Blast from the Bordello | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Blast from the Bordello

The life story of Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello is the stuff of books and movies

Born in the Ukraine, Eugene Hutz formed bands there before coming to the United States, creating a distinctive global music sound with his band, Gogol Bordello. The musician has also acted in movies and even lived in Brazil.

Not surprisingly, Hutz has been encouraged to retell his story in a memoir—and has tried and failed several times. That's because Hutz would much rather write songs.

"I really love the art of writing a song, short story and poem," he said in a recent phone interview. "That's my favorite work of art. That's where my main knack is. The song is a short story. I want to tell a story as good as Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, and tell it with the stage dynamics of Iggy Pop." 

Hutz came to America from the Ukraine in 1992, immediately putting together bands in Vermont and then New York City, while absorbing the sounds around him.

Seven years later, Gogol Bordello unleashed the music Hutz created. Tagged "gypsy punk," it combined sonic strains from eastern Europe, his Romani (Gypsy) heritage, Fugazi-style punk and Jamaican dub.

"Indeed, there was actually quite a long evolution," Hutz said of the development of Gypsy punk. "I'd been the leader for several bands before Gogol Bordello, starting back in the Ukraine where I was raised. Living here, being musically adventurous and worldly interested, a bit of nostalgia creeped in for Eastern Europe spirit and melodies. So I started writing a synthesis that was all of that.

"We were facing the world becoming one big parking lot, basically. The response to that is music that is unpredictable and imaginative."

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"Essentially writing was more to make myself find things," he said. "You write what you lack. You monumentalize in your work these things that are nowhere else to be found. We were facing the world becoming one big parking lot, basically. The response to that is music that is unpredictable and imaginative."

Unpredictable and imaginative could also be used to describe the wildly theatrical live shows from the eight-piece outfit with members from Russia, Ecuador, Ethiopia and the U.S. 

Asked to describe the show, Hutz demurred: "In a way, you're kind of asking Bruce Lee to tell you what is karate when you've never seen karate," Hutz said. "Where do I begin? Is it a sit-down lounge situation? No."

Sitting isn't possible while Gogol Bordello delivers its catchy musical amalgam with violin and accordion flying over reggae-rooted rhythms driven by punk intensity, which Hutz says came in large part from the rigorously independent punk band Fugazi.

"Fugazi was a tremendously great influence on me and other people in the band," Hutz said. "I think they were influential on anybody who was attuned to anything progressive in the '90s, which is when I arrived here. They became my favorite band. I've now found out they've also turned out to have quite excitement for our music."

That Fugazi influence extends to "Seekers & Finders," the band's seventh album, in a different fashion. The "Finders" side of the album was recorded at the Inner Ear Studio in the Washington, D.C., suburbs where Fugazi made its records. The "Seekers" side was recorded at the Beastie Boys' Oscilloscope Studio in New York City.

Unlike previous albums that were produced and recorded by the likes of Rick Rubin and Steve Albini, "Seekers & Finders" was produced by Hutz.

"I'm always very hands-on and at least co-produced everything we ever put out," Hutz said. "In the convergence of the whole thing, the producers and everybody involved added their sparkle. But somewhere in there, I feel responsibility for how it all gets tied together. I felt like if I was fully doing it, I would have to make a record in the right time. I'm a night owl. Consequently, that ruled everybody out to work on the record."

In addition to leading Gogol Bordello, Hutz has done some film work, appearing opposite Elijah Wood in 2005's "Everything is Illuminated" and starring as an aspiring Ukrainian rock star who moonlights as a cross-dressing dominatrix in the Madonna-directed "Filth and Wisdom." He and Gogol Bordello have also been the subject of a pair of documentaries.

"It's something that wonderfully shows up, then vapors away, then comes back again, which is how I like it," Hutz said of his film work. "When my first involvement with that started, the idea of getting an agent and moving to L.A. and doing the whole thing properly, I had to have a moment with myself.

"Actually, it was half a moment. I'm an East Coast kind of guy," he said. "I'm attuned to a sharp New York mentality. Diving into that lifestyle wasn't for me. I'm an East Coast guy. Even when I was in Brazil, I was an East Coast guy."

So what sent Hutz from Manhattan's Lower East Side to Brazil?

"Women," he said. "To be more specific, it was a particular woman I was in love with. That's a good engine for me moving around the world. For 99 percent of men, it's the same to be propelled by that."

Hutz was planning to write a memoir during his Brazilian sojourn, but he didn't get much done—eventually rejecting the publisher's overtures as he had done several times previously.

What he did come up with was most of "Trans-Continental Hustle," the band's Rubin-produced 2010 major label debut. And, Hutz said, his focus remains on writing the Gogol Bordello songs.

Gogol Bordello

With Lucky Chops and Larry and His Flask

Fri., Feb. 23

Doors 8pm; Show 9 pm

Midtown Ballroom

51 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend

$28 adv./$32 door

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