Thursday, January 03, 2008

Interview with Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hütz

Joe Adler interviews Gogol Bordello's lead singer Eugene Hütz.

Does Eugene Hütz, strike you as particularly laid back? You think he stands stoically in front of his microphone like Thom Yorke? Nope. Hütz, the Urkranian born lead singer of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello is particularly animated, and he’s not ready to stand back and let his guitarist do the talking.

Gogol Bordello’s latest offering, Super Taranta! is their second stellar album, following 2005’s GYPSY PUNKS: Underground World Strike and has put the band as leaders of a new genre. Gogol Borello is molding Eastern European and Gypsy influence with Western culture within a scene that includes Balkan Beat Box, Beirut and DeVotchKa. Comprised of eight other members, Gogol is arguably one of the most captivating live acts today, with Hütz leading the band to their on-stage blow-up of fury and joy.

As an avid supporter of Romani Rights, Hütz uses his music to introduce the gypsy culture to a wider audience. He is also one of the curators of the annual New York Gypsy festival and an acclaimed actor having starred in 2005’s Everything is Illuminated alongside Elijah Wood. In 2008, Hütz will play the lead character in Filth and Wisdom, the film that marks Madonna’s directorial debut.

Glide recently had a chance to talk with the always energetic Hütz, who, with song titles like "Think Locally, Fuck Globally" speaks his mind as openly as making the moustache cool again.

Eugene, it’s been a crazy few months for you, how are things?

Been fantastic man. Doing multiple nights in the cities and bombing people with new material. And I’m already, pretty much in the middle of writing the next record.

Is that going to be an expansion of your past work or something completely new?

It’s always a new revolutionary incarnation of it, you know. I don’t have the outline of it and I imagine it will sound not like what I think now. The writing process is well in the middle of it. Right now for me a lot of things came into focus, a kind of coherency of what we’re doing came more into focus. So I’m not sure if we’re now going to fuck it all up and make it entirely incoherent or make it even more coherent. I don’t know.

Do you collaborate with the rest of the band in your writing process?

I collaborate on arrangement a lot, which is why you read: words by Eugene and music by Eugene and Gogol Bordello. I write the songs but because there are so many different instruments and with the process of arraignment, things can really expand.

So please talk about back in your childhood, the Refugee Relocation program and your move from Kiev to the U.S. How did it affect your creative experience?

By the time I was done with the Refugee program I could swear in five different languages only because I was living with Czech and Romanian and with Albanian and so on and so forth. So, of course, that developed more to play with as I met many different kinds of people. And that brought new color for me right away you know. And these were not people on the calmer side of things, these were pretty much the more wilder kind of ethnicities. I would say that. So we had the good times and the bad times with them but it was just a kind of school of getting along I suppose. A school of getting along with people that you would not
normally choose to hang out with.

So about how old were you when you first started playing music?

There are many photos of me when I was two, three, four, five and six years old with guitars. I don’t know, somewhere around that time.

At this point have you met any of the musicians who influenced your style?

Oh for sure. Now I know people from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and one of them produced our first record and then their producer produced our last record. I guess I didn’t fall off that fucking far from the tree you know. So I guess that kind of made me feel more optimistic in a sense of, that life, is once again possible and things can get better. And the romantic idea that I had in youth, that this kind of aesthetic tree is growing throughout the world where this kind of school keeps on living. So that’s a very exciting part for our band and me.

Are there other influences of yours that you would like to get together with?

You know Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth, Primus and yeah I haven’t met Tom Waits yet. But at the same time he is one house away from Les Claypool and Les Claypool has been playing on his records for the last ten years.

So is Tom Waits someone who had a great influence on you and your musical style?

Actually he didn’t influence it all that much, he is more like somebody that I could easily understand and I can have an affinity for and I can relate to. Actually we were casted for a movie together except for that I ended up not doing that movie because of a tour. It is a movie called Wristcutters and I was supposed to play the lead role but I bailed out on that movie because I had a European tour, three month log tour and music is my life you know. Tom was in this movie and we made the soundtrack so there is an interesting connection like that going on all of the time. But I don’t feel like Tom Waits influenced me in one way or the other. He was just great. I gained much more from The Birthday Party and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and that neck of the woods.

So going more into the movie thing. First, your role in Everything Is Illuminated is inspiring. You portrayed or embodied the role of “Alex” in a way that came across as maybe being close to your own personality. Do you identify with the character?

Well you know, I greatly appreciate when people say things like you just said, that they completely see me in the character. And that’s because a lot of thought goes into it because, essentially that character is an absolute creation and there is nothing what-so-ever similar between that character and me. When I was doing press for the movie, people were always looking so disappointed that Alex was not sitting there, that was sitting there was the person that played Alex. Which just shows that the role was very successful.

People were literally in grief because the guy actually doesn’t exist. But that’s what good acting does, you completely convince people that that character should be alive. I was playing a 20 year-old virgin. I was 32 years old by that time and what I had behind me was far from being misinformed.

Could you tell me a little about your new film Filth and Wisdom.

I can say a little about it. I play the lead role, this time it’s much closer to my actual character, to actual me. I play the lead singer of Gogol Bordello you know. The whole band is in it and the reason for that is that actor herself, Madonna.

She’s been a great supporter and fan of our band. It was almost just a matter of time before we did something together. People, even the creators of Everything Is Illuminated, from them I knew she was a fan of our band. So I wasn’t entirely shocked when it happened, when I heard from her.

Did Gogol Bordello record music for the soundtrack?

There is about four or five or six songs from Gogol Bordello in that movie. I’m flying to London to do the screening to see the film next week actually. And it’s not a short film anymore, it’s a full feature. So to hell with the shorts man, nobody needs ‘em!

Was it during the filming of Filth and Wisdom that the opportunity came together for you and Sergey (violinist Sergey Ryabstev) to perform with Madonna at Live Earth?

Yeah it actually came together on the last day of shooting. And I always carry my guitar with me. Madonna very cleverly noticed that the songs that I’m playing, the gypsy songs, during the breaks (in filming) just to entertain people and myself, they were very much connected with the Spanish key and she had a song ("La Isla Bonita") in a Spanish key so we put two songs together, basically five days before the Live Earth.

I watched the performance online and that was by far the best performance of the day. It came across as being so polished.

That’s what we were shooting for, something that people could not conceive in their minds. Do it cleverly and do it musically well. The way that the songs were put together was very much with respect to both songs. And the only real part that she changed from my suggestions is she made our parts twice as long. I had an incredible time working with her. Coming from the underground and never knowing that much about pop culture and never being a part of pop culture for me to work with somebody like Madonna was like a walk on another planet. I just realized how special she was as a person and how different her methods and how hard her work is in contrast to most of the people in pop culture with power and huge bull dozing egos and no message. That was the way I learned why she was such an inspiration to the whole generation. Person to person, that’s how I learned.

So I was reading about your New Rebel Intelligence concept, could you talk about that and where it came from?

It came directly from the nature of the band. Obviously it’s very diffuse personnel, not only country-wise but interest-wise. It’s like one person is into meditating, and another person is into mysticism, and the third one is into aliens, and the forth one is completely happy and doesn’t drink. It’s very diverse, all the walks of life, we are in the middle of it. We become the center of all these things at once.

To me that is like a new picture of the world because I believe the people that are gathered in our band are very progressive and intelligent personalities, just of different kinds. Processing everybody’s information all at once, from cosmology to basic remedies in art and therapy and so on and so forth are coming together with this idea of connecting dots and just having a certain walk of life that keeps all those things together. Which is most notably is independent intelligence, independence of thought and open mindedness. But not the new age kind of open-mindedness and, fucking, raising the awareness. I don’t fucking believe in raising the awareness, I believe in fucking getting down. Getting down with the shit and making it fucking happen. Not tomorrow, but today, starting now!

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