Gregg Michael Gillis, known as Girl Talk, has come out with his first ever music video, a collaboration with rappers Freeway and Waka Flocka Flame.
Produced by Maker Studios, “Tolerated” is a major departure from Gillis’ previous work. For one thing, it has just two samples, Esther Philips’ “Sweet Dreams” and Enon’s “Rubber Car.” His last album, “All Day,” contained more than 200 samples. And unlike most of his other works in which he relied on “fair use” arguments to avoid paying royalties for the samples he used, Gillis licensed the two songs used for “Tolerated.”
The video’s hip hop track doesn’t even sound like the DJ mix sets he’s spun up since he began sharing his works online and performing in 2000. Instead of eclectic mashups that form a sonic crazy quilt, “Tolerated” is a single, cohesive work.
Gillis talked to Billboard about what inspired the track, whether his approach to music has changed and his thoughts about working with Maker Studios, a company that was just sold for $500 million to The Walt Disney Co., one of the most aggressive pursuers of those it believes has infringed on its copyrights. Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation.
How’d this come about?
Gillis: I’d been working on a project with Freeway, and I knew it made sense to do a video for it, but I didn’t know how we were able to do it. I’ve been DIY as much possible. I hadn’t worked with anyone before. I’d just made music, pushed it on the Internet, and things just happened. But I recently got a manager. That’s a whole new thing for me. He reached out to Maker and made a connection.
“Tolerated” sounds very different from your other work. Are you exploring new directions?
Gillis: Musically, it’s different. Technically, it’s very similar. My projects are about to take pre-existing songs and making mashups. I’ve been doing this since 2000, and it’s taken on different shapes. The past few years, I took that idea and applied it to hip hop, which is always sample based and one I’ve always been inspired by. So conceptually, it’s similar. I’m still doing samples.
Unlike a lot of DJs, you don’t use SoundCloud or Beatport. Why not?
Gillis: I’m weird. I stay on my own path. I’m not against Beatport or SoundCloud. I just don’t think about it. I’m not part of the EDM scene at all in that way. I’m kind of particular about what I put out. The world is too caught up in putting out as much music as possible, constantly. For me, I like taking my time. I haven’t released a piece of music in three years. When I put something out, I like it to be special. But I am constantly touring and I put out new material in live shows. People come out to hear the new material.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do it my own way. Every moment, I feel fortunate to be able to do this professionally. I can stick by what’s interesting and cool. And sometimes that means not flooding the Internet with lots of content.
Why YouTube then?
Gillis: YouTube is something I use every day. Growing up with the music video culture, I always wanted one of my own. I’d never had a project that could be a video before. Most of what I do isn’t conducive to a video. But a lot of songs get big because of the video. These days, so many truly amazing songs get released and you don’t hear about it because there isn’t a video.
Doing this video has just been very interesting. It’s the biggest collaboration I’ve ever been involved in. It was an interesting and positive experience. Compared to when I was growing up, there are just so many options to express yourself and make stuff happen. It seems a fun time to be young and creative. It was exciting to come up with this idea and work with people to just make it happen. I have a lot of other ideas. I’d love to do more work with [Maker Studios].
How do you feel about working with a company that’s just about to become part of Disney?
Gillis: I’ve always tried to embrace the idea of being accessible, of pushing my ideas to the grandest scale possible. The more it becomes a part of pop culture, the more people it reaches. I did an ad for Microsoft a couple of years ago. Some people were upset. It’s crazy. I felt it was both weird and exciting.
So you see it like a reverse infection?
Gillis: Yeah, it’s like Rage Against the Machine. They would say that getting their message out is the goal. You have to find the happy medium between getting your message out and be part of a larger system, rather than spend your time just preaching to the choir.
How much sampling was in this video?
Gillis: It’s based around two samples. We cleared the samples for this song. I didn’t feel like my ideals were compromised when we did that. I evaluate each piece of work on its own merits. I don’t think of it as anarchy. I think about each work separately and consider whether it qualifies for fair use or not. In this case, we needed the clearance.