Thursday, 9 October 2008

GOGOL BORDELLO - Interview with Eugene Hutz by Christine Leonard-Cripps

Full-Tilt Punk Rock Polka Party

Gypsy punks Gogol Bordello get their kicks at Brazilian Carnival

Thriving on the infinite variety of cultures found in their home state of New York, the ragtag group of gypsies who make up the multi-ethnic punk rock sensation Gogol Bordello bring a black market of musical influences to stage with every explosive performance. The band, famous for their dynamic musical arrangements and bizarre theatrical performances, formed in 1999 under the direction of lead singer Eugene Hutz, who had lived the life of a refugee in Poland, Hungary, Austria and Italy after being evacuated from the Ukraine in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster. Settling in the U.S. in 1993, Hutz joined forces with a group of like-minded musicians largely of eastern European descent. Their collaboration would result in a folk-punk experiment that’s taken the world by storm.

“Big crowds, small crowds it makes no difference to us,” says Hutz, who recently performed a Tom Waits tribute with Primus bass player Les Claypool and Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett at the Bonnaroo music festival. “We purposefully make a point of playing smaller gigs just so we can bring back that atom-smasher mentality to the big stage. We believe in transforming negatives to positives by getting people to voluntarily take part in the creative process and switch their masks. Some critics keep comparing us to a circus act, just because we wear costumes and have an accordion, which is complete bullshit! We have nothing to do with fucking circuses; everything we do is in a minor key. If anything, what we do is more like a Brazilian carnival.”

In fact, Hutz has been pursuing a newfound love of all things Brazilian. He recently travelled to that country, where he spent some quality time with his friend, composer-musician Manu Chao. While abroad, Hutz discovered a variety of indigenous Brazilian instruments, which he eagerly purchased for his ever-growing orchestra back in New York. Next to hanging out with Sepultra’s Max Cavelera, Hutz reports that the highlight of his South American spree came when Manu Chao introduced him to his favourite band, Mundo Livre.

“I’m already planning my next trip to Brazil,” Hutz reports. “I’m ready for another full-on collaborative vacation. Winter is usually the time when I like to go into the studio to record, and I’ve already written the next album based on the material I worked on in Brazil. That is not to say this will be a bossa nova or samba album. I believe in influences, not flavours. There will be no flavours. It’s more about studying the connections and the textures of being in a place. It is like a documentary taken firsthand and turned into music. My journeys become part of my experience. The universe is expanding and so is me, baby!”

Pushing the envelope and venturing into new artistic realms comes naturally to the intrepid vocalist, who has been tapped by none other than Madonna to star in her directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom. The singer’s charisma makes him a natural choice for movies (there’s already been a film character loosely based on him — the Russian rocker Eugene in 2006’s Wristcutters: A Love Story). Combined with his band’s cathartic sense of humour and an energetic cast of players who deliver a dizzying barrage of musical styles and sensibilities, Gogol Bordello is a folk-punk juggernaut of epic proportions.

Christine Leonard
Originally published October 9, 2008 in Fast Forward Magazine

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