A conversation with Eugene Hütz, maestro of the gypsy punksters Gogol Bordello

Google "gypsy punk" and most of the dozen or so results relate back to Gogol Bordello. While Gogol's Ukraine-born visionary/composer Eugene Hütz isn't interested in taking credit for spearheading a whole new movement in American music, his band's influence is undeniable.

Gogol grew out of NYC's underground music scene, just as much a melting pot as the city itself. Hütz immersed himself in it and assembled a motley crew of talented, multi-ethnic musicians to create his gypsy punk orchestra and make his vision of infusing East-European culture into Western music a reality. Since 1999, they have released four LPs; the most recent, 2007's critically acclaimed Super Taranta!, fully launched Gogol into the international spotlight.

The nine-member band represents seven nationalities all told. Their sound combines gypsy and Slavic music traditions with punk rock, dub reggae, metal, rap and even some funk and grooves, and the lyrics are delivered in English sprinkled with Spanish, Ukrainian and Italian verses.

Hütz is the captivating and unpredictable center of it all. He sings lead, plays forceful acoustic guitar, and, usually shirtless with sweat dripping from his thick handlebar mustache, marches back and forth encouraging playful unruliness and leading spirited singalongs. He pilots the vigorous musical spectacle and keeps everyone as amped-up as he is.

Leilani Polk: So, tell me about your role as ringleader. How much of your songwriting goes into what happens on stage?

Eugene Hütz: I think it's quite obvious [laughs robustly] that I write all the songs.

You write it and you maestro it?

Well, of course — that's my religion. That's what I do. Since I was 14 years old in my first band, I wrote songs and I wanted to be successful as a leader, in every band that I was ever in, starting in the Ukraine back in 1986, when I was just a crazy kid with a dream.

You do have a super vibrant stage persona... Is that just how you always were?

Well, what really happened is that in my childhood, I was put into very hardcore long distance running program. And parallel to that I was, of course, a musical fanatic, so when punk rock came to Ukraine, and I got into it, I simply took my abilities of marathon runner on stage, and it didn't seem to me anything special about it, because running ten miles was quite a normal activity for me. So then, joined with loud amplifiers ... (he laughs). You know it escalated a bit more, and people started coming to see it and say, "Wow, what a great stage presence." But for me it was a normal thing I'd done for years, going through adrenaline rush of running so many miles every day, or 5, 6 times a week. So it's kind of a combination of art and...

Endurance?

Endurance is the word. You know stamina and endurance is a big part of the warrior mentality we were raised with. We were obviously raised in the cold war time, and everyone who grew up then was supposed to be a great warrior and soldier, and never mind that war never started, but the abilities are there. Even though it can be seen in a kind of a, a you know, propagandistic light, this upbringing, but in the same light it is also a profound way of seeing it, because the archetype of a warrior goes much deeper into cultures than its political meaning. It's a very particular spiritual realm...

Is there anything you do to get yourself ready and pumped up for live shows?

You know, for years it took me to work out what is the right mixture of athletic warm-up and alcohol dosage to kind of get into that right frame of mind, but now, after doing some 200 shows a year, I just kind of became professional enough where I don't need any preparations. Just give me the fucking microphone and I'm ready to go. Like now, I'm ready, where's this fucking thing, let's do it, I'm here for rock and roll.

I know when I saw you guys at the State Theater [last June] there was one girl in particular who jumped on stage, and you guys had a funny little flirtation going on. Usually people tend to get thrown off stage immediately, but you seem to incorporate it into the show. For me, music is a way to feel brotherhood and closeness, so anything that has to do with any kind of social model of behavior that is dragging us down on a daily basis can basically fuck off, in that magical time on stage. And I love building all possible bridges and giving people opportunities to flip out. It's one of my favorite things to do... That girl was obviously having a great time, and as much as I can I never let security or somebody ruin it for them.

Are you guys working on a new album right now?

Yeah, we just finished a record with Rick Rubin. We're very excited; it's going to be fucking bombastic! It's a very, very energetic record.

You have a pretty notorious mustache...

See, that's like the last thing that I ever thought about or cared about ... It's always amazed me that it has any kind of notice whatsoever, or it's considered to be some kind of fashion statement or anything...

Well, it's just so fabulous!

Well ... thank you very much, but I'm still going to withdraw back from backing it up by any statements. It's as simple as like, my father had it, and my grandfather had it, and my great-great-grandfather had it, and I just came back from Ukraine where we headlined a festival, and everybody there had it, as simple as that, the roots.

But, well, you know, if it helps to kill fascism, I'm not going to get in the way of that.