Interview: Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello

Hi Eugene, Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. First I wanted to ask how Gogol Bordello came to be and how you met the other members of the band?

Well, where do you want me to start? Well I guess we met in New York; Piedro introduced Spanish rapping to the band, which started as a trio, and then from there to Eastern Europe and throughout America and we simply grew from there as we travelled together.

Who are your major political influences? Note: anti-swastika patch.

I don’t believe in politics, it’s a dirty business. What we have is a humanitarian approach. I was born in the Soviet Union, and then lived in the States. The similarities were interesting, but I am more interested in writing on matters of cultural anthropology rather than politics; places like Morocco, Brazil, where when you’re travelling you become a part of the local landscape. Sooner or later you start to challenge your own world view and that has a big affect on how I perceive the world.

What would you say is the best nation to perform gigs in?

You can’t really say! It’s like you have a crush on one place and then you have a crush on another. I will always love Eastern Europe. And I love New York, that city gave me everything: an understanding I didn’t feel before. Canada and the Arctics, too, the beauty is so significant. I’m a seasonal kind of guy.

We have been labelled as a Brazilian percussion group by some, while at the same time as this I’ve noticed so much how there is a new school group of Gogol Bordello fans. I shied away from it at first; maybe I thought that the material we produced was not fit for a Gogol record, but actually was some of my strongest material. The drama of it all had to find its way out, just like our song My Copanjera, it’s more about emotional and romantic notions rather than just taking rock’n’roll on the road.

You played Brighton before at the Dome. What did you think of the Brighton crowd?

I think Brighton is the first place in UK that picked up on us. And from the gig there we went straight to the after–party. That speaks for the vibe of the town.

Why ‘start wearing purple’?

I never thought anything about it; the song is just about growing old with your loved one. As years went on afterwards I heard connotations of purple came in, I rediscovered it as a colour of protection, discovery, rejuvenation, and at one point reading Native American astrology it said ‘your colour is purple’.

How much do you guys drink?

Booze is always around, it’s not like I‘m married to it but the booze is in us. It’s our method that helps me. But really it’s either way, with or without. We swing both ways with it because making our music comes down to emotion. The part people kind of misjudge most, because of rock n roll clichés, is that the whole thing is the wild storm happening because we get down to Jack Daniels. It comes from a pursuit place, whether you’re trashed or not. One of my secret weapons (before punk rock), in my previous years, is that I was a long-distance runner in an Olympic team, running for Ukraine. I played a mean trick on everyone because when I came about with punk rock everyone was like ‘what the fuck?!’, so I had to hide this. Running is what essentially created my idea of discipline. It’s a lot of time by oneself; it is solitary, it is getting to know oneself. Moving to America was liberating for me, I could drop this baggage from the European existentialist down-and-out intellectualist crap, and seeing Fugazi and Henry Rollins (Blackflag) was very liberating. These are my people. These are the people who exude positive vibes. The idea made sense to me, an intellectual or physical I could connect with. Lennon was somebody who was full of intellectual demons, and I find it interesting that how once he started letting that go, he came to realise that it is not the way to go, it was not the way of the gold. The heart knows a lot more.

Any lucky items or charms?

Normal part of my travel is that I have a large family of people, so of course I have been given several necklaces from various gypsy families, in Eastern Europe, Brazil, Siberia, and St. Christopher. [They are] always on my neck. I believe in the carrier of good vibes. Sergey and I constantly get jewelleries and gifts.

It is safe to say that on the new album there’s more Spanish guitar, some reminiscent of Django Reinhardt. Where did that idea come from and what was the reasoning behind this?

Oren (electric guitar player) realised what he wants to be: he wants to be Spanish! His family are Spanish Jews, and his genes woke up! So now we have 2 guitar players, and he’s surpassed me in several ways. He became a very diligent student of flamenco, and clicked with the idea of a band coming full circle to song-writing roots, and encouraged Rick Rubin with that. Gogol Bordello’s main strength is that we’re not that crazy and loud and that we’re ‘exotic’; we’re not exotic at all, and the strength of Gogol Bordello is that we’re able to write timeless music. Working with Rick was like a lens for us, and put the wild spiritual feeling of music into focus. It focused me on the craft of song-writing, which I always thought was my secret discipline, but maybe that’s years behind us of being so fucking nuts. And every song on the record was crafted on the guitar; if it didn’t work on guitar it wasn’t ready to be shown. Song in its spiritual energy, joy, what have you, it had to be that thing that works.

You have been described as being of a Russian musical influence. What are your musical influences?

Where to start? The Beatles? Specials? Our music is just as much Russian gypsy/musical as it is British. We played with Specials recently. I have always loved them. Rick always compared us to the Specials. He kept saying ‘Similar energy’. Then we met them and we were like ‘we love you guys!’

When we grew up we listened to lots of music from the UK. In Ukraine, we loved Slade. From Joy Division to The Fall, we heard it all.

How much do you think the UK loves you out of ten and why?

I got no idea! I know lots of musicians are scared of UK, I was never scared of UK, and the fans always did great in UK, I don’t know, you tell me man! We had amazing times in UK, especially in towns where people really know music (London, Glasgow) – they know it when they see it. That was one of the first countries that picked up on us right away, and didn’t think we were that ‘exotic’.

Why did you choose Sao Paulo, Brazil as a place to reside?

There was no thinking; I went where the girl was. From then on I fell in love with the whole country. My all-time hero Manu Chao happened to be in Brazil, we went travelling to other parts of Brazil, way up North, and that opened up my receptors to the country. I also basically got on the express way to the music scene as I’d go with Manu Chao al around; it was an amazing time, really living the dream. That kept me going, experiences like that.

What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or is it more spontaneous?

Nothing spontaneous about it, rehearsals are completely methodical. I keep writing all the time and I write pretty much for the public. I have ideas but I write it with the band around, constructing it as a constant working process. Gogol Bordello is a working process. When something’s done we take it to the stage or recording studio. Before you called me I was writing a song. It’s like a documentary experience driven live journal that eventually will be shaped through the craft. People in the band really like to make music. The thing is, with Gogol bordello it is all about fun, whatever gets people into it. It’s a way of speaking our insights out and it’s more carrying on what Johnny Cash did, what Bob Marley, Joe Strummer did, aspiring to continue that feeling of life that’s in their music.