Posted August 14, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Gogol Bordello: Eugene Hütz’s ever-expanding vision

Gogol Bordello
Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello has been through numerous incarnations and featured a variety of musicians and dancers over the years. Singer Eugene Hütz doesn’t think these changes are symbolic of any kind of instability. Rather, they’re part of the normal ebb and flow that comes with the territory. Still touring behind last year’s Pura Vida Conspiracy, a collection of gypsy punk tunes, Hütz phoned us at a stop to talk about the band’s incredible legacy.

The band formed in 1999. Talk about what your goals were back then and how they might have changed over the years.
I never had any goals. I only had inspiration. Goals they have in factories and places where you produce products. I never had any kind of plan or goal. I had a vision.

What was it?
You’re looking at it. You’re asking me for very pragmatic answers. I’m not very pragmatic. My vision was what you see. As my vision keeps expanding, it keeps transforming and expanding. You’re looking at that as well.

Did you start out as a DJ?
I started out as a drummer when I was 13 years old. I was writing my own songs when I was 15. Before I even thought about creating Gogol Bordello, I had six albums out with my previous band if you want to go that far back. DJing was a parallel development. It wasn’t my foundation or anything.

DJing is just another form of writing your own symphony out of ready-made pieces from other people. It’s a fun way to display your creativity.

The live show is wild now, but it was even wilder in the early days, wasn’t it?
I don’t compare characteristics to that. How would I put it? It’s like this. Gogol Bordello was an acoustic band. In fact, it was a singer-songwriter kind of a project to start with. It was me and then a duet with an accordion player. Then, it became a trio. Then it became four people. And then over the course of four or five years it became a six-piece and so on. As the band transformed, its wildness or craziness was there. It will always will be there simply because it’s just the kind of energy I produce. That is only part of it. The other aspect is actual craft. That craft is what keeps the attention and feeds people in other ways. No energy can sustain attention if it’s not guided. There’s a parallel with martial arts. I always kind of hinted to journalists and people that it’s very close to martial arts in spirit. I have a certain method of stirring up the energy. It’s a gift, but it’s also cultivated. That’s the core of it. It’s both passion and a discipline to whip this passion in shape in a certain way. For me, both of things were equally there in the beginning, now and to the future. It’s just who I am. It’s going to keep expanding. Will it keep changing? I don’t know. Expanding seems to be the right word.

Do you feel like the craft has evolved?
I absolutely feel that and we all know it. We take our inspiration into a very serious direction. I’ve been a student of international and world-wide folklore for years and decades. In a way, I have an advantage because I dissected and analyzed and got inspired by and soaked in many different pools of songwriting. Besides Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and Leonard Cohen and the usual grand subjects, there are things of equal magnificence going on in Eastern Europe with the whole Russian literature school being so influential on the lyric writers. That has produced a generation of Russian speaking artists —not known throughout the world — who are just as powerful. Then, you have Latin America that is full of brilliant music jazzing with hybrids of unthinkable awesomeness. Then, you have Mediterranean — Spain, Morocco, Italy. They’re very fertile and inspiring pools of music. The gypsy culture ties it together. You can track down a hundred years ago, melodies from Italy were brought to Buenos Aires. And early melodies of tango were brought through the Black Sea to Ukraine. People in the Ukraine adopted them as their own. To this day, they may think they’re Ukrainian melodies even though they came from Argentina. The port towns . . . gypsies and sailors brought that melodic and cultural information from town to town through the oceans. That was the first internet. That was the original form of downloading things for free. The new boat arrives filled with people who are bringing music. Nothing was copyrighted so it thrived. Storytelling was thriving because people were hungry for stories from abroad. I experienced firsthand that environment and that’s an advantage I have over people who live on the same block or try to write on the same block, getting inspired by some book they read or some film they saw or something they saw in the newspaper.

Is gypsy culture all about hybrids?
There’s no code. There’s no method for doing anything in gypsy culture. Usually, they absorb music and turn into their gypsified hybrid, yes.

The band’s been through many configurations. How have you been able to keep it going?
It’s normal. I don’t look at it like any kind of challenge. Some people want to go and start a family, for example. Now, they see us play and bring their babies. Some people just moved back to where they came from, very far away from New York City. It’s normal to have changes in a band that keeps going. If you look at any band for five years, they’re most likely to go through one or two changes. Bands that existed for a short time like the Clash managed quite a bit of member changing in the same time. It comes and it goes. The core of the band stays the same. It seems like five people at the core and two or three members rotating. Everyone comes and leaves their mark. We select very good people and they all contribute to the growth of the band. If they choose to do something else at some point, that’s perfectly fine.

Are you working on new material?
The last album came out exactly one year ago. If there would be no confirmed shows until the end of the year, I would book a studio and make a new album. I’m ready and I’m very excited to go to the studio again.

I thought you were great in Everything is Illuminated. Do you think you’ll do more acting?
Well, I never tried to pursue that. Whatever needs to happen happens. Am I going to move to Hollywood and start going to all the castings? No. Are you going to see me on the screen one day? Yes. That’s how I keep it together. There are some things I hustle and there are some things that I don’t hustle.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].