Gucci, Madonna, and bicycles: the strange world of Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz
GW: How’s the tour going so far?
The tour is…it’s what we do and I’m glad its what we do, because other ways of experiencing life just seem to be a lame echo of that experience. Touring and being in the studio are completely different things but basically recording is an echo of touring as well.
GW: How’s the reception this time?
It’s an accelerating pattern. It’s a new kind of thrill for us to go to huge venues where thousands of people scream my lyrics back at me, you know? It’s a new stage in the history of the band.
GW: When you started the band did you ever imagine you’d be starring in films with Elijah Wood and working with Madonna?
I imagined many things, but not those particular things. But yeah, I was always more heading for writing, directing and starring in my own movie, it’s just that I haven’t got to that point yet. I have written two scripts and it’s just a matter of time before we bust them out. I think Gogol Bordello is destined to be a band that not only puts out albums but also puts out its own movies, the way things are going. They won’t be Hollywood movies, absolutely not. They will be like our albums, things that are universal and epic, but not made to be shoved down anyone’s throat. They’ll be the kind of things that people have to figure out and discover, I suppose. They aren’t gonna be made around the cult of young beauty or celebrity lifestyle, any crap like that.
GW: So you aren’t a fan of that kind of Americanised culture?
I enjoy kicking the shit out of it!
GW: So how did you end up working with Madonna?
She called me. If I thought I should have said no, I’d have said no, but I said yes probably because I thought it would be a lot of fun. And it absolutely was.
GW: Do you think it brought you to a new audience?
Everything we do brings a new audience, it’s been accumulating for many years. Every project you do brings a new audience. We were in a theatre, it brought us a theatre audience. We did tours of art galleries, it brought us an art galleries audience. When we got into movies it brought us to people who wouldn’t stumble into Gogol Bordello otherwise. It’s the same thing here, it’s a long process and everyone’s welcome to the family, you know? Our music itself is already a test of open-mindedness and stamina so whoever makes it through automatically is welcomed.
GW: As your father was in one of Ukraine’s first rock bands did you feel it was your duty to do the same?
I actually never even thought that there was anything else to do in life, not even for one second. It just never occurred to me. I was just born into it, and I of course thank God and thank my Dad, and everybody who influenced me, and every rejection and challenge too. It all goes in the mix, you know? It would never be the same if it weren’t for the people who wouldn’t buy my funk at first. It’s quite a common path for any person who comes to shake up the apple cart, and I don’t think there’s any other way of seeing what we’re doing.
GW: How successful do you think you’ve been in ‘smuggling’ East-European culture into the West?
I think the transaction has been pretty successfully completed! The thing is that it’s not only about Eastern European culture, I think that’s done. Gogol Bordello is a constant evolution, and to make a new album I need to reach a new spiritual plateau, then live it and explore it and move on. It’s a certain period of life with all its ideas and all its sensibilities that gets captured, and it will forever stay like that, you know? I have no affinity for bands or musicians who just go into the studio once in two years, and write in the studio, trying to suck the music out and see if they come up with anything awesome. You’re always gonna come up with shit, doing it like that, that’s the truth. I feel like song writing is a perpetual thing, and it goes on night and day. It incorporates everything that goes on in your subconscious, every car that’s driving by. Through working on it methodically every day I think you end up with work that’s much more timeless and layered, with much more depth…and width! That’s the kind of work we want to contribute.
GW: So you think it should be more natural than forced?
No, I think it can be forced on a regular basis, actually. I write no matter what, if I don’t have inspiration then I still write every day. It’s an old school Dostoyevsky method! Actually it’s more like a Tolstoy method, Dostoyevsky was a gambler! I live in Brazil now, in Rio, and I know how much that music is already impacting on me. It always had, but I think the hardcore side of Brazilian underground and carnival music is gonna definitely be a new influence…not in the sense of ‘flavour’. Fuck ‘flavour’! I mean the essence of that celebrative culture. I know what the essence of Eastern-European celebrative culture is already, but in Brazil the melodies are so much more intricate and dramatic. The stuff I end up writing is definitely a hardcore version of Eastern-European Brazilian crossover for this album. The melodies are like…
(Eugene plays one of his new songs – it’s quite an experience)
Its high-intensity. The album is going to be pretty soon. Hopefully we’ll be able to go down to Brazil to do it, because it’s a really nice place to hang and to get the good food!
GW: Do you think you’ll just move around the world for the rest of your life, soaking up other cultures and seeing what comes out of it?
Absolutely. Nobody has showed me anything more exciting so far. That way of life is forgotten, but it’s a proven way of life for my ancestors, and I don’t see anything about it that needs fixing.
GW: You often talk about your Romani roots and provide links on your website to Romany sites – do you feel that more exposure will help to stop the prejudice against that group?
I think so, for sure. Maybe not everyone at the same time, but it’s definitely working in some ways. There is much more work to be done but what I like about Gogol Bordello is that we’re not just busting out some cultural information that people normally wouldn’t consider. We’re also a pretty big connector between the Romani scenes in different countries. We have people coming to our shows that are actors, arists, Romani kids, elders…it’s a good thing because there are a lot of different tribes of gypsies, just like there are a lot of different tribes of native Americans, so there’s a lot of them to learn about each other, not only for Westerners to learn about them. I hope we’re part of this process, because it was always a bit sad for me that someone as powerful and famous and Gipsy Kings, who are a full-on Romani band, totally legit in every way, despite some of the terrible arrangement and other things they’ve done. At its essence it’s a totally legit gypsy band, who scored worldwide fame, who really didn’t do much for the cause. They just somehow ended up saying nothing about Romani nature. They did through their music, but I didn’t feel like they were a uniting link. We’re all proud of them, and excited that it got out there, even such a commercialised version of it, because at its base it is an amazing band. If you had them in the room playing, you’d set yourself on fire and jump out the window.
GW: But you think they wasted their fame a little?
Not wasted for themselves, but I feel like there could be more of an impact made.
GW: Speaking of an impact, what do you think to being named as the key influence for the Gucci collection in January?
I don’t think anything about it. What am I supposed to think about it? If something is inspiring, it’s inspiring, so totally, take it away – Gucci have to eat too! But I know I definitely didn’t do it for an approval from Gucci or any kind of status quo label for that matter. Things I write and do, and the things we deliver with the band are really made for people in search of their creative side, for people in search of their strength to go on against all odds, because those suggestions aren’t provided anywhere else. If you look at our educational system, it’s fucking crap.
GW: What do you think could change?
Well that’s the fucking thing. Somewhere along the evolutionary way we just took a wrong turn, and I don’t know if it’s that easy to get back on the right track. I guess the good news is that evolution is not over, not only for Gogol Bordello, but for everybody, its in full swing. As we are finding out, we’re yet to learn to use our brains and bodies fully, and that will open many new possibilities again I guess. There’s a lot out there that we have that’s totally unutilised, psychic and energetic power of people is lying there like a load of scrap metal unfortunately. We’ve got to work towards making a new kind of bicycle out of that scrap metal.