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“It’s like the times made us complete the evolutionary circle faster.” Interview

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Gogol Bordello is certainly one of the most celebrated concert experiences in all the land. Ukraine-born front man Eugene Hütz and his multicultural crew play a steady dose of Gypsy punk added to an already break-neck mix of musical genres. The band can take instruments you would expect at an Eastern European wedding and make it all sound transformational.
 
Gogol Bordello released its eighth full-length album “Solidaritine” on September 16, 2022 (Casa Gogol/Cooking Vinyl). In an interview Hütz indicated that this album has “messages of human potential and power.” It is inspired by survival in the face of tremendous adversity.
 
Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has cast Hütz as a significant figure among musicians supporting his native country. He has organized numerous projects standing out as a staunch advocate of Ukrainian resistance.
 
Your correspondent reached out to Eugene Hütz via phone on Friday, September 9. He was cordial and thoughtful as he responded to the questions. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
 
WG: Last month in an interview you said that the war would be over soon. Ukraine has made some incredible gains over the past few days. Do you have any further comments?
 
Eugene Hütz: Well I only have my intuition and I said that because I’m Ukrainian. I know what kind of perseverance Ukrainians are capable of. If you know the feeling and if you know there are 40 million people who have that feeling in their hearts, it is a nation impossible to overthrow. I’m coming from that place knowing the intensity of Ukrainian resilience and resistance that gives every Ukrainian that has the quality activated some confidence that the war will be over soon. It’s not a nation you can push around. 
 
I was also reading in Rolling Stone that your band played a secret concert recently at a frontline location. What was that experience like?
 
I think it was the most intense and at the same time meaningful experience of my life. I’m still processing it. It also was a way of being tangibly there for people, not only symbolically. We all know that morale support is real hard currency and when people see that you’re actually there it’s a whole other way of support. I was appreciating the work that some of my friends who were able to go there sooner, a friend of mine Liev Schreiber had been going to Ukraine. Just seeing the super respectful and dignified work that people were doing I felt I definitely want to contribute to that. We started working on that idea and it came together. Doing something so intense and tangible and spending time with the soldiers there and talking about life and war and all the intense realities of it was also another way of bonding for the band. Being on tour for so many years it seems like there is no further way to bond, but there is.
 
Did the band film and record the concert?
 
Yes. We were actually able to bring a news crew with us. The entire concert was filmed by the national border guard crew and will be released in the future. It was a concert of Gogol Bordello together with the Orchestra of the National Boarder Guards of Ukraine so we had musicians from the ensemble playing along with us. It was amazing because we didn’t know exactly what to expect if it was going to be mostly brass or mostly percussion but it was a full, modern rock band rhythm section with brass and singers. Musically it was superb. The bass player was a Jaco Pastorius kind of a guy who just was doing these insane arpeggios like it was nothing.
 
It has been so encouraging seeing the music community supporting Ukraine. Do you foresee a global “Live Aid” type of concert event in the future?
 
I think there were some pretty huge concerts in London. In a way, being a punk rocker I operate in a specific area of music and art. I know that people are getting things done in the mainstream; it’s great to see bands such as Imagine DragonsRed Hot Chili Peppers and Coldplay championing the Ukrainian cause and much respect for that. I don’t really follow that layer of pop culture, it’s not who I am. I’m much more in touch with bands like Ministry, one of my favorite bands. Ministry was championing the Ukrainian cause from the get go, they were out on tour with a Ukrainian back drop as soon as the war began. The legendary iconic New York hardcore band Sick of It All released a song “God Save Ukraine” days after the invasion started. Les Claypool, Sean Lennon, Stewart Copeland and I created a song in support of President Zelenskyy. There were a bunch of  “Punk for Ukraine” compilations that came out. Also, I’m mixing a song now, another track that unites legends of punk rock and hardcore, a collaboration song featuring members of FugaziGreen Day and Roger Miret of Agnostic Front, and Jello Biafra. Punk Rock is the music of the doers. I think that punk music has a great track record of integrity and taking a stance. It remains to be music that people look up to in terms of analysis of socio-political stuff. It takes these issues seriously.
 
Tell us about the new album.
 
Outside of the classic jive that comes with the release of a new album, I feel like the times that we’re living in shaves the classic album release jive off because times are pretty fucked up. If it’s not some political turmoil, then it’s the pandemic; if it’s not the pandemic, then it’s the invasion. All of that propelled the band and me as a songwriter to bring that quality of music with a purpose, music that matters as Joe Strummer called it to the forefront again. It happens by itself actually. I was writing songs for this album as we were on our first post-pandemic tour last summer and fall. The way I write, I let the song become what it wants to be. As I was writing, I wrote all of them on an electric guitar as opposed to an acoustic guitar. For many years I fell into this method of writing on an acoustic guitar making sure that the song really works as kind of a Woody Guthrie bonfire type of song and then give it to the band and let the band do magic with it. This time around I was writing songs on an electric guitar in full volume because of the urgency that was driving all the songs.  Even that came of out necessity. I was writing on the electric guitar because I ended up playing mostly electric guitar on tour since our guitar player got COVID and had to get off the road. It’s like one necessity leads to another. All of that, kind of, put our punk and hardcore roots in the forefront. It’s like the times made us complete the evolutionary circle faster. On “Seekers and Finders” our previous album, we still were making our style more Baroque and more adventurous, driving our kind of punk rock into some kind of nearly symphonic land and suddenly all of that vaporized in favor of simpler arrangements and kind of a short cut through the woods feeling. That felt really home. That’s the place where this album came from. It’s like a musical toolkit to get through the hard times. 
 
What Gogol Bordello song should everyone hear?
 
Fire on Ice Floe.
 
Where is the most unusual place a Gogol Bordello song has been played?
 
At Wembley Stadium with Madonna.
 
I’ve gotten all sorts of responses to this question from bands. For example, Al Jourgensen of Ministry said frontline encounters. Nappy Roots said that they were on President Obama’s playlist.
 
We’re the kind of band that’s been almost on the cusp of mainstream but never really pursued it. I’d say appearing in such a pop oriented stage with Madonna, there’s a lot of juxtaposition there.
 
Do you think there is room for a group like Gogol Bordello in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
 
It’s funny you ask that because my acoustic guitar is already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In fact it’s been there for a decade. My acoustic guitar with all the stickers is right in between Jerry Garcia’s guitar and James Williamson’s from the Stooges. The thing is I found out about it by accident. Some of our guys went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when we were in Cleveland and they called me “do you know that your guitar is here?” So I went over there and then it all came back to me. We donated some of our touring memorabilia to the Vans Warped Tour.
 
In a way you’re already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
 
Being enshrined in the Rock and Roll of Fame is amazing but it’s not the goal. You do your thing and it will be where it belongs. We do this because that’s our true calling. Being faithful to your true calling is probably the most important thing in life, whatever it may be. It’s all about putting your hip into it, as Bruce Lee used to say.
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