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An interview with Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello to play Toronto's Danforth Music Hall

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). 

-Tim Nicodemo
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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An interview with Caveman

New York's Caveman

Caveman‘s dreamy self-titled sophmore album warms with its atmospheric synthesizers and rich harmonies. Nowhere is that more apparent than on stand-out track “In The City” which quickly has become my favourite song of the summer.

Based out of New York, the band has a sound that will hopefully take them far. Though their strengths do often shine through, it is a lack of variety that holds back this most-recent album back from reaching that next level. With that said, there is a lot to love. Here’s our conversation with with lead-vocalist Matthew Iwanusa:

You played a show in Toronto last month! How’d it go? Any highlights?
Toronto’s great! I ate some amazing sushi. But I think the highlight was our good dude Mikey Jones playing with Snowden. They got added to the show so we got to see him. It was great!

I was surprised to see Julia Stiles in your slick video for “In The City”. How’d that come into being?
I met her through some friends. She likes the band and we thought it would be the perfect fit. I’m really happy she did it. It turned out great!

I saw you play at SXSW 2012. Since then, I feel your sound has broadened to an almost anthemic level, what’s precipitated that change?
That was a fun show. I remember my monitor was completely blown out so I could barely hear anything. We’ve played a lot since then. A lot of it has to do with the way we react to each other. Everyone gets excited about what each other plays. We care about a big sound.

What’s the inspiration behind the name Caveman?
They paved the way.

How have you felt like your past experiences in other bands have helped/hindered your progress as a unit?
Our other bands had a real drive just like this one. I think they helped us understand ourselves as musicians. We were all in bands that were at different levels so everyone brings something different to the table.

It’s hard to stand out in a scene like New York’s, how have you been able to overcome that?
Not really worry about it. There’s a lot of great music and musicians in NY. If you accept it, it works to your advantage. No reason to get down about it or over think it.

What are albums that you guys currently have on rotation while on tour?
Well we probably listen to the Stone Roses at least once a day. I’ve been listening to this Jacco Gardner record a lot and I love the DIIV record. Throw some Tears For Fears in there and you’re at the next city.

Freestyling is an important form of expression in hip hop. If you had to freestyle four lines about your new album, what would you say?
Listen to my shit.
It’s what you want to hear.
Then come hang after.
Help us load out the gear.

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Concert Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs (July 1 2013 @ Echo Beach, Toronto)

As heavy grey clouds loomed over Echo Beach, threatening to turn sand into mud and Canada Day fireworks non-existent, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ entrance on-stage marked the sudden cessation of spittle only moments prior. This good omen signaled the 90 minutes to come, as the New York art rock trio (with touring member, David Pajo, as second guitarist) treated the audience of 2,600 to one of the most energetic and captivating performances to come through the city in a long while.

The exuberance of the group is due in large part to frontwoman Karen O, whose skipping, dancing, gyrating, and giggling could make even the most reserved smile and move their feet (and this has been the case for years, see our review of their show at Kool Haus in 2009). Her playful sexuality mixed with an aura of badass-bitch recalls an era where Deborah Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, and Joan Jett ruled the stage. It’s this energy, along with drummer Brian Chase’s wide grins and drumstick flair, and stoic guitarist Nick Zinner’s occasional audience interactions with a digital camera, which should have caused a frenzy with the Toronto crowd. Should have.

And herein lies one of the central issues with the concert: the discouraging lack of energy from the audience. Only when some of the band’s most dance-able (and radio-friendly) songs were played—‘Zero’, ‘Heads Will Roll’, ‘Turn Into’ of note—did those around me seem to perk up, shifting from a bobbing of the head to a wiggling of the shoulders. Tellingly, upon the group’s rendition of ‘Subway’—arguably the most slow-tempoed song of the night—, audience members became restless, ignoring the poignancy and startling intimacy between O and Pajo, instead breaking out into chatter for most of the song’s duration. No better was the rapidity with which many audience members left after the band’s first encore (which included ‘Cheated Hearts’ followed by the sexually-charged ‘Tick’), only to tentatively return upon realizing there was still a second encore (‘Date with the Night’, disputably their song most indebted to the New York punk scene) to come.

This fault lies outside the realm of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ actual performance which was undoubtedly robust, engaging, and lively. Confetti shot out of cannons, Chase twirled his drumsticks, and O shoved her microphone down her pants, back out through a hole in the crotch, and into her mouth, the latter a trademark action of their shows for many years, now. Dressed in a hybrid outfit of glam (white sequined pants) and punk (a leather coat with ‘KO’ studded on the back), O commandeered the stage, and even off- as she beckoned front-row audience members to sing along to the bridge of ‘Cheated Hearts’. The setlist also proved impressive, the band offering five tracks from their 2013 release, Mosquito, combined with a nearly equal amount of material from their previous three albums. While most of their most well-known singles were played (‘Maps’, ‘Zero’, ‘Heads Will Roll’, ‘Gold Lion’ among them), the Yeahs offered up lesser-known choices (‘Black Tongue’, ‘Down Boy’, and even Mosquito’s hidden track) to balance the setlist with equal amounts of anticipation and surprise.

Sonically, the group further proved to be on point a decade on from their first LP release, A Fever to Tell, with Chase’s drums tuned to heighten the bass in particular, thus becoming just as much of a driving force as O’s show(wo)manship. In the night’s only other flaw, the sound mixing seemed a bit off at times, specifically during moments when O’s vocals were barely audible over Zinner’s crunching riffs or Chase’s booming percussion. The issue was not consistent from song-to-song, but popped up enough to become noticeable.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have long been known for their engaging, dynamic performances, the disparate personalities of the trio playing off one another in a manner that exudes pure fun. Outside of the fairly minor crowd and technical issues, the group proved to still exude confidence and, most significantly, lots of energy, even as they age into their mid-to-late thirties. It is this ageless quality of the core members which is perhaps the most impressive aspect of a group which continues to remain on the border between mainstream and the periphery of music culture. Let’s hope this longevity will grant us more tours in the future; Karen, meet Deborah Harry.

Just for fun, here’s a video of them performing “Maps” at that Kool Haus gig many years ago:

-Tim Nicodemo
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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Concert Review: Daughter (May 7 2013 @ The Great Hall, Toronto)

Daughter at The Great Hall (Toronto)

The haunting beauty of Daughter will unlikely remain contained within intimate venues like The Great Hall for much longer. Their debut album If You Leave (released March 2013) is one that seems a logical continuation of three wonderful EP’s (Demos, His Young Heart, The Wild Youth). It finds lead singer Elena Tonra weaving through slightly more upbeat tapestries whil still maintaining that somber songwriting that hits you “right in the feels”. We’ve all been where she has been and the ease with which she can evoke emotion is something that will take this band far.

The sweltering heat of summer made the two tiny ceiling fans at The Great Hall seem laughable. Openers Wilsen created the perfect vibe to start the night with raw but beautiful songwriting. Definitely a band to look out for. Despite the heat and the 10 minute period of the spotlights shutting on and off at random intervals, Daughter was able to push through with an endearingly timid British demeanor.

They performed songs from their EPs and debut with precision, closing with an incredibly powerful crescendo at the end of “Home”. The crowd, singing along the lyrics to songs like “Landfill” and “Youth” had Elena smiling incredulously, but she should get used to the feeling. Their fanbase is only going to get larger and more passionate as they tour this new album and open for bands like The National this upcoming year.

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An interview with The Walkervilles

Windsor's The Walkervilles

On November 24th, The Walkervilles showcased their groovy Windsor, Ontario blues-rock sound to a crowd at The Drake Hotel, one of the best sounding venues in Toronto. Watching them perform their set, it was obvious that the band was having a great time and their enthusiasm was contagious. The entire crowd stomped along through the short set featuring soulful vocals and guitar rhythms. The band demonstrated a clean, raw sound that is increasingly rare these days.

Playing songs from their upcoming album, The Walkervilles opened the set with the lively “Misunderstandings (Holding You)”, before they rocked through crowd favourites “Get Myself Into It” and “Get By.” Their classic Motown-inspired sound had the crowd captivated for the majority of their set. They closed with the buoyant “Tell Me How You Want Me,” which was a great display of singer Pat Robitaille’s vocal talent. Their debut album Meet The Walkervilles – Live at Mackenzie Hall comes out Dec. 21st. We got a chance to speak to Robitaille after the show:

For those who don’t know, who are The Walkervilles?

The Walkervilles are a three piece Motown/Rock/Soul influenced band from Windsor, Ontario; right across from Motown itself, Detroit, Michigan.

It really seems like rock and blues are getting more attention as mainstream music. What do you think about that?

We love it. It’s America’s music. The foundation of popular music as we know it is built on traditional blues. It’s nice to see the mainstream pushing real, raw music again.

The band hasn’t been around long, but you guys already have quite a following. Where do you think that comes from?

I think that there’s a classic but fresh sound to the Motown sound, and that has helped us appeal to so many listeners. It’s the kind of music that any generation can relate to and enjoy. Lyrically, the songs have been striking a big chord with people too. The music is real, it’s honest and it’s fun. The three of us are having a blast playing together and the crowd picks up on that as well.

How do you guys feel about the music community in Windsor, and Ontario in general?

The Windsor/Detroit area has been hit so hard by this recession and I think that where you have struggle, you have great art. Some of my favourite artists in Canada are from Windsor. The music community is very cool, all of the bands rely on one another, and The Walkervilles have certainly been heavily supported by the scene.

I know you guys have quite a few projects on the go. How do you balance and prioritize each of your projects, and find time to collaborate together?

The band has really shifted over the past few months to a full time gig for us. We do have a lot on the go, and we’ve all had some good success with our other projects, but we have a clear focus on this band now. I’m sure when things slow down for Walkervilles we will pick up where we left off on old endeavours, but this band is exciting for us right now.

Do you have any plans for releasing your first album?

Our first album is coming out on December 21st. The band rented out an old court house in Windsor called Mackenzie Hall back in September. We basically built a recording studio in the building the night before and recorded 10 songs in one day. Everything was done live so the album has a heavy concert vibe. It’s called “Meet The Walkervilles – Live at Mackenzie Hall”.

With the current state of the music industry, what advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Stay real! Focus on getting as good as you can. Don’t spend time online trying to convince people to like your band. Just play nonstop and it will all work out.

If you guys could be opening for any band right now, who would it be?

The Rolling Stones in 1973.

-Micheal Vipond
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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