The most amazing f***ing thing that ever happened in the world
Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello talks punk and being one with magic
Latin meets Slavic meets punk in the energetic, celebratory band Gogol Bordello. Informed by the multiculturalism of its members, neither the East nor the West seems quite sure what to do with them. “It’s considered to be exotic on both sides,” said frontman Eugene Hütz. On October 25, they bring their gypsy punk to Cain’s Ballroom.
Ty Clark: How do you describe Gogol Bordello?
Eugene Hütz: I think we have a pretty uncompetitive spot. I mean, I actually really enjoy the place in music we have. Being in a band with its own unique walk of life and sounds, I think that’s the kind of place we were aiming for ... I don’t believe in any kind of competitiveness … in anything, really! It’s really a pretty damaging myth that has infected human kind. I think there is enough resource, and place for everyone under the sun.
Clark: How do you feel about being pinned as gypsy punk?
Hütz: I must say nobody pinned us that way. I invented that term. It was me giving a helping hand to the writing brother who was completely unequipped with how to describe us [laughs]. In fact, it was very American of me to do that [laughs] … I was getting frustrated with absolutely nonsensical descriptions of our music. Nobody was really hitting it on the head, and I looked around and said “hey, this is the States.” Everything has to be labeled.
Personally, I have no need for that label … I just kind of boiled it down to the two main legs upon which our monster was stomping at that time, which was punk rock tradition and gypsy music tradition. It was really as simple as that. And that actually worked to a great benefit, ‘cause suddenly the clouds just came apart and people welcomed us with opened arms.
Clark: What’s your interpretation of punk music?
Hütz: It’s a very subjective thing … For some people it was on a kind of facade level—a Sid Vicious kind of thing with shit smeared across their face. For people who were more intellectually aware, it was more something like Fugazi, and a DIY ethic, and a pretty solid package of a system of values.
At the root of it all it’s really just music of damaged people. And damaged from a vast sense because almost everyone is damaged, just some of them—if you read any sort of Kabbalah or any spiritual type of teaching, you’ll find people come into the world with damage, and they’re here to heal it. So, punk rock in the way Iggy originated it was about acknowledging the pain, searching the pain, and destroying the pain. Except a lot of people don’t understand that it’s about searching the weakness, and destroying the weakness. That somehow—that part gets left out.
Clark: There’s a deep side to your band, and I interpret your messages one way, but do you have a particular thing you are trying to convey?
Hütz: First of all thank you for the acknowledging of our efforts. I think you are kind of hitting it on the nail on what we do. It draws people on a kind of subconscious level. The celebration is what attracts people at first. After they spend more time with it, they find the lyrics and music more mind-opening. The general celebration is the denominator that attracts a lot of people first. For us, that part of it is really, kind of, a shadow of what we do. There is zero effort that goes into that. That shadow just shows up on it’s own.
There’s a lot of classical influence in the band. I have three classically trained musicians in the band. Because we love playing and performing, on a deep level we let it be reckless and we spill all the guts of each song. We dig in to every song in many ways, so it’s alive. But before any of that takes place, it’s crafted. It’s very thoroughly written and arranged. Only on stage is when improvisation comes in.
So, as far as conveying … a message, it’s all in the songs.
Clark: What’s it like writing music with so many members?
Hütz: Well, first of all, I don’t feel like it’s that many people. I know it’s twice the size of a usual band, but we’re so used to it we don’t think of it as any sort of anomaly. The songwriting goes in a quite different way with every album. I mean, every album we did was set out to make a new sonic world. They were all made in geographically different locations and very different mental places.
With the record before this last, we were like, “let’s be total pros.” Let’s go to the studio. We booked a studio for two weeks and we set the goal to be finished in that short period of time, because we’re pros. And we did that. We executed that.
The time came to make a new record and we threw away that whole scenario. I produced it because I am a night owl. My peak time is after midnight, so that ruled out anyone co-producing it with me. I was fine with that. I wanted to revisit the feeling of that majestic atmosphere that you have when you were just 14, 15, 16 years old and you just got first recording devices, and you recorded a drum track in basement or garage. You have a friend coming over to lay some bass [laughs] and you wrote some lyrics at like three in the morning, so you scream whispered it because everyone’s asleep. And you’re thinking this is the most amazing fucking thing that ever happened in the world. That’s the feeling this record was made with.
It was completely orchestrating this atmosphere of being one with what people call magic, ya know? We left the studio at four, five, six, sometimes eight in the morning. To some people that’s nightmare. I thought it was fantastic. I felt like I drove every song to it’s maximum potential. I love this feeling … This is exactly where the song sits in the universe.
It’s priceless! It’s really the biggest payoff of the whole thing. I mean, yes, making a living at doing it is very important, amazing, wow, thank you. Thank you, universe! But that payoff—that fulfillment—is the ultimate payoff.
Clark: Tell me about the multicultural aspect of your band.
Hütz: I’m very excited about it. It’s a very important part to fill each other up. Complement each other with these various cultural things. So, Sergey [Ryabtsev, violinist], Pasha [Newmer, accordianist], and Boris [Pelekh, guitarist], we’re all Slavic souls—Russia, Belarus, Ukraine. And if you look at the history of Eastern European music you’ll see there is absolutely no sense of rhythm. That’s why you never heard of any great rock bands from that part of the world. It’s not in our blood. We have very incredible melody and harmonies. So I was always very influenced by the idea of bringing that with a deep groove sensibility—that is why we have Thomas [Gobena, bassist] and Alfredo [Ortiz, percussionist] and Pedro [Erazo, percussionist] as rhythm section. Thomas is from Ethiopia and Alfredo is from L.A. of Mexican descent and Pedro is from Ecuador. The rhythm and groove is in their blood! Something we don’t have, so we listen to each other and try and find the most crucial intersections.