Gogol Bordello artist photoMore than in vocal tone itself, a great singer is someone who can communicate the human condition in a way to which everyone can relate. Eugene Hütz, frontman of Gogol Bordello, is one such singer, able to transmit his own understanding of life and his experiences as an immigrant (his family left Kiev after the Chernobyl disaster, eventually ending up in Vermont) and musician trying to make sense of the world around him through his own brand of riotous "gypsy punk." It's clearly effective... the band recently released their fourth full-length, Super Taranta!, on SideOne Dummy to nearly universally positive reviews and has a following that stretches across the continents. Even Madonna recently declared herself a fan, inviting Hütz to appear with her onstage at this year's Live Aid and casting him in her latest film, Filth and Wisdom. AMG's Marisa Brown caught up with the charismatic lead singer recently as Gogol Bordello was finishing up their fourth summer of European touring. On the bus for the Reading Festival, he shared his thoughts on the band and the direction they're heading in.

AMG: How's the tour going so far?

Eugene Hütz: It's a very intense tour. Very, very big long tour with breaking lots of sweat.

AMG: Do the European audiences respond differently than American audiences?

EH: Well, I don't know. Maybe there's some subtle details but basically our music I guess provokes everybody for the most bonkers, buck-wild response they can afford. I guess Serbians are a bit more bonkers buck-wild than Canadians, for example. But basically Canadians try their best.

AMG: Well, I guess that's all you can ask for.

EH: We're happy with that.

AMG: I've read that all your albums are recorded live in studio. But based on what I know and what I've seen of your live performances, you seem to draw a lot of energy from the audience in front of you. Your albums are still very energetic, very intense, though, so how do you find that enthusiasm when you're in the studio?

EH: Well, when I was little baby it seemed like I didn't really need any audience to be psychotic. So part of it is that, it's self-resources. And part of it is that actually the band itself is quite big, I mean, it's a pretty big crowd, there are nine people on stage. So a lot of the energy that comes from bouncing off each other is generated within the band already...And the audience, when it kicks in also helps. So between those three resources, that's where it's all coming from.

AMG: This is the first time you've had a bass player. What made you decide to bring a bassist in?

EH: Well, I guess it was just evolution. We started out, our first two discs, they have no bass player at all. And that was just a search and our instrumentation was quite absurd. You know, I was always obsessed with trying to make...the accordion sound like the bass and the guitar like a dying horse and the violin as a howling wind. But eventually, when we found our sound, we just wanted to go on enriching it, you know, and...our massive love for reggae kind of came to the surface at one point, and that's what happened. We went after a certain kind of bass player. It wasn't just some kind, it was somebody fluent in reggae dub language.

Gogol BordelloAMG: In terms of progression, a lot of Gogol Bordello's songs seem to be about the outsider or the immigrant trying to place and community in a land that's not his own. But on Super Taranta!,, though that still exists, I feel that there seems to be a turn to a more overt look to the outside, songs like "Zina Maria" or "Harem in Tuscany." Do you agree?

Listen Now!Gogol Bordello - Zina Maria

EH: Well it's more...I don't know if it's really a massive turn but you know, what informs my songs is autobiographical experience. And also experience of my friends and our extended family. But our family became so extended recently that it - through touring, through nonstop touring - it involves a lot more sources. And so it did become more extroverted, in that sense. Also, you know, what happens is that our sound, it comes from very particular place...It basically came from Carpathy, the area in Ukraine where Ukraine meets Hungary and Romania and Slovakia...you can almost point on a map where our music was coming from. Originally, originally you could do that. But in the process of evolution, because the band basically went from being a duet to being a 9-piece with such an international line-up, I think that that was the process of actually making that particular sound universal...Because the band consists of people from all over the world. It's a kind of a unique process, and I'm actually pretty psyched how it all went!

AMG: Was there ever any set plan?

EH: There is of course...I always think there's a point of vision, there's this kind of having a vision and working towards it. But I don't know if I could have accomplished that vision without such a resource. So it's kind of at this point everybody's creation.

AMG: ...You clearly have a lot of punk influences in your music. But punk can be so much about anarchy and destruction and breaking societal constraints. But Gogol Bordello seems to be a lot more about creation and togetherness and community, albeit a very riotous, energetic community, the "fun-loving tribe." Was separating yourself from these aspects [of punk] a conscious effort? Was punk too limiting?
"From the beginning our whole thing was about breaking to as many people as possible from all over the world...and it doesn't entice any responsibility to some outdated notion of what underground is."

EH: Well, I'll tell you why: I already did all that stuff when I was younger in other bands, of incredibly individualistic and introverted and I just get bored with that whole mentality actually...It's just something I've gone through and at the end of the day it's actually not so interesting, you know.

AMG: A lot of the music that you draw from, punk, gypsy, they're all part of sub- or counter-cultures. But as you get more and more exposure, as you and your band -- you've been in movies and you appeared on stage with Madonna and you've gotten a lot more critical recognition -- do you foresee any problems, or have you had any, of trying to balance your increasing fame, which puts you more and more in the mainstream, with the integrity and spirit of these cultures and your band?

EH: I don't know, I haven't heard anything like that but the thing is that I don't really, all those things like underground and mainstream, those are just words. At this point all those things are just completely non-existent in their original meaning of the word, you know...You get bands like Tool selling an insane amount of records when it's basically underground prog rock. So what do you say here? It's just a phenomenon and that's that. It's not mainstream and it's not underground, and that's how I look at us. It's just a thing in itself and it is what it is...From the beginning our whole thing was about breaking to as many people as possible from all over the world, you know what I mean, and it doesn't entice any responsibility to some outdated notion of what underground is. I mean, I know what it is. I lived it, I puked it, I did it all, you know what I mean? Made my own instruments, built my own stage, had my own label, it fucking went on for years, so, it's like, that's how I look at it: it's in my bones, no matter what you do with it at this point, it's still going to be part of it and it's going to be a true part of it. But, as the band gets bigger, that simply just shows the quality of the band, and that a lot of people are interested in it.

AMG: When you were playing in those early punk bands had you brought in any of the gypsy influences yet, or did that come later?

EH: Absolutely. Actually, no matter how different they were, and they differed from kind of like industrial mayhem to more of a structured songwriting, but still more of a psycho speed [laughs]...speed punk rock. I have always basically tried to bring in an accordion player in any of the projects...and I have before, there is three albums of my previous band, the Fags, that have yet to be basically re-released, except they really saw proper light of the day. And, we sound like an exact preceder of Gogol Bordello. It's basically a prototype of this.

AMG: When did this happen?

EH: This was '95, '96, '97. And yeah, but in a lot of ways, through all the experiments of sound, I kind of basically was leaning towards songwriting as the main quality that holds it all together...That's why, you know, I'm pretty psyched that on this album I'm actually getting lots of recognition for songwriting and yeah. Because it seems like it just only occurred to people, but you know, for years I've been basically reading how my main strength is as a performer and all this nonsense...

AMG: Yeah, well, you know, it takes people a while to realize things. I did notice on Super Taranta! how much more melody is playing a part. Not that it wasn't there before, but you're really focusing a lot more on that. Is that something you were thinking about at all, or is that just what came out and what the band was doing?

Tool artist photo< b>EH: I don't know, maybe we just all went into more of melodic mode. I think all of the melodies were always there, it's just...Gypsy Punk somehow was a mode of much more anger and radical kind of a political feel to it. It was almost like it had this poster quality to it....But that was a world of its own, Gypsy Punk, and this album I think...as many point out, is much more orchestrated and...is a lot more musically advanced.

Super Taranta - Gogol BordelloAMG: [So] Super Taranta! is...just the evolution of Gypsy Punk?

EH: I think it's the logical progression...It's just evolution, but also, as in early albums, there is new material which kinda seems to be almost shocking that it's there. Like "Forces of Victory" or "Dub the Frequencies of Love" or "American Wedding." They seem to be completely out of place at first...but with a short period of time they become actually frontline new classics. Like "60 Revolutions" on Gypsy Punk was a song that just completely didn't fit the album at first glance. But it's literally one of the calling cards of Gogol Bordello at this point.

AMG: I guess when you allow yourself that room, when you're not sticking to the pure form necessarily but you're allowing yourself space to move you can do things like that and it works out, it doesn't seem like you're forcing things.

Listen Now!Gogol Bordello - 60 Revolutions

EH: Yeah, and that's an important freedom to cultivate and have, you know? It was always meant to be that way...You don't get into rock 'n roll because you want to follow some certain...you don't get into rock 'n roll because you're into women.

AMG: Some people might.

Gogol Bordello artist photoEH: Yeah, well, that's not the kind of rock 'n roll that we do. I know that there is that kind of rock 'n roll, which is basically mall music at this point. But that's not what we do. I think having your creativity uncorrupted...is the most important thing, and the fans, they hear that, and that's what they're actually coming to see, when they fly for 2000 miles to see a gig. They're coming to see something that, the explosion of uncorrupted creativity that leave them a high for several months...I don't think that people really come to see band just for what it is, you know? They come there because consciously or subconsciously they know that it's an experience that's going to leave them high for several months, until the next show. Another band...or that same band comes through again...And it's strange to hear that somebody just drove there or flew over the Atlantic to see one gig, but then if you talk to them it puts you back into this fan perspective and you see what they come for. They come for this high that lasts for months and months. That's what people look for, to be high like that, spiritually.

AMG: So I'm doing this interview as part of our coverage for Bumbershoot, where you guys are playing next week. And so much of your show is about interacting with the audience and it's about theatrics, but how do you change this or do you change this at all for such a large, outdoor setting? Do you have to modify or enhance the performance so the people in the way back can still get that same experience?

EH: You know what, we found that in our case...this is the band that gets in anywhere and makes it its own, makes each situation its own. And of course most musicians create their music to be performed in the midnight in a nice, smoky club, but soon they find out that 50% of time it has to be performed 3 afternoon in blasting sun at European festivals, you know, because that's where the money is, and that's where the huge audiences are. So, I was kind of freaking out about it, but we've been doing this European touring for four years already, four summers, and the band proved itself to be undestructible one more time. There is no modification, really, it's just an assault on every level. And that's our method. It's like that, it's just an assault.

Gogol Bordello plays Saturday, September 1st from 9:00 to 10:30 on the Esurance Stage.
Or check them out at: www.myspace.com/gogolbordello