Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hütz: I've never used drugs to exhilarate my performance

Categories: Interview
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Talk to certain people, and they'll all tell you: Eugene Hütz is the stuff of legend. Catch a glimpse of the Gogol Bordello frontman on the street, and you'll notice his mustache waxed into a permanent curl, a mess of unkempt shoulder-length hair, and a unique sense of style that can only be described as an amalgam of vibrant Bohemian grunge. When you see Hütz onstage with his band, all you'd be able to notice is the beat.

With Gogol Bordello, he helped ignite the gypsy punk revolution and hasn't looked back. The band's percussive, chant-heavy live shows rile up fans who are just as likely to start a gigantic mosh pit as they are to dance a jig in time with the beat. With the release of their latest album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, this July, the band has hit the road yet again to celebrate a step in a new direction. The record doesn't have as many anthems like the boozer-friendly "Alcohol" or ridiculously catchy "Start Wearing Purple." Instead, slower, more reflective songs pepper the record with a lighter touch than Gogol Bordello's usual vibe. That's not to say Pura Vida doesn't stay true to its hardcore roots with "Dig Deep Enough" and "Gypsy Auto Pilot."

The gypsy-punk pioneer has done everything from rocking out on grungy stages to showcasing some serious acting chops in Everything Is Illuminated, and even had a character in the film Wristcutters: A Love Story modeled after his inimitable persona. While Hütz and the band have been busy with their album release, they've also recently become embroiled in a legal dispute with the band's former guitarist Oren Kaplan. Hütz took spoke with Gimme Noise (while in traffic) about collective consciousness and his undead fans ahead of Gogol Bordello's show at the Cabooze tonight.

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Gimme Noise: Are you still living in Brazil these days?

Eugene Hütz: Kind of. I've still got my place there.

A lot of your albums incorporate themes and sounds based on where you've been or the band's mindset at the time. Has that time spent in South America had an effect on this latest record?

Definitely had some effect, but I don't know. It's not like a Brazilian album or anything. It's an album about probably most anything that reflects Gogol Bordello's strive for stripping down anything that's artificial and non-authentic in human nature. This album was more about that.

This album definitely veers in that direction. It comes off as much more reflective than Gogol Bordello's previous albums. Why did you choose to go in that direction this time around?

The natural flow of life! You know, if people are introspective, and if people are soul searching, they sooner or later will come to the point of understanding that there's only one true identity for all of us in this world... and that's called human being identity. It's not really about where you're from and who you're trying to be. That's all just artificial; those are just like nice little masks. Some of them are really beautiful, some of them are actually amazing, but what unites us all is consciousness of collective experience on this planet.

That being said, did you guys come closer to the collective experience while collaborating on Pura Vida Conspiracy?

Absolutely. I feel I've always been a very conscious person, but I think that it kind of goes in a cycle in your life, you know. [Honks in the background] Opa! There's some non-conscious people driving... Consciousness is always there, but to cultivate the consciousness is another thing. What is more apparent here is that we as a group achieved a higher frequency here. It's not only about me, it's about how we as a group -- a small society -- progress in that direction, and how we see each other really as a family. A lot more cohesiveness will happen in your interaction, in your creativity together, and I'm proud that we are making that point because more fans are going to make it to that point.

You once described music not as joy, but as catharsis. With this album being more subdued with subtle emotional arcs, do you still feel like that's an accurate assessment of the way you look at creating art?

I think both words are pretty actually accurate. The thing is that the cathartic element is always there but that implies thinking. More importantly there's a joy of being, and that's something that's been a huge part of our music. Maybe not necessarily everyone has understood, because the concept of joy and happiness itself has been kind of misrepresented, pretty much polluted in a modern sense of the word. More people talk about happiness, and they think that their lives have some sort of particular circumstance that's supposedly going to bring some kind of lasting and exhilarated state of being.

But that is highly improbable -- and it's highly actually impossible -- because in a more balanced and ancient way, happiness implies a full range of emotions, including sadness. It's a balance and interaction of all those emotions, so people are trying to achieve this thing, and they're digging in the wrong place.

You ask an old, old wise man and he'll tell you that real happiness comes from nowhere, because it has no reason. It doesn't come from any intellectual pursuit. It comes from conscience and passion, which is different than thinking. That's what people confuse -- thinking with consciousness. Our music is something that is a huge therapy for us, and it's a huge therapy for everybody that comes to see. It demands your attention to the present, it demands your attention to right here and now. That way, it's magic really.

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Speaking of, Gogol Bordello is infamous for its live shows, but you guys have a pretty demanding tour schedule. How do you keep up your energy night after night?

It doesn't really come from any system of expending some kind of pressure. It actually comes from pure joy of being. I've never used any drugs or substances to exhilarate my performance; it's all natural reaction. It's not really like, "Oh wow, I have to go on tour, I have to spend all this energy." It's the other way around. I go for two, three months straight because I don't spend my energy on things that are worthless. I have energy saved up for things that are... pretty fun to see.

What's the craziest thing that's happened on tour so far?

It was my show in San Francisco. There was a kind of psychedelic-looking couple, maybe middle-aged. And I was like, "Okay, it's San Francisco, there are a lot of psychedelic adventurers." The woman says, "Listen, my husband... he died a week ago, and he wants to shake your hand and take a picture now." And I was like "Okay... What do you exactly mean by that?" And the guy came up and said, "You know, a week ago, I died. I had a clinical death, and I was watching my body from outside and I thought, 'Wow, I made it through the years, so this is pretty good... but wait a second! I already bought the tickets to Gogol Bordello's show. I gotta go back and see!'" So he went back into his body and went to the show. I was like, "Respect, brother!" That's some dedication. 

[Note: We did ask about this big lawsuit too, but he declined to comment.]

Gogol Bordello with Viza performs at the Cabooze on Friday, August 2. Doors are at 6 p.m. $30, 18+. Tickets still available.

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The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt on songwriting, the Spice Girls, and hating John Lennon's "Imagine"


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2 comments
Steve Rood
Steve Rood

Proofread the last paragraph and see if you can find the two errors. Or I can do it for a nominal fee.

k2yeb
k2yeb topcommenter

@Steve Rood Not uncommon in today's world of cheap news and first to publish.

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