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Go Gogol-Bordello! – an interview with frontman Eugene Hütz

The blazing gypsy punk fire of Gogol Bordello will set Tel Aviv alight with two shows in June

© Ethan Miller / GettyImages

“Anybody can write when they have inspiration, but can you deliver the craft when you have no inspiration?” Eugene Hütz asks me over the phone from New York City. Cut through the troubadour’s thick, jangly accent and loose-lipped swear-a-thon, and it’s clear that the Gogol Bordello frontman has found a new path. Though the band’s last few years have been spent touring the world - “everywhere and anywhere at the same time” - Hütz believes they’ve defied gravity and come out the other side ready for more. Their funkified plump beat sounds like the dancing glow of a million desert festival bonfires, and with two upcoming shows in June, Hütz talks to us about their new multi-ethnic album. 

Where are you at the moment? 

I’m in New York City, where I live. I was in Brazil for almost seven years, but I moved back here a year ago. I just had to get more “New York sh*t” done. [Laughs]

Enlighten me…what is “New York sh*t?” 

The sh*t that you can do only in New York. I love Brazil, that will never go away, but once I moved here I found a lot of understanding and resonance. I was not a downright outcast; I became an outcast with potential. It’s a place that allows good ideas to flourish. I realize that the city needs us. 

This month you’ll be performing in Israel not once, but twice. Is it because of the amount of fans you have here?

We do have a strong grassroots following. So many years of touring has helped the band click with audiences easier. Tel Aviv sort of reminds me of my old home, Rio de Janeiro, so it’s easy for me to get out of my slim, black New York suit and jump into Havaianas! I’m fluent in that. 

Your last album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, was released in 2013, and while I don’t believe there should be a time frame for creativity, you’re touring, which means there must be new songs coming. When is the new album coming out, and what is it called? 

The new record is finished actually! It’s time to blah-blah-blah about it. The title of the album is Seekers and Finders, as simple as that. It’s coming out in August, and [laughs] I think the front cover of it will expose the secret of Gogol Bordello. The record is very magical for me because I f**king produced it! I produced many of our records, everything always goes through my fingers. I felt that after I worked with Rick Rubin, I gotta get in control of the essence of it, because that’s the sound that I was pregnant with in the ‘90s. 

We made very specific choices of where we wanted to make a record. We wanted to encapsulate the band’s entire juju and mojo, including its lifestyle. We recorded the first side at a studio in Washington DC [Inner Ear Studios] where Fugazi recorded all their records. That’s a very important band for us aesthetically. Ian, the singer for Fugazi, checked out all the tracks as we were going along. We also recorded several bonus tracks of Fugazi songs as a tribute! Great fun. Second side we went to NYC to record in the old Beastie Boys studio on Canal Street [Oscilloscope Recording Studio], and it was just fantastic to have all the notes, skateboards and Free Tibet memorabilia. That adds a hell of an atmosphere as you record because those are kindred spirits from another generation for us. Those are artists who are able to put art and incredible wit with social insight, and make it a fun rocket.

Did being in a studio where your heroes recorded inspire you to create new themes or new sounds? Or has touring informed a new direction? 

It’s definitely in the fabric of the record one way or another. But just the general growth and progression that occurred on this record was almost hard to harness. I haven’t felt that abundance of energy and ideas for a while. Maybe because I was so infatuated by this new idea of the ‘method approach’. I went through years of being too methodical and now I’m at a point where I’m like, okay, I’m a f**king craftsman! Anybody can write when they have inspiration, but can you deliver the craft when you have no inspiration? I jumped off that relentless sputnik and let the joy pave the way. Climb the trees, swim the ocean, feel the wind on the face, let all that do that work. I went with that and I think that the material we brought to the studio came out of that place. Perhaps this is a turning point. A lot of people accept the axiom that less is more, they go to art school and believe it. That is a fake approach actually. More is more! 

You call your music “gypsy punk”. What does it mean to be a gypsy in 2017? 

The word gypsy is subject to a horrendous amount of misinterpretation. Another meaning is that it’s somebody who embraces the lifestyle of constantly relocating. That really resonated and spoke to me, and I became an expert in that field in an ethnomusicological sense. At this point, what does it mean? All my Romani friends are laughing at me because they are like, “You motherf**ker! You are still living that life while we are all sitting in one place.” 

Can you start a revolution with music and art?

Music is not the only one, because obviously there telepathy and Ayahuasca. In reality nobody knows what’s going on, nobody knows what happened in the history of this planet. They just presume that there is some kind of mystical fire and all you can do is sit around that fire together. The minute you jump on it, you burn. We need to experience the comfort and warmth of it. 

June 16 & June 18. The Barby, 52 Kibutz Galuyot St, Tel Aviv (barby.co.il)

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