Since the release of their debut Voi-La Intruder nearly a decade ago, Gogol Bordello have forged ahead as self-styled original gypsy punks.
The New York based international collective fuse traditional gypsy music with modern punk to create a completely unique sound all of their own, and take it on the road to anyone brave enough to join them. Last year’s Super Taranta! album powered the band to international fame.
Ukranian-born emigr frontman and all round character Eugene Hütz recently starred in Madonna‘s feature film directorial debut Filth And Wisdom. His harsh, loud voice and unpredictability in a live setting are the very essence of the band.
At the start of their latest tour, their biggest to date, musicOMH caught up with larger-than-life Hütz in Newcastle to ask some innocuous questions…
I enter the room and Hütz is singing along to a beat produced by his own thumping foot and a banjo. Hütz’s attire for today’s interview consists of an unbuttoned shirt and various medallions hanging around his neck, complimented with a pair of tight black and red stripey trousers and the infamous Hütz moustache. Entering the small dressing room feels like entering a completely different world.
Meeting one member of Gogol Bordello would be a treat, but better still, four members are here; Hütz is joined by accordionist Yuri Lemeshev, guitarist Oren Kaplan and fiddler Sergei Ryabstev. Each member present plays a part in making this the bizarre scenario it is: Ryabtsev is tapdancing, Kaplan is playing a banjo and Lemeshev is searching YouTube for videos of the band. I sit down next to Hütz and take a deep breath.
“Has anyone ever sang an interview to you before?” Hützs’ opening words confirm my previous expectations of what I was going to experience; a phenomenal delivery of absurd answers. I utter my first question and there is a pause as Hütz stops to think, not only about his answer but the tune with which he would like to deliver his thoughts.
Accompanied by Kaplan on banjo, Hütz bursts into song, describing his band: “The band Gogol Bordello is a combination of mucho characters.” Right. I suggest he expand his description but Hütz is far too eager to finish his song and sings out to me: “Next question.”
Gogol Bordello is a compilation of different cultures and talents, including a violinist and an accordionist from Russia and a drummer from the USA. Hütz tells how these diverse characters came together to produce the band:
“There has been nine heroes in Gogol Bordello, that joined forces, in New York City 10 years ago. And then made it through the rain and through the snow. Next question.”
Hütz already is proving to be an awkward guest, not willing to give any sign of a serious answer. But it is his weird and wonderful mind that makes him the charismatic frontman that he is, and to try and encourage him to give sincere answers would only ruin the Gogol Bordello bubble that he has created.
Getting bored of the whole interview process, accordionist Lemeshev urges Hütz to watch a YouTube video created by a fan. The interview is thus put on hold as we are invited to watch the video of Gogol Bordello’s song Dogs Were Barking which has been edited to make fun of the confusing lyrics. Hütz is amused and insists we watch it at least three times, revealing his sense of humour as he laughs manically at the fan’s cry for some explanations for the nonsensical lyrics.
The YouTube video spurs Hütz on to describe exactly where he gets his lyrics from: “I get my lyrics from my email, they are sent directly to me from almighty Lord.” In the most dramatic performance of the interview, Hütz tells of his main influences in creating music. Inspired by gypsy music which he listened to in his home country of Ukraine, other influences are Johnny Cash, Nick Cave (Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos produced Gogol Bordello’s first album) and of course, Joe Strummer.
Despite Hütz performing in other bands, including the charmingly named Flying Fuck, and Gogol Bordello being around for nearly a decade, it is only over the past couple of years that they have gained such high status in Britain. I asked Hütz what he thought of his recent fame and success; again the response comes in song. Guitarist Kaplan sighs as he is forced to play another ditty on the banjo for Hütz’s surprising response:
“It is like bitches and whores, that’s what it all came down to in recent times. And to elaborate on the bitches and whores it’s like every culture and every person together in a pool.” Hütz himself is not able to follow up this answer and apologises for his outburst.
Hütz is not only an overt stage performer, lyricist and actor. He also regularly DJs and models for stylists such as Gucci. At a recent Live Earth gig, Hütz joined Madonna on stage; a shocking performance from an artist who believes that mainstream pop music being pumped into children is damaging their souls, surely. I soon realise that being in a room with Hütz is not the delight I once thought it was: when he is asked about his duet with Her Madgesty he snaps back instantly, though still, of course, singing his song.
“How did you come up with such an original question? I’m guessing the next question is about Elijah Wood and Gucci. Let me help you out so we can get it the fuck over with and continue with an actual conversation about music.”
“Has anyone ever sang an interview to you before?” – it was never going to be a standard Q&A session…
With a stare that will stay with me till the grave, Hütz moves closer and gets a little more serious. He’s dropped his playful singing voice and tells me that he doesn’t make music for the media or even for the fans. No. He makes the music for the children on the streets. “The children need to learn how to build their own environment and make their own music that is inspired by their roots.”
It’s difficult to take Hütz seriously when he is singing his answers to me. Although he is hilarious to listen to, his answers are short and he is very impatient. Hütz is very willing to give an interview, but as he’s now into his third hour of interviewing today, he takes it upon himself to tell me something interesting about his band, something that he claims the fans desperately need to know about Gogol Bordello:
“There ain’t no party like a GB party like a GB party cause the GB party don’t stop. So all you bitches better shut the fuck up cause there ain’t no party like a GB party.”
Hütz’s extrovert stage persona reflects entirely in his own life. On stage he likes to cause a stir and at a live show the audience can experience a bucket-tapping solo, girls who dance and wind the band up, and performances from Hütz in stiletto heels and a wig. Hütz aims to take the phenomenon of Gogol Bordello further with feature films written and directed by himself and releasing more high-energy, gypsy-punk Gogol Bordello albums. One thing’s for sure: in this man’s presence it’s impossible to be bored.