After 14 years of being the forerunners of what critics have termed ‘Gypsy punk’ (commonly used to describe a hybrid of punk rock and traditional Romani music), New York-based Gogol Bordello have established a reputation for their manic live shows and distinct sound, its most prevalent element being the accented drawl of Ukrainian-born frontman Eugene Hutz. Last month, the group released their sixth studio album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, further pushing the Latin American tinge introduced on 2010’s Trans-Continental Hustle, yet still remaining indebted to the punk riffs and Romani folk music they have always been recognized for:
Questions of multiculturalism and ethnic juxtaposition have long pervaded their music and image, with rotating members of the band hailing from locations as disparate as USA, Russia, Belarus, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Israel, China, Scotland, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine. With the release of Pura Vida, these ideas are pulled out even further, as Hutz’s recent living in Brazil designates an even greater collocation of cultural and ethnic boundaries. Hutz recently took the time with us to address this issue, as well as reflecting upon the latest album’s ‘evolved’ sound, his perspective on contemporary electronic music, and why his mustache is just so damn good-looking:
What makes such a unique hybridity of Balkan and Latin American musical cultures so appealing to you? And what result is acquired by bringing the two together which might otherwise not have been found on their own, separately?
Yes, I have discovered firsthand that east Europe and Latin America, indeed, are kindred spirits. They are both children of chaos. And we as a band have definitely embraced influences of both. However, we are not in any way a musicologist research group, you know; we are primarily a rock band, and essentially, as a songwriter, I write whatever I darn please from my own perspective, and we play it however we want without looking back. That’s very important to know. Otherwise, we would be doing archaic music, you know, instead of progressive forward music. I believe in music breaking borders, not in signifying them.
A number of songs on the new album feel more ‘symphonic’, or more ‘dense’, compared to those found on previous album releases. Was there a different approach taken to songwriting, this time around? If so, how might it denote a shift, or evolution, in your sound?
We can proudly say we never made the same record twice, and indeed, this one is yet another step forward, particularly in melodic and symphonic direction. This record is about resonance with grand feeling of life. With all its ups and downs and all its madness, yet lurking light in there that keeps us all going. So it’s just happened that this batch were all big melodies. They just sound and feel big, and that’s all there is to it. It is indeed connected to the uplifting vision of life in general. And I’m very excited that we got the chance to express it and put it on this record properly, so nothing gets lost in translation. And that was largely successful because of a growing understanding of each other in the band.
Do you perceive audiences of different countries as receiving your music differently from one another? Or do you find the reaction to your music as being mostly ‘universal’?
I have to say “universal” reaction is what’s up! The universe is expanding and so are we! But really, I witnessed this wild response pretty much everywhere we went so far…
‘Gypsy punk’ is a relatively niche musical genre, yet you have been able to break out into more popular territory. How might you gauge the reasons for your widespread popularity and success, and how do you ensure you remain indebted to the ‘exclusivity’ of the genre, while still being accessible for a mainstream audience?
Okay, okay, let me do a little educating here, heheh…Obviously you don’t go to a store and see a section called “gypsy punk”. It doesn’t exist as a genre…The press got carried away here a little bit; in reality, Gypsy Punks was the name of Gogol Bordello’s third album, which then was also used by writers to describe a whole bunch of bands inspired by that album. But, essentially, I made that name up—nobody else. In the meantime, we didn’t even think about stopping on what we achieved and been moving forward with new songs and bending our sound every way we pleased, and having lots of fun with it. In reality, we were always a rock band with distinct style, yet no limitation…and therefore, our audience is limitless.
The accessibility and popularity of computer technology since the early 2000s has led to an increased interest in electronic music recently. Some punk subgenres, in particular, have utilized synthesizers to various degrees. Will Gogol Bordello ever look to the electronic scene for influence or inspiration?
Actually, we have made a kick-ass electronic record back in 2003. I was in a full DJ swing back then, and I felt inspired by crossing electronic beats with Balkan riffs and whatnot. It was released under the title J.U.F. Gogol Bordello vs Tamir Muscat, and some people know about it. However, I didn’t feel so attached to it after all…Something about electronic music evokes the word “disposable”. And I don’t mean it in a condescending way, because I really like a lot of electronic artists, although never as much as Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits…Somehow, you LOVE those guys, and have less faith in music that was entirely formulated on a laptop. I prefer real life; I prefer PURA VIDA!
And finally: how does you keep your mustache so finely groomed and youthful-looking?
Well, that’s because I use “pura vida conspiracy” mustache wax, right?..Okay, okay, I think the real answer is that I just have generally strong hair. I really couldn’t give much fuck about some kind of grooming. My eyebrows, on the other hand…
Gogol Bordello is playing two upcoming sold-out shows in Toronto @ Danforth Music Hall (August 19th and 20th).