Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello on the importance of living right now, in the moment
One of the more highly charged bands of the last decade or so, Gogol Bordello (sharing a bill at Red Rocks this Thursday, August 15, with Queens of the Stone Age) has become legendary for its vigorous live sets. The outfit, which injects punk into gypsy music, was started in New York in 1999 by Ukrainian frontman Eugene Hutz, and it's been going strong ever since.
Eventually the group, whose eight members hail from five different continents, started throwing Latin rhythms, reggae and a whole of lot of other stuff into a potent mix. Last month, Gogol Bordello released its sixth album, Pura Vida Conspiracy. We caught up with Hutz in advance of Thursday's show to talk about the disc; he also talked about how cathartic the band's live shows are, among other things.
Westword: The title of the new record, Pura Vida Conspiracy, was inspired by the crowds in Colombia yelling "Pura vida," right?
Eugene Hutz: Yes, it is. It was like George Clinton from Parliament Funkadelic walks out on stage to face the crowd that was chanting, "We want the funk!" And he was like, "Wow, I got to put that on a record." And now, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words Parliament Funkadelic?
We want the funk.
Exactly. We have that relationship with fans where it's both ways, you know? It's like saying in a way there's a lot of resonance and we're listening to what you're saying in response to our music. And in a way, they nailed it. I just added "conspiracy" to it... So that those people stop living in the future and stop living in the past. The life is now. The pura vida -- your life is here and now, and presence of this life is your best way to get into the joy of being, a way to actually understand and enjoy life for what it is.
You see, people are obsessed with chasing happiness, but happiness has been misrepresented. People are looking for happiness in their minds or something outside of them. They're constantly getting caught up between the future -- how happiness will happen there -- or living in the past.... You have to be engaged with right now. That's what the title, and also the album, is all about.
As you know, our music is very spontaneous. It's something that demands your attention now, and it kind of breaks your bubble of all your simple problems and all your kind of... There's a liberating power in that.
In the documentary Gogol Bordello Non-Stop, you talked about how, at your shows, there's that whole thing about the fans being in the moment, and they kind of forget about everything else except the music. You talked about how that's a sort of freedom.
Absolutely. We cultivate that feeling.
And it seems that crowds obviously feed off of your energy, and it seems like sort of a two-way street.
It's like they're the wood and we are the match, but the match is still made from the wood. That's why I don't really like the word "fan," because it kind of implies something kind of condescending. It's like it's quite interactive.
There's a line in "We Rise Again" where you talk about "borders are the scars on the face of the planet." Have you ever tried to imagine what the world would be like without borders?
Yeah. That's not that hard to imagine. It would definitely be a lot less hostile. And then hostility comes from nonstop judgment of forms and shapes that are different from you. It's like, "Those guys are shorter or taller or darker," or this or that, and so on and so forth. Everybody thinks that 90 percent of people's mental energy is judging what's around them. In fact, the politicians can't get enough of that because it's easy to feed people these insecure ideas about, "How am I going to be protected, because all these other people with different identities are coming?" These are like all made-up ideas that support the separation....
People ask, "Why do have all those stickers that are all over your guitar? To show how much you travel?" And I was like, "No, I show all these stickers and flags and national identities, it's kind of like confetti and nothing more." Everybody is schooled into thinking that there's some vast tremendous difference there, but there's only one identity around the world; there's only one nationality: human being.
You've also talked about how Pura Vida Conspiracy is about human potential.
Yes. Absolutely. Our music is always to pursue your maximum potential. For me, it also explains why, on one hand, it's quite elaborate, lyrically, and, musically, it's very physical. It's about all the areas I'm interested in. It is about the mind, soul and about the body.
Would you say performing live is a cathartic experience?
It always is. I mean, it's a huge part of our band. It's kind of a collective bubble of this energy that literally happens once we get behind the stage, about ten minutes before the show. It's already assembled. It's an unbelievable experience; I can't imagine my life without it. Once we get on stage, the bubble expands and everybody's welcome into it. But I think the power of it is that maybe as a group of people, as a band, we've progressed to a certain point where we're able to shut off our mental mechanism.
We all come from completely different parts of the world. We come from five continents in our lineup. And getting beyond all these differences and really perceiving each other as more pure human energy, I think that's where it's at. I think that's why we've been able to be a successful band and go beyond the mark of six years, where most of the bands break up. That's where it's at -- just shutting off the machine of judgmentality.