Born in Ukraine, Hütz has been very vocal about the war in Ukraine. Photo by Maddie Walters

Resiliently good times: an interview with Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello.

The lead singer of Gogol Bordello talks about Tulsa, their new album and the war in Ukraine.

This past week, Gogol Bordello returned to the historic Cain’s Ballroom for a concert in support of their newest album, “Solidaritine.” Gogol Bordello is a seven piece “gypsy punk” band comprised of Eugene Hütz (vocals, guitar), Sergey Ryabtsev (violin), Pedro Erazo (vocals, percussion), Boris Pelekh (guitar), Ashley Tobias (vocals), Korey Kingston (drums) and Gil Alexandre (bass). The Collegian caught up with lead singer and guitarist Eugene Hütz a few days after the concert here in Tulsa before their Dallas show.

Before the concert, the band had a small field trip to both the Woody Guthrie Center and the Bob Dylan Center. Hütz is amazed at the musical history present within Tulsa. “Oh man, the amount of musical history that Tulsa hits you in the face with is incredible. I’ve been to the Woody Guthrie Center previously, being a longstanding fan of his,” he says “Punk rock music, to me, comes from the same tree as his music. There are a lot of similarities between hardcore, punk rock and Woody Guthrie.” He is a firm believer of Guthrie’s infamous message placed on his acoustic guitar: “This machine kills fascists.” Hütz raved about the center’s commitment to keeping Woody Guthrie’s legacy alive and well, saying that it was a privilege to visit it again. As for their visit to the Bob Dylan Center, he wishes that friends of his who weren’t there could’ve shared that experience with him, opting to facetime them during his visit.

Tulsa’s music history didn’t stop with the museums. Upon returning to Cain’s Ballroom, Gogol Bordello was reminded of the Sex Pistols’ legendary show at the venue, which ended with Sid Vicious punching a hole into the wall. Hütz is an avid listener of the Sex Pistols, but wishes the musician would’ve been more careful. “I wish [Vicious] didn’t do it. Fists are precious to musicians,” he says with a laugh, “That’s not the side of punk rock that attracts me to it.”

As for the show itself, it was unlike anything this reviewer had seen before. As soon as the band ripped into their first song, the ground quite literally began to shake from the audience jumping up and down. Every single person within view had a smile on their face, and some audience members shed their modesty and danced unabashedly right in the middle of the pit. The entire show was an unashamed celebration led by the contagious energy of the band as they skillfully took the audience hostage with their music, which can only be described as a marriage between Eastern European music and punk. Hütz said it best during the show with, “Love is in the house.”

He later told us, “It’s the beauty of being in a grassroots band. A lot of bands can play in New York, London, Paris, Berlin and L.A. That’s not hard. But when you get off the beaten path, like the midwest on a rainy Tuesday night, and it feels like London on a Friday night,” he says with a smile, “It’s really rewarding to see that kind of crowd participation like going absolutely ham! It’s not rainy nights on Wednesday in midwest.”

Looking to Hütz’s past is crucial to understand the importance of this band. At the age of 13, Hütz and his family were forced to flee their hometown of Boyarka, Ukraine after the Chernobyl meltdown, spending seven years trekking through Eastern European refugee camps before eventually obtaining approval to resettle in the United States. During this journey, he began to learn more about his Romani ancestry, which is what began his foray into music.

Since the amplification of the war in Ukraine, Hütz has remained insistently vocal about the trials his home country is going through currently, routinely doing fundraisers and donating money to Ukrainian causes. In fact, Gogol Bordello made international news late this summer when it was released the band had traveled to a warzone in Ukraine to play music for Ukrainian soldiers and refugees displaced by the war.

Despite everything Hütz has been through, he’s still shocked by the brutality of this war. “It leaves you mind boggled that things like this can still happen in the 21st century. It gives you an idea of how backwards some things can be,” he says poignantly, “People relaxed too soon in thinking that when WWII was put to rest, that that was it; they thought everything else after is a safezone.”

“It’s hard to explain to people what it’s like to wake up in a peaceful city and see a military drone of an enemy floating in front of your balcony,’ he says. The world has become disconnected and desensitized to the plight of the Ukrainian people, though Hütz understands why; it’s not easy to open yourself up to so much pain, but those that do, in Hutz’s words, are “absolutely amazing.”

He has nothing but respect and love for his fellow Ukrainians during this difficult time. “We have skills of perseverance and resilience. People figured their way around it in Ukraine. My family and friends who are still there, we are in very close touch.”

So where was he on that fateful day in February? He was in the studio, making Gogol Bordello’s newest album, “Solidaritine.” He says the album was nearly finished when Russia launched their attempted invasion, though the themes are still present; the war really started in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea, and since that pivotal moment, a full-scale war had felt inevitable. “The way we address things, we don’t write about the difficulties, we write about overcoming them. Punk rock is about perseverance and resilience. It’s about being faithful to your true calling against all odds. That’s the kind of music that I write and we play,” he says.

The main message of “Solidaritine” is one of hope. “This album is very positive music made for overcoming hardships of political turmoil of the last years, the pandemic and of atrocities like the war. It’s about gearing up and strengthening your inner core – your mental strength, he says, “It’s about rising to the highest possible level of human potential as individuals and as a society.”

Considering everything that Hütz has endured throughout his life, it’s a miracle he’s been able to retain his hope in the world — a testament to the human spirit. When asked how he’s gotten through so many hardships, he sighs and pauses for a moment before answering. “I’ve reflected on that a great many times in recent years and I think it’s the elders in our family. We grew up with people who have bullet wounds in their hips, in their shoulders, in their chest and they’re your great grandparents and they’re just walking through like it’s nothing,” he continues, “You see them, as they grow up to 86 or 87 years of age. You start reflecting back on how they were – how was their daily operation – and you start understanding how crucial wisdom was. You start to learn from that more and more. You realize how lucky you were to have people like that in your family who served in WWII during its entire duration. They did not sleep…eat for four and a half years, and then came home and had this whole other 60 years of Soviet Dictatorship and never lost themselves… They threw no fuss. Nothing fazed them.” He goes on to say that because of this fact, he believes ageism is completely moronic, which is a theme Gogol Bordello’s album tackles.

Looking back to the concert, one of the most poignant moments occurred during the band’s extended encore when Hütz grabbed a Ukrainian flag and waved it around for all to see while he sang “Undestructable,” with its lyrics about surviving the unthinkable.

“Solidaritine” can be streamed on any major music platform.

Madison Walters
Madison Walters
Madison Walters
Madison Walters
Madison Walters
Madison Walters
Madison Walters

Post Author: Madison Walters