Gogol Bordello – Interview – 2017

Formed in 1999, with charismatic frontman Eugene Hutz at the helm, this gypsy-punk-balkan outfit will be releasing their seventh studio album in August, Seekers and Finders. And, it’s another blizzard of violins, accordions, trumpets and marimba, amongst the standard rock basics of guitars, bass and drums. Their multi-cultural adrenaline rush of a sound (tempered with the odd ballad) is made for the live stage where they put on a brilliantly colourful and carnival-esque performance, with the aim of making you want to party. Eugene Hutz took some time out whilst in the middle of a European tour to have a chat with Brightonsfinest.

How are you doing, and where are you?
I’m alright, man. I’m in Holland.

I remember seeing you guys play at Beachdown Festival in Brighton, and then the Dome a few years back. The place was rocking!
I usually remember Brighton gigs pretty well. The art community is pretty bumping still there. It has all the fragrances of the reactions, you know?

Yeah! Everyone was standing and dancing at the Dome, which is where you’ll be on 6 July…
That’s one of the scenarios that we deal with. In beautiful, seated venues that are so enjoyable to be in. And, at the same time, there are a lot of nervous security people.

You produced this album. How did you find that experience?
Yes, I did produce it myself. It started two years ago. It started with a batch of songs with this working title ‘Gypsy Christ Superstar’, and there was this musical thread going through it. Not a jolly musical, but an angry, painful musical. Then the whole ‘Gypsy Christ Superstar’ thing rubbed off, and the humour was forgotten, and then the album really started emerging. It became centralised around themes of…

Eugene interrupts at this point to do some business with the two girls in the band
Just wrapping up some shopping with our girls, looking for some fashion!

I just felt that I had to get behind the wheel on this album, and let it be what it needs to be from the beginning to the end. I always loved collaborating with producers. We had tremendous blessings in the past, with amazing producers all along the way. Starting with our first album, and Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds, to Steve Albini, and making a record with him. Doing stuff with Victor Van Vugt, Rick Rubin and Andrew Scheps. They all had an impact on us. It was just a matter of time before I gathered all the science and got behind the wheel myself.

So, you enjoyed doing it?
It was an incredibly exhausting experience, actually. However, what I really enjoyed about it was going back to that feeling of making your first recording ever. Like a drum track, and you are laying the guitar over it, and you hear your voice for the first time. And you think it’s magic, and you think it’s the most important fucking thing in the world. And just going back to that frequency, that’s what it was all about. There’s nothing more important than that little candle.

You were obviously excited by it…
Absolutely. It was sleepless night after sleepless night, as opposed to working methodically. OK, now we’re big boys… Here we are in the big city doing a big job. It’s 10am and already we’re in a studio. As the night time comes, they’re going, ‘Take a rest’. ‘No! Fuck all of that’. We’re going to demolish the building entirely, and we’re going to go back to the feeling of capturing what is magic to us. Nothing is more important than what is magic to you. Art is like the highest form of hope. You don’t have anything else. We don’t have any other mediums besides drugs to teleport us into another world. So, this had better be fucking good, you know.

How does a Gogol Bordello song come about?
I have many songs running at the same time. It’s like an open journal, that covers as many topics as possible. It can still be in quite an uncertain stage when I show it to the band, and that uncertain stage is basically the most interesting stage. That’s very exciting. By the time a song comes to the band, it can transform drastically. From something that I thought was going to be a ballad may turn into an insanity anthem, very up-tempo. And vice versa. I’ve seen that happen many times! And that’s part of my adventure. I don’t have to be entirely in control of these things. Essentially, when it gets in the hands of the band, it becomes better.

Tell me about the song ‘Saboteur Blues’. It’s a diss towards the philosophy of Rene Descartes?
It questions that whole Western European mentality. ‘I think therefore I am’. Western civilisation ran wild with that quite dubious notion. Especially as an artist when you know that thinking is quite unreliable and there are other perception mechanisms that we have. The subconscious is really what’s in charge. ‘Saboteur Blues’ is trying to convey through the form of a pop song, this idea that you’re focusing yourself on ‘staring at the lily’. ‘Staring at the lily’, as the libido is saying, is where your being will become fully alive. So, if you’re stuck in an eliptical mode, it’s a source of detrimental anxiety. That being a straight up recipe for your ‘Saboteur Blues’. It’s an experiment to put a concert into the form of ten line pop songs. Quite ambitious, I suppose.

‘Seekers and Finders’, the title track?
It’s a duet with Regina Spektor. Duets are my side passion. On the first album there are some very down-and-out duets. Once I completed the song it was natural to ask Regina to be part of it because first of all it’s one of the songs on the album that is very much in an Eastern European key. And that’s the huge roots that we share. I mean, we are from the same bubble of New York musicians that started out at the same time, and went around the world at the same time, and known each other for a long time. It just felt natural. How many times are you going to be able to get together with your friend, and drink wine, who’s also a singer/songwriter, before you do it together?

You’re from Kiev, in the Ukraine. How do you feel about the situation there?
I prefer not to go into that. It’s already given me a headache! But, let’s say, it’s not affecting our relationships in the disapora.

Gogol comes from the Ukrainian writer of that name. And it also means something about smuggling Ukrainian culture into Russian society. Is that what you do with your music, smuggling Eastern European sounds into western culture?
In the beginning we were obsessed with that idea, for sure. We were a group of immigrants, and the core of the band is always Eastern European. That idea was the initial driving force, strongly brought up on our roots, but also with one foot in sub-cultures from New York, in London, in Berlin. We were immersed in Joy Division, and Einsturzende Neubauten, and all of that. And here we are in New York City, starting to feel this incredible nostalgia for this Eastern European way of celebration. The idea was to smuggle this emotional message into this very compartmentalised music industry. The consequence of that was that we were kicked out of every club in New York City in the first place. There was no place left. By 2002 no club would book us. Everything was too much to handle. Every show was like a Dada-esque happening. We gave them a run for their fucking life!

You’ve just come back from living in Brazil?
I just came back from Brazil, where I’ve been living the last six years. I’ve received some interesting offers, composing and writing. I can’t quite talk about it yet. I moved to get more shit done. My Brazilian glass was very full. They were unbelievable, unforgettable times. But for now, I have to get the skinny suit back on.
Jeff Hemmings

Website: gogolbordello.com
Facebook: facebook.com/gogolbordello
Twitter: twitter.com/gogolbordello