Monday, July 23, 2007

INTERVIEW & PHOTOS: Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello - Plus GB @ Irving Plaza 7/20 - PART 1

Gogol Bordello, the incomparable pioneers of the Gypsy Punk movement, played the first
show of their sold-out two-night stand at The Fillmore New York Irving Plaza on
7/20/07. Living up to their reputation as frenzy-makers, they played to an ecstatic crowd
who created a rabidly riotous party atmosphere, the likes of which I'd rarely seen before.
In anticipation of the event, your very own TixGirl had the tremendous good fortune to
interview Gogol Bordello's legendary frontman/vocalist/guitarist/songwriter, Eugene Hütz.
He was generous with his time with yours truly, so there's lots of juicy stuff to read.
Check out the most interesting bits: 
-On Gypsy Punk
-On Eugene's musical influences
-On the Gogol Bordello approach to songwriting
-On real Gypsy music
-Why the band Beirut sucks
-On being a movie star & filmmaker
-On the Madonna experience
-On a Gypsy presence at Live Earth
-On tuning in and turning on the celebration

So how are you doing?

I'm doing well. Covered in sweat, actually. Today is the perfect day to talk, because
today is the release of our record.

Congratulations on that! So you're currently out touring behind the new album. What can
you tell us about "Super Taranta"?

It's actually kind of a supernova for us, because you know we play supermusic. And this
time we wanted to make sure it was kind of full of epic stories and a collection of instant

On Gypsy Punk

I understand that you guys kind of coined the term "gypsy punk."

One night I was basically sitting, thinking of how the hell to end this whole problem with
journalists not knowing what to say to describe us, and just getting tired of unnatural
descriptions. Stuff like "klezmer-Russian-ska" and so on. And just wanted to say, "What
is the most driving forces of this band? What are the two biggest inspirations? " And it's
autobiographical, so it's my Romani heritage, and it's punk rock.

On Eugene's musical influences

You've said you come from a punk rock background. How did you get into punk?

I was already into rock and roll because of my Dad, back in Ukraine. When he was
younger he was playing in a band, and I grew into a major fan of his music, like the
Doors, and the Stooges, Rolling Stones, Queen and whatever. Black Sabbath. But you
know, I just added my own taste in music, like Devo, the Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols,
and things like that. So, I'd buy records on the black market.

Oh really!

It started out quite innocently, actually, cuz I originally went to black market to buy
stamps. You know, so I started out to collecting stamps, and I made my way down to
buy stamps for different countries. But then I actually switched to buying records.

You went to the store looking for stamps and came home with Devo.

I came home with Devo and leather jackets, and stuff like that.

That's classic! So where did your musical interests go from there? Because you really do
pull in influences from all over. You've mentioned your Romani heritage, punk rock, and
also ska. On this new album there seem to be a lot of new influences, as well. I've even
seen some people refer to it as a mixture of ska and Tool!

They always come up with bizarre comparisons. I saw that one journalist said Gogol
Bordello mixed up System of a Down and Manu Chao! Which makes sense, you know?
There are some elements of Prog Rock, speed metal. And there's that sound on some of
the more trademark tunes, like "Ultimate" and "Forces of Victory". Like
gypsy-speedmetal-dub. The truth of it is that the band and I never think about making it
piece all of this together and that together.

On the Gogol Bordello approach to songwriting

What's the process of writing music like for you guys? It sounds, to my ears, like
something that would really come together in a jamming kind of situation, as opposed to
sitting down and writing an entire song, altogether. But I could be wrong about that.

I will tell you exactly how it goes. There's no rules. Absolutely, it can start from one word,
or it can start with a melody. The song itself. But I write the song originally. I write all the
songs, but for me it's important that they work on guitar already. I'll write the songs and
test them at a party, or a dub safari. Then it's a matter of when I see the reactions. When
I test a song and it turns out to be an instant classic, then I bring it to the band. And there
it becomes completely something else. There it starts taking on life and becomes Gogol
Bordello material. The musicians we have, everybody has a very distinct personal style.
Amazing musicians, you know?

And they're from all over the world, aren't they?

It's like Refugee Information Processing Central. So I write a song from my imagination,
and suddenly Yuri will strike a chord and take my imagination and take it somewhere
else. Their personal styles start expanding the material, and eventually we've boiled it to
the composition. So it's a casual band where everybody gets a shot.

It really comes across on stage. This incredible high-energy performance. I mean you
guys are wearing knee pads...

You have to! Otherwise you know it would be a really traumatic experience.

(laughs) And being onstage shouldn't be traumatic.

And it's also 9 people running around stage like, fucking, the romper room in the match
house. You know? You have to have some pads. I would actually also like to have some
of those things that boxers have on their teeth.

(laughs) So you don't go running into the bass drum, right?

Unfortunately, though, to sing you know, you can't do that.

Gogol Bordello @ Irving Plaza 7/20/07

On real Gypsy music

Yeah, it would sound pretty funny. So I've noticed that it seems lately there's a sort of
"nouvelle gypsy" movement in indie rock right now. You know, bands from all over the
place bringing in accordions, and fiddles, and brass, and all kinds of traditional
instruments. And it really seems to me that you guys were the ones who paved the way
for this new interest in traditional Gypsy music. Do you sense that there's kind of a
burgeoning community right now?

Well that's actually been going on for quite a few years. If you look at it just like
historical-wise, you'll see that Gogol Bordello has been doing it for nearly 10 years. We
started in '97. I moved to NY '97 and immediately went to the first club and saidthat I
needed a gig. Here I am with my guitar. So they gave me 20 minutes on a Monday night.
And from that gig I started accumulating following, just by myself. And it became two,
and then three, and so on, and so forth.

But the point is that in the past there was a genuine breakthrough of that music. My whole
idea was to make Gypsy music to be a part of subculture, to bring it to kids, or into punk
rock and reggae, and to other forms of music that come from social unrest. Because that's
very inspirational music. And it's something that turns all negative energy into positive.
Punk rock, reggae, gypsy music, that's what got me through. That's music of social unrest
that comes from authentic social...


Yeah, it's just from specific places where social unrest does exist. But I just wanted to
comment on the rest of the question. The whole original cohort of those bands was
Taravteri Dukes, Mafar Chokerli, and Boban Markovic. [Note: Please forgive the
hideous misspellings.]
Those are bands from Eastern Europe. And ours actually paved
the way toward a lot of them. And we're all coming out at the same time. And at this
point, actually, it became a lot more massive, but there's a lot of people just trying to get
on the bandwagon, you know, people trying to catch on with the popularity. And you can
easily tell those apart. They usually have, you know, all their album covers look exactly
the same, and they don't really know anything about Eastern Europe. It's just like this

Gogol Bordello @ IrvingPlaza 7/20/07

Why the band Beirut sucks

It's not as simple as just adding an accordion.

It's totally not that at all. So after a while, I thought this whole thing started poorly
reflecting on us. And we decided to distance ourselves from it, because reality is that we
always did our own thing. It was that we have our own massive scene, and our own grass
roots following. And that was due to our real fans. That was not due to press or
promoters who made big posters for us, or anything.

It was authenticgrass roots following, and we've been playing to thousands of people for
years. Now we know our fans, and the communication we have with them. And then at
this point, we think that distancing ourselves from that movement is actually a better thing,
because a lot of those things are really terrible, and actually just tasteless. You know like
bands like, fucking, Beirut is just like, even just purely from cultural point of view, it's like
real crap. Because trying to expand, trying to come through in so many ways, expanding
culture, and he's calling his record "Gulag Orkestar." It's obviously someone that doesn't
know it's like calling it "Auschwitz Band." It's obviously fucking somebody who doesn't
know what those places are. And doesn't know anything about anything. It's like for
people who think that, like, Israel is Balkan. You know?

It comes from a place of ignorance.

The main thing about gypsy music is that it's fire. It's fire of catharsis. And we have that.
We take it and we carry it. And we also make it more than entertainment. We make it
"educ-tainment." You know? But there is so much shit out there that not only can't be
educ-tainment, it's just a complete disinformation. It's pseudo-Balkan, pseudo-gypsy. It's
just plain fucking crap. And that's why we've said that it's probably much better off to be
content with being known as "one-and-only." We don't really need all that much
"Movement." We know who our friends are, and we know who the real pioneers of this
music is, and the shows are unbeatable. It's Mafar Chokerli, Taravteri Dukes, it's Kultur
Shock from Seattle.

Continue to Part 2...

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