Interview: Eugene Hütz, Gogol Bordello – Musical Grape Stomping (July 2017)  

Gogol Bordello’s “mad scientist psychedelic laboratory” is open for business as usual: Testing, experimenting and playing around with Gypsy punk, Eastern European sounds and notes since 1999.

Almost twenty years after their debut, the band from New York City is ready to release its tenth album titled Seekers and Finders and tour the world, reaching London on the 14th of December.

We reached Eugene Hütz to have a chat about Gogol Bordello’s past and present, the new album and what London can expect from the band’s upcoming gig.

Gogol Bordello is like a snowball. It was never premeditated, I was just gathering very strong individuals to share in the project. There’s always been one criteria that united us all; an obsession with Eastern European Gypsy music. That was kind of our starting ground. We are from very different parts of the world; South America, Europe, the States, but we all brought our focus to New York City through this obsession with Gypsy music and invented the playground that became known as Gypsy Punk.

Calling it that was a bit of an oxymoron, because you have to be quite skilled to play Gypsy music, which is essentially a music of virtuosos. I’m certainly not a virtuoso, but I was lucky to get virtuosos in my band. I kind of ‘abducted’ several people who really belong to symphonic orchestras rather than punk bands, but somehow they replied to this bizarre idea. So, it was really a snowball of characters getting together much like the way Jim Jarmusch made his early films, where it was really about artists like Tom Waits, Jim Larry and Roberto Benigni getting together and everything developed from there”.

Also Gogol Bordello’s music developed from that gathering of free-spirited and gifted musicians and is developing, shifting and turning into some else every single day interpreting and reinterpreting what’s going on around.

“Our sound is changing every week, or even every day. Otherwise, what’s the point? My idea is that music essentially comes from the other side and musicians are mediators. They’re like translators, and Gogol Bordello is this kind of gigantic information processing society. It’s like a superconducting supercollider of everything that goes on”.

Seekers and Finders, Gogol Bordello’s forthcoming studio album, alludes to two concepts that have been distorted by the contemporary world.

I love the notion of seeking, as I’ve done in my life and with my band. I love even more; the notion of ‘finding’ as elusive as it is, however, the title kind of points to the fact that both seeking and finding are obsolete today because it’s really more about persevering.

The seeking doesn’t guarantee any finding and even when finding happens, most people don’t realise, because they try to get back to seeking as soon as possible. So in a way, it’s a description of the endless loop of the human condition which is something that I’ve always been interested in. I feel that writing and performing come closest to it. You’re literally able to teleport yourself into another way of being, and that feeling lingers for quite a while. All the songs on the album follow this function. You could say that some songs are more pronounced and can easier catapult you to higher human potential, but all follow the same aim”.

Going a little bit deeper and investigating the inspiration of the album, Eugene revealed to us; the album’s essential driving force.

I directly produced the album, so I played with the songs for an enormous amount of time. Some of them are first takes like ‘Clairvoyance’, while others were sculpted for a very long period. But ‘Clairvoyance’, for example, has a delicate arrangement that includes the vibraphone and it really speaks to the other side, catapulting you into your higher self, which is love telepathy.

Love telepathy is actually the hidden theme in the album; seeking a place within where you can still access love and joy through being the main source of them. I don’t think people ever cracked that idea. They said that Buddha cracked it, but I don’t think that anyone after him did. So, I don’t believe in this sort of detachment that can get you higher because I’m still trying to locate that thing within, where telepathic love thrives naturally. That’s the central concept of our performances; to hold the field of presence, while demolishing any sort of post and future psychology”.

Next to the intangible inspiration, Gogol Bordello’s music is also influenced by artists in flesh, blood, movie production and musical instruments.

I’m a huge fan of Jim Jaramush and his latest film titled The Limits of Control, which came out three or four years ago. That’s a very interesting haiku mystery: a conspiracy of artists and scientists. They conspire to do good and access imagination in the best possible way.

Then, we also went all together to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds in New York just before our last European Tour. They’ve been together for 20 years, we’re still like ‘wow!’ It’s great to see all the kids getting into their music now because there’s quite a hypnotic fire in their performance.

I’m also listening to some early jazz. That kind of jazz that was very spiritual, when people were still falling in love with music. There were these kids running along the banks of the Mississippi, following the hypnotic sound of trumpets on the boats. That sound hypnotised everyone living on the shores and those kids got enchanted and ran as fast as they could after the boats until they dropped exhausted.

Finally, I’ve also been digging some of new Sivert Høyem stuff, who’s a Norwegian singer”.

With the release of a new album and the début of a world tour just round the corner, do you even need plans for the future?

There’s never any need to make plans. First of all, I learnt a long time ago that the more you got tied up in any kind of plan the more you come to nothing. I kind of prefer to stay liquid, holding the field of now”.

Also because the ‘liquid state’ is what allows Gogol Bordello to perform mind-blowing and unique live shows.

Our stage is like an endless performing ground, constantly shape-shifting. At the moment we have four sidekick performers. Even though I essentially drive the show with my monologues, there’s always a way that allows everyone to shine, and it still creates that communal bubble that kind of cracks everyone’s skulls wide open and lets that Dionysian experience rule.

At the moment, we’re kind of in the spirit of musical wine making, stomping the grapes with blood bursting out of the wine barrel. There’s always some kind of ritualistic part of what we do. Right now, it’s a particularly fertile time for Gogol Bordello because we have such a liquid line-up that allows us to enjoy unique and quite special performances”.

…and a “literally unique and quite special performance” is also what London’s fans of Gogol Bordello are looking forward to, in their December show at the O2 Academy.

We love playing in London because so much music that we listen to is coming from there. Every time I come to London I have encounters with some great musicians, people like The Stranglers for example. In a way, we have some affinity with them. Such as all those different elements in our music. We have punk musicians, academic musicians and other people who are fluent in the jazz world; all this contributes to create music that can only be Gogol Bordello. That’s the way we like it, people in London know it as soon as they see it.

I feel that in London, people are able to appreciate music beyond the usual denominators. They can see there is a wider scale and a complex hybrid. Some people are just happy to assume that Gypsy punk is supposedly some kind of music that came from some kind of mountain in Ukraine and somehow became a worldwide phenomenon. It is simply untrue! It was developed over a long time in our mad scientist psychedelic laboratory and brought to life through uncompromising reckless performances. What happens is incredibly crafted at first, but performed in the most cathartic, reckless way and that’s basically how we like it, it always comes out raw!”

Photo ©: Orit Pinini