cool, once they’ve done their thing and proven themselves.
AVC: They play your music at Heinz Field, right? At Steelers games?
GG: When I heard that from someone, my initial reaction was that the Steelers must have been confused and thought it was the real version of some song they didn’t know the real version of. But then the week after I heard that, I went to a home game against the Carolina Panthers and it came on, and that was amazing. During the playoff games, I noticed that I could hear clips of my stuff on TV. Of course they played Wiz Khalifa’s “Black And Yellow” every single game, and it gets people psyched, but I think having my stuff played there is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.
AVC: Do you know anyone who works with the Steelers? Have they been in touch with you?
GG: I have no contact with the Steelers. I did get a hookup with those tickets to that game from this new venue right across the street that just opened. I played the first show there, and they gave me the tickets as a present.
It’s weird to me that sports and music interact so much, as industries, but I guess it makes sense. They’re all in entertainment, really, so people know each other.
AVC: You’re a big basketball guy, right?
GG: Basketball’s probably my favorite sport, but this year I haven’t followed it so extremely, like I have in the past. In Pittsburgh there’s no professional team. I love the NBA, and the [Cleveland] Cavs, but it’s different. Like, that level of passion is different than what I feel for the Steelers. College hoops I like, though, like Pitt.
It has been an exciting year in the NBA, though, with that LeBron move.
AVC: As a Cavs guy, what’s your take on that?
GG: I wasn’t into it, obviously. I don’t want to say it was a bad move, but he just handled it really poorly and made himself into a villain somehow, whereas he’d been this beloved character. It was a bad move to make himself hated.
He didn’t owe the team anything, though, and it was time for him to move. It would have been an amazing story if the kid from Akron brought a championship to the Cavaliers; but at the same time, I have no problem with him going to another team. People do it all the time. It’s not the Jordan days where you get on one team and stick it out for your career.
I do root against the [Miami] Heat passionately, though. They’re the most fun team ever to hate. I wish LeBron was on the Cavs. I wish he’d stuck it out. It’s an exciting year, though, even though the Cavs are a bummer. It’s just fun to see who’s going to beat the Heat. I’m rooting for teams I don’t like because they can beat the Heat. I’ve never rooted for the Celtics, but I’m a closet fan this year because they can take the Heat down.
Also, I think I’ve seen half a Cavs game this year, because they’re just not televised anymore. That was one reason LeBron was good, because it was great for fans not from Cleveland, because they could see the team.
AVC: Whom do you like, other than the Cavs, this year?
GG: I love the Bulls, Derrick Rose. I think he’s having an MVP-level season, though I don’t think he’ll get that. I like the Oklahoma Thunder and Kevin Durant. I like the Clippers and Blake Griffin. He’s been exciting.
I like these mid-level teams. I typically don’t rock for the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, or Mavericks, but when they match up against each other, I have my allegiances. My No. 1 most hated, though, is the Heat, then the Spurs, and then the Lakers. Anyone that can beat those teams, I’m definitely down for.
AVC: You mentioned Blake Griffin, who’s having a pretty good year. Do you buy into the hype about him?
GG: I haven’t seen him play that much, other than the highlights. He’s a beautiful dunker, and that’s something special. He has that way that he controls the ball near the rim and then throws it down. I like seeing a cool dunk, but I’m more into cool passes and ball handling. I’m still impressed by Griffin, though. He’s got a crazy number of highlights.
I think the Clippers will be good in a few years. They’re deep, and they’re going to grow. I like a number of players on that team, and the Lakers will have to decline eventually.
AVC: Cali Swag District played the rookie challenge at the NBA All-Star game this year; is that something you’d ever want to do?
GG: That’s cool. There are a million songs that come and go in the dance craze world, but “The Dougie” has stuck around so long. I think John Wall must have taken it over the edge.
I love the NBA All-Star game, but the halftime entertainment there can go many ways. It’s a big deal to do, but a lot of people miss it. I think Rihanna’s a pretty good pick for this year. She’s a heavy hitter. Lenny Kravitz, that’ll go over well. It’s important to have some songs that would be good on a Jock Jams compilation. Like, Kevin Rudolf from Young Money, he makes jock jams, but it’s just his regular, straight-up music. That’s a compliment, not a diss.
AVC: Last question—What’s your favorite jock jam of all time?
GG: Give me a second, because this is really important. [Mulls it over.] I think it’s 2 Unlimited, “Get Ready For This.” That’s the ultimate—the original. It’s the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of jock jams. Like when you think of alternative music, you think of “Smells Like Teen Spirit;” when you think of jock jams, you might not know the band name, but you know that song and that keyboard riff.