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The evolution of Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz


Get thee to a bordello: Eugene Hütz keeps the gypsy-punk tradition alive. - SLAVKO SEREDA / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Slavko Sereda /
  • Get thee to a bordello: Eugene Hütz keeps the gypsy-punk tradition alive.
Eugene Hütz’s life story is the stuff of books and movies. Born in the Ukraine, he formed bands there before coming to America, where he’s since created a distinctive global music sound with his group Gogol Bordello. He’s also acted in movies and at one point lived in Brazil.

Not surprisingly, Hütz has been encouraged to retell his story in a memoir — and has tried and failed several times. That’s because Hütz would much rather write songs.

“I really love the art of writing a song, short story and poem,” he says. “That’s my favorite work of art. That’s where my main knack is. The song is a short story. I want to tell a story as good as Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, and tell it with the stage dynamics of Iggy Pop.”

Hütz came to America from the Ukraine in 1992, and began putting together bands in Vermont and then New York City, all the while absorbing the sounds around him and coming from the rest of the world.

Seven years later, Gogol Bordello unleashed the music Hütz created. Tagged “gypsy punk,” it combined sonic strains from Eastern Europe and his Romani heritage, as well as American punk and Jamaican dub.
“Indeed, there was actually quite a long evolution,” Hütz says of the development of gypsy punk. “I’d been the leader for several bands before Gogol Bordello, starting back in the Ukraine where I was raised. Living here, being musically adventurous and worldly interested, a bit of nostalgia creeped in for Eastern Europe spirit and melodies. So I started writing a synthesis that was all of that.

“You write what you lack,” adds the musician. “We were facing the world becoming one big parking lot, basically. The response to that is music that is unpredictable and imaginative.”

Unpredictable and imaginative can also be used to describe the wildly theatrical live shows from the eight-piece outfit that features members from Russia, Ecuador, Ethiopia and the U.S. Gogol Bordello have released seven studio albums, with 2017’s Seekers and Finders being the latest. The band’s catchy musical amalgam features violin and accordion soaring above a rhythm section that’s driven by punk-rock intensity, which Hütz credits in large part to the rigorously independent Washington, D.C., band Fugazi.

“Fugazi was a tremendously great influence on me and other people in the band,” Hütz says. “I think they were influential on anybody who was attuned to anything progressive in the ’90s, which is when I arrived here. They became my favorite band.”

Half of the Seekers and Finders album was, in fact, recorded at the Inner Ear Studio in the D.C. suburbs where Fugazi made their records. The other half was recorded at the Beastie Boys’ Oscilloscope Laboratories studio in New York City.

Unlike previous albums that were produced and recorded by the likes of Rick Rubin and Steve Albini, Seekers and Finders was produced by Hütz himself.
“I’m always very hands-on and at least co-produced everything we ever put out,” Hütz says. “In the convergence of the whole thing, the producers and everybody involved added their sparkle. But somewhere in there, I feel responsibility for how it all gets tied together. I felt like if I was fully doing it, I would have to make a record in the right time. I’m a night owl. Consequently, that ruled everybody out to work on the record.”

In addition to leading Gogol Bordello, Hütz has done some film work, appearing opposite Elijah Wood in 2005’s Everything Is Illuminated, and starring as an aspiring Ukrainian rock star who moonlights as a cross-dressing dominatrix in the Madonna-directed Filth and Wisdom. He and Gogol Bordello have also been the subject of a pair of documentaries.

“It’s something that wonderfully shows up, then vapors away, then comes back again, which is how I like it,” Hütz says of his film work. “When my first involvement with that started — the idea of getting an agent and moving to L.A. and doing the whole thing properly — I had to have a moment with myself. Actually, it was half a moment. I’m attuned to a sharp New York mentality, so diving into that lifestyle wasn’t for me. Even when I was in Brazil, I was an East Coast guy.”

So what sent Hütz from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Brazil?

“Women,” he says. “To be more specific, it was a particular woman I was in love with. That’s a good engine for me moving around the world. For 99 percent of men, it’s the same to be propelled by that.”

Hütz was planning to write a memoir during his Brazilian sojourn. But he didn’t get much done, eventually rejecting the publisher’s overtures as he had done several times previously.

“Maybe a soccer player is ready to write an autobiography at 35,” he says. “I feel like there are quite a few turns ahead. I understand my path has been unorthodox in a lot of ways. But I don’t want to write it for the sake of making another product.”

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