By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Before sound-check at a show in California, gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello frontman, Eugene Hutz, spoke with The Daily Gazette about the band’s extensive touring schedule, his experience as an immigrant and how the band thrives on fresh blood. Famous for songs like “Immigraniada” and “Start Wearing Purple,” Gogol Bordello will be rolling through Clifton Park with accordions in tow April 1 for a show at the Upstate Concert Hall.
The band is well known for their riotous shows and tireless tour schedule. The thing that keeps the band together is a common love of performance. “The core of loving the tour is in the actual live performance. There’s nothing in the world [like] performing a cathartic concert and taking thousands of people along with you on to the catharsis. There is absolutely nothing like it.”
The band, which formed in 1999, expects to release new music in the fall. “Every record we make is a world of its own,” said Hutz. The band’s latest project was recorded in Washington D.C. and New York City.
A band of immigrants
The band is made up of a group of firebrand musicians from across the globe who just happened to cross paths in New York City. While band members come and go, and come back again, the current lineup includes musicians from Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ukraine, The United States and Scotland. The vastly different sounds each of their lives are rooted in come together to keep Gogol Bordello interesting nearly 20 years after the band’s founding.
Hutz, originally from Ukraine, immigrated to the states in the 1990s and settled in Burlington, Vermont for six years before making the move to New York City. He remembers Burlington as “a great place to land,” learn English and experiment with his music. He made friends with bands passing through Burlington on their way from New York City to Montreal and would visit friends in New York from time to time. Once he felt ready, he booked a one way ticket to the city.
When asked whether the United States met his expectations, Hutz said, “The open mindedness of New York never let me down.” What he hoped for most was a chance to break into the art scene and pursue creative opportunities. “That was my plan, especially in New York City — to be a part of the art world, essentially.” Surely, enough, he said, “That’s exactly what happened.”
Upon moving to New York, Hutz said Gogol Bordello was “like a performance art group.” The band was still nascent in those days and lacked some vital elements– like a bassist for the first five years. Still,“The art world opened up its arms,” said Hutz. “We survived the first year on the appreciation of the art community before we took our show on the road,” he added.
While Hutz said the core of the band remains the same, musicians have come and gone over the last 17 years. “It’s almost like a family with open doors, you know,” he said.
One of the band’s original performers, Pamela Racine, whom Hutz said “is always a tremendous spectacle,” has rejoined the band for this tour, playing drums, washboard, singing, choreographing and dancing.
Hutz thinks the ever-evolving nature of the band has aided its long-term success. “I think that’s partly the so called secret of our longevity — that it’s always been the core but [also an] influx of fresh blood.” He explained, “Everyone who became a part of the band forever or for a bit of time brought in a balance that was very much what we needed at the time.”
When asked if he would rather play smaller, more intimate venues or larger festivals, Hutz said, “There are no rathers.” He stressed the importance of being able to turn any type of venue into a “gigantic bonfire type of atmosphere.” Laughing over the phone from one coast to another, he added, “It’s pretty amazing to travel around the world and make cynics dance around the fire.”
Hutz was stuck with a headache when politics came up in conversation. While he didn’t want to discuss politics during our interview, there’s no denying Gogol Bordello’s music has rarely been more politically poignant in the states than it is now.
In the midst of a xenophobic political climate, the band’s ability to represent some of the immigrant experience seems increasingly important. In perhaps one of the band’s most well-known songs, “Immigraniada (We comin’ rougher)” released in 2010, Hutz sings, “But if you give me the invitation/to hear the bells of freedom chime/to hell with your double standards/we’re coming rougher every time.” In another song released in 2013, “We Rise Again,” Hutz sings “Borders are scars on the face of the planet.”
Thinking back on his musical roots in Ukraine, Hutz said, “I was very lucky to inherit a very vast musical record collection [from my dad] when it was officially banned back in Ukraine, but you know my love for music persevered and I built upon that collection.” Hutz built upon his father’s collection, adding punk rock records. “Amazingly enough, my dad liked some of it,” he said. Among the bands the two agreed upon were The Clash and Iggy Pop. Hutz’s father had no patience for Joy Division, The Sex Pistols or the Cure.
When asked whether there are any particular Ukrainian folk songs he holds close to heart, Hutz replied, “I don’t have to hold them close to heart because they are inside of my heart. It’s just in my DNA. Do I have a shrine where I hold sacred all Ukrainian folklore? No, but if a bunch of Ukrainians get together to have a great time and I’m there, will I sing until the cows come home? Yes.”