Gregg Gillis is not your average musician. He doesn’t have a manager. He doesn’t get much exposure from the mainstream media. His albums have a legal gray cloud hanging over them with their copious samples. And his latest tour “hasn’t stopped in four or five years,” he tells Billboard.biz.
But grassroots support and left-of-center media interest has helped, Gillis, who goes by the stage name Girl Talk, become a big touring draw and an increasingly well known name.
Online video has also contributed to his success. Girl Talk is the focus of a new Hulu documentary, “A Day in the Life: Girl Talk.” It’s one of six episodes in Hulu’s original “A Day in the Life” that’s executive produced by famed documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (“Supersize Me”). Gillis is in some pretty good company. Other people in the series are businessman Richard Branson, will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, graffiti artist Mr. Brainwash, ballet dancer Misty Copeland and comedian Russell Peters.
These kinds of opportunities are rare for Gillis. He doesn’t have a manager and focuses his efforts on touring, making music and maintaining his artistic vision. But he says he was happy to be asked to be a part of a Spurlock project that would reach such a large audience. “It’s exciting. A lot of people go to Hulu everyday.”
Billbaord.biz: How did your involvement with Morgan come about?
Gregg Gillis: This was the sort of thing where regardless of who was doing it, I would have been interested. I really like watching interviews with bands, especially more extended ones spending a day with a band or someone you may know is something that’s fascinating. The fact that the Morgan Spurluck name was part of it is exciting. He’s one of the most well known documentary filmmakers today.
What did Morgan himself bring to the video?
He wasn’t there that day. But it comes down to the editing. His impact, and the crew’s impact, was really what they chose to edit and chose to show. It was focused more around the world day and the work process, which is cool because that’s a thing I go through day-to-day that I don’t think a lot of people get to see.
When you’re in the industry of touring and playing lots of shows, when I see a show I’m always thinking how long did the set take to set up, what their lighting director’s doing, this and that. But if you’re not actively in a touring band, that might not be what you think about initially. But having a documentary that shows all the preparation that goes into a show, all the crew, the drivers, all the different layers, is really fascinating. People know it’s there, but a lot don’t actively think about it.
Were you comfortable having the crew around?
Yeah, there are moments where it’s a little uncomfortable. Especially at that festival, where there’s a lot of different bands and crews, and following us the entire time are these people holding large equipment. It creates a scene when you’re talking through the festival. After a few hours you forget about it, even things you might be guarded about normally on camera start to come out a little more – which is exciting. Any time I’m on camera it’s usually a 30-minute interview and when you’re there you get to present yourself exactly the way you want to. And when they’re filming you for 24 hours, you forget it or at least for moments you do this or that, you’re just behaving like you behave as opposed to presenting yourself in the way you want to on camera.
What do you hope the fans take away from watching that video?
Going into it I didn’t have any specific goals, but it highlights some interesting things I don’t normally get to talk about. It was always supposed to be about touring. A show. A performance. That’s my background, always playing with bands (although) not necessarily in the club/DJ scene. But it was a funny documentary because they were demonstrating all of that. How it is a show. There is a traditional band – there’s a production manager, a tour manager, a bus, a semi with equipment and all this preparation to put in the performance.
For a lot of people this whole project, the live show and how to make it something special, has taken a lot of time. It’s been a slow evolution to get the show where it is today. Highlighting all the people involved and all the different elements of putting it together was cool. I think people take that for granted how much effort goes into every single show day to day.
Online video seems to be a place where people can find out a lot about you. Do you think that of Hulu and especially YouTube? You get some press attention, but it’s not like you’re on MTV or the radio a lot. It seems like online video is your place.
The online video world is more of a free for all and its progress has been interesting, because there has been so little mainstream media exposure fo us as far as radio or TV. It’s really a grassroots effort, just playing shows and getting music out there on the Internet, talking to people. Online video goes hand-in-hand with that grassroots thing where anyone can put anything up there.
I’ve noticed that with a lot of artists doing the DIY thing on a grassroots level, the video world can be very helpful — especially in the rap community. So many rappers put out daily videos or whatever song they’re working on that week just constantly. It’s a way to connect with fans and have more media out there and for people to get to know you.
For this project it’s been extremely helpful. That goes from fan-made videos for the songs to documenting tours to really anything. So when something like this comes along, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is a really good chance for some exposure on the projects we don’t normally get.’ Especially because it’s sponsored by Hulu and has a large audience already behind it.
Do you active seek out partnerships or exposure like this?
I’ve been letting it come to me. I’ve been fortunate to have this project evolve organically. At any given stage it’s never been like, ‘Oh, we need to get to the next stage.’ I’ve always taken what’s been given to me and the exposure that’s been out there. As the shows grow it’s been purely organic.
I don’t even have a manager. I’ve managed myself this whole time, and I don’t look for any business or anything outside of shows. I’m fulfilled. I’m completely occupied with touring and making records. Because of that, I’m not really concerned with finding sponsorships or getting my video here or there, or getting a song in a TV show. It’s pretty bare bones as far as what I’m trying to accomplish.
Q: Can you imagine what might prompt you to hire a personal manager?
At this point, no. I’m definitely not dissing the idea of manager in general. I think for other artists it’s necessary when there is a lot more to the business side. Because of the samples in my music and the potential legal issues that come associated with it, it immediately keeps isolated what I’m doing isolated from the TV world
At the same time it’s kind of a relief. I’m just occupied with doing it the way I’m doing it now that I don’t feel like I need that other stuff. I’m really content with the popularity of the project and how many people know about it. I want it to keep growing. There was never a dream of being, ‘My God, I have to be the Usher of laptop music’ or something like that.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a fan base where the business side has never been of interest to me, really. The business is the touring. So when I’m putting out the records and I give it ‘pay what you want’ or give it away for free, a lot of times people will cover what I’m doing from a business angle. They might describe it as being forward thinking on the business side, but it’s almost like minimal thinking on the business side. I’m always just thinking about how many people can hear this, how many people can grow from there. At this point, it’s so much larger than I ever anticipated.