By John Bear
Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz has for years preferred to compose on the acoustic guitar, so his choice to go electric on the songs that would eventually make up “Solidaritine.” The band’s eight full-length album is a return to his early days.
“Since I was 13, I played loud and proud punk rock and hardcore, and then getting an acoustic guitar and starting Gogol Bordello was a new chapter for me,” he says. “So I started from the beginning again.”
Gogol Bordello plays the El Rey Theater on Monday, October 31. Tickets are $35.
Hütz, who hails from Ukraine and is of Servitka Roma descent on his mother’s side, says the band’s blend of punk and hardcore with Eastern European Gypsy music – and the instruments used in that musical tradition – has fluctuated over the course of eight albums.
“This one just kind of completes its circle back to Gypsy punk kind of approach,” he says. “It’s very straightforward.”
“Solidaritine,” he says, reaches back to the primordial stages of Gogol Bordello. Hütz came to the United States in 1990 as a teenager. Although he already considered himself a full fledged punk rocker at that point, Hütz found major influence in New York City’s hardcore scene, particularly bands like Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, Warzone and Shelter as well as bands like Quicksand which pulled in a broader set of influences and are collectively called post-hardcore.
“Over the years, it became more interesting because we now had an advantage of seeing how timeless that music is,” Hütz says. “I would go back to the songs and be like ‘Man, that’s just so really archetypal Woody Guthrie-level songwriting. It has absolutely zero fat in it.’”
New York’s hardcore scene often brought bands from Washington D.C. to town, most notably Bad Brains and later Fugazi. Hütz collaborated with H.R., frontman of the former, on “The Era of the End of Eras,” and covered the latter’s song “Blueprint” on “Solidaritine.” Both bands are massively influential in the punk and post-hardcore worlds. Hütz will still on occasion spend a weekend engulfed in a Fugazi retrospective.
Hütz adds that he also brought on Walter Schreifels – a member of two other influential hardcore bands, Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today – to produce the record. That addition might also explain some of its more punk rock sound. The two have been friends for years and Hütz always wanted them to collaborate on a record that could delve into the “fundamental fun” of hardcore and punk.
Mixing this album with Walter was a huge joy for us,” he says.
Hütz says that he’s taken lessons learned from the New York hardcore scene and applied them to his now more than 20 years fronting Gogol Bordello. He always found that music authentic and substantive, and that’s why it continues to influence musicians.
“Whatever blew you away when you were 15 or 16, that’s going to stay with you forever,” he says. “That was right exactly when I came to the states.”
He also appreciated that the musicians in that scene, Fugazi in particular, took down what he calls the “velvet rope” and “VIPness” of the rock and roll world and really imbedded itself with fans. Hütz has tried to replicate that communal spirit in his own career.
“You always have to be approachable to people who appreciate your music,” he says. “You gotta understand that you’re nothing without them. I’ve always admired that approach to music making.”
He says fans at shows frequently bring their own music or ask clarifying questions about Gogol Bordello. As of late, however, the questions he’s fielding from people at shows have included matters of Ukraine and the brutal Russian invasion of that country. Although he’s now spent more of his life in the United States, Hütz remains connected to his home country, where he still has family and friends and stays in contact.
“It’s not easy and coping is the right word,” he says. “Luckily, we as humans are equipped with some coping mechanisms. Our job has become helping others cope who are actually there.”
Earlier this year, he and Primus frontman Les Claypool released the song “Zelensky: The Man With the Iron Balls” in honor of that country’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Poet and Nobel Prize nominee Serhiy Zhadan and electro-folk group Kazka, both from Ukraine, appear on the song “Forces of Victory. Hütz is also fiercely proud of the artists and musicians who’ve hailed from Ukraine, many of whom are incorrectly called Russian. Gogol Bordello took part of its name from one of those writers, Nikolai Gogol, and Hütz says Ukraine indirectly gave the United States Bob Dylan, whose maternal grandparents fled Moscow-sanctioned pogroms in Odesa in 1905, then part of the Russian Empire.
He adds that the important thing to note about Ukranians is they are highly motivated and resilient people, and he knows they will emerge triumphant when the war is over, even if the price is so unfortunately high. They aren’t people who will be pushed around and Hütz says Russian Vladimir Putin has made a grave miscalculation.
“They have several special traits that make them stand out, and that is what the world is observing right now,” he says. “They really do stand out in terms of being able to resist something that is seemingly so much stronger on paper.”
For more information, visit gogolbordello.com.