Interview: Eugene Hütz, the moustachioed-gypsy-rocker
Friday 13 July 2007
As the front man of self-styled gypsy punk rockers Gogol Bordello, Eugene Hütz comes across as a likeable rogue with a big moustache and an insatiable appetite for a good time. A thirtysomething Ukrainian who discovered his gypsy Roma roots through his grandmother, he has lived in New York since the early nineties, plying his unique brand of punk rock (inspired by the likes of Fugazi and Bad Brains) fused with an Eastern European musical tradition, to create a colourful blast of attitude.
Originally creating a buzz through his legendary anything-goes DJ sets at a little Bulgarian Bar called Mehanata, he formed the band Gogol Bordello and quickly gained a devoted audience and an underground reputation that simply couldn't be ignored.
Now with their new album Super Taranta! global domination beckons. Produced by the Bad Seeds and PJ Harvey cohort Victor Van Vugt it cements the sheer visceral punk power of their last album Gypsy Punks and adds more gypsy-tinged melody, more catchy good-time choruses, more versatility, and more potential hit singles.
Combined with his supporting role as Alex in Peter Saraf's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's Holocaust book Everything Is Illuminated, Hütz is rapidly becoming a celebrity in his own right, and will soon be seen in a leading role in Madonna's low-budget directorial debut feature Filth & Wisdom. She is a fan of the band, and invited Hütz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev to join her onstage at Live Earth, mixing "La Isla Bonita" with traditional Romany tune "Lela pala Tute" to create a neatly choreographed, gypsy hybrid party anthem.
All in all it's not a bad result for a streetwise Ukrainian kid (real name Evgeniy Nikolaev) who spent the seventies growing up in a grim tower- block in Kiev, before his parents moved to America.
His past is examined in the fascinating documentary called The Pied Piper Of Hürtzovina by filmmaker Pavla Fleischer. For the most part, it's a very amusing film. But in some quarters Hütz's Roma credentials have been questioned, and certainly one of the most awkward scenes in the documentary is when the director of the Kiev Gypsy Theatre objects to his brand of modern gypsy fusion. It's something that he alludes to when we get a chance to chat as he briefly stops over in the UK for a Barbican date with his musical guru Sasha Kolpakov, of the Kolpakov Trio, and a gig with his own band. Does he get annoyed by such accusations about his music?
"No, not really. It's rather about people's own problem of misunderstanding what a gypsy really is. If these people actually meet me they walk away with their head upside down because it becomes too obvious to them that they don't know what the fuck they're talking about."
If my actual Roma community say these things then I would be concerned," he continues. "But I am here performing with them at the Barbican, recording and doing tours, and drinking cognac until six in the morning, and having the greatest time of my life. And everybody wants me to represent the Roma. I'm a member of two Romany rights organisations: one in the Ukraine, one in the US. I was also the first to go onto American national television and sing in Romany."
The trouble is that some confuse Hütz's Romany connections with a desire to play authentic traditional gypsy music. "I was never interested in being in a folkloric band, and anyone who's a purist bores the shit out of me," he adds with a certain degree of venom.
"I'm not interested in what they've got to say. It's pretty obvious to anyone who knows what rock '*' roll is that Gogol Bordello is a full-on, world class gypsy rock '*' roll band, and that's where we belong."
His new song "Ultimate" alludes to his desire to keep looking forwards. "It's really about the fact that our psychology is now a bit wrong. People seem to think that they're constantly working towards a goal that will release them from all their hardships and pain.
"It's a completely mistaken way of thinking if you ask me because your whole life turns into this doomed labour and I totally don't believe in that. I believe that every second of life is a priceless journey. So dwelling in the past... I'm not really a fan. You'll never find a refuge in nostalgia: I think it's just a form of laziness."
And that is something that you could never accuse Eugene Hütz or Gogol Bordello of...
'Super Taranta!' is out on now. Gogol Bordello are playing numerous festivals over the summer including Coachella, Reading, and Beautiful Days. "The Pied Piper Of Hützovina" is out on 3 September. For more information the website is www.thepiedpiperofhutzovina.com/
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