Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello Talks Solidaritine, Performing in Ukraine, and 15 Years of Super Taranta!

All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons/Reybee PR

In this far-reaching interview, Gogol Bordello’s gypsy-punk leader recounts his hardcore roots, performing in a war-torn Ukraine and a reinvigorated approach for Solidaritine.

By Joe O’Brien

Looking for music that defies expectations – especially within the space of rock – can be a formidable task. Bands can start to feel like a repetitive vacuum devoid of inventiveness, stifled by forced convention.

When an artist comes onto the scene that desires to push against established norms and create something truly meaningful, those searching take notice. When Gogol Bordello, led by Eugene Hutz, took centerstage, they were a proverbial bright spot with their unique blend that would become known as gypsy punk. With punk in his heart and fire in his belly, Eugene never questioned his path, aided by a veritable smorgasbord of talented musicians from a myriad of backgrounds.

“We had a lot of fun proving all those people wrong by playing Coachellas, Bonnaroos, and all the festivals of the world,” quips Hutz. “All my roots are punk, hardcore, and experimental music. All my mentors are in that realm as well, so I’m perfectly happy within that bubble. I generally don’t have the motivation for tackling mainstream, but I think some of these moronic notions drove our enthusiasm to prove them wrong. Prove the people wrong who are convinced that all the types of things we accomplished are only for plastic-looking people.”

And proved wrong they would be, as Eugene’s idiosyncratic view on music and the guitar would propel Gogol Bordello forward into the storied act they would become, “I perceive my acoustic guitar as a rapid-fire, thrash-hardcore instrument,” remarks Hutz. “Writing riffs that I don’t think anybody ever thought to try executing on acoustic guitar—because the instrument is not for that. [Laughs].”

As the band expanded people’s eardrums from album to album, no one saw the current transformation on Solidaritine coming. For Eugene, it was the inevitable progression for the band, given their past ventures and his previous experiences, “I know many Gogol Bordello appreciators think of me as the guy with the acoustic guitar,” adds Hutz. “But that’s the second musical chapter in my life. For about ten years before Gogol Bordello, I played electric guitar like a fucking maniac in various punk, hardcore, and crossover thrash bands.”

Hutz recently met with VWMusic via Zoom to discuss Gogol Bordello’s new record Solidaritine, his connection to DC hardcore, the re-recording of “Forces of Victory, performing in Ukraine, and the pivotal album Super Taranta!.

Solidaritine took on more of a punk-fueled approach than the previous few albums. What led to that direction?

I don’t see any change. In essence, it’s always been a punk band. What you’re referring to is that it’s less experimental than the previous output. We had our own evolution regarding the gypsy-punk style that we crafted over the years. Gypsy music requires virtuosity. Therefore, the band featured numerous virtuosos over the years, such as Sergey [Ryabtsev] and Yuri [Lemeshev]. Those fundamental figures and instrumentalists allowed the band to take things to a high-end, sympho-punk level. We had fun with that idea, but it reached its peak with Seekers and Finders. It was only natural that we’d come back full circle to the pure impact music that we came from.

Also, on our first post-pandemic tour, our guitar player got COVID. It caused us to be without him for a significant amount of the tour. I ended up playing electric guitar for most of that tour. It was a natural transition for me as I learned to play guitar, at 13, on an electric. Reconnecting with the electric guitar led to more writing on the electric guitar. So that’s another element that influenced the direction of Solidaritine. Less baroque. Less sympho-punk. More pure impact. More, pure message. More, pure fucking hook. More all of that.

Did the current events in Ukraine alter your mindset when writing Solidaritine?

Events in Ukraine have always influenced the approach and mindset of Gogol Bordello. The name of the band is derived from the Ukrainian legend of a writer, Nikolai Gogol. The last few years have been fucked up globally, as we all know. If it’s not political turmoil, then it’s the pandemic. It’s a criminally insane attempt by Russia to invade Ukraine. I’m not calling it an invasion because they will never invade it. It’s a futile effort. A moronic attempt. All of that is naturally there in the album. However, chronologically speaking, the album was almost completed by the time the attempt of invasion began. So that said, the album has its own energy. It’s totally uplifting and has a perseverance that can be felt throughout. A warm-blooded perseverance.

The album addresses matters beyond those of a political nature as well. For instance, there is a song about age discrimination called “Knack for Life.” People’s obsession with young celebrities is beyond moronic. I remember the baffling, fucking comments when I first moved to New York. When I was about 28, people said, “You’re too old to get into the music business.” I said, “The fuck are you talking about? I’m making music regardless of the music business.” Look at Yuri and Sergey; they went on their first tour when they were 43. I always love rubbing that into people’s faces.

The new album includes a Fugazi cover of “Blueprint” as well as guest vocals from H.R., of Bad Brains fame, on “The Era of the End of Eras.” Were the multiple connections to DC hardcore coincidence, or is there a personal connection there?

Well, there is absolutely zero coincidence. When I first arrived in The States, I was already heavy into punk rock. We had a pretty fertile punk scene in Kyiv back when I was living in Ukraine. All the hardcore bands had come from Poland and showed us how it was done. Seeing those shows at 13 gives you the archetypal tools for a musical direction. A lot of your ideas take on wings fast. When I came here, I hopped on the New York hardcore train. It was a natural progression for me. I met a group of kids in Vermont who were all about it. They knew New York hardcore very well. They gave me the records, and I went to the shows with them. They got me up to speed on all of it. It was a very cool scene with very knowledgeable characters. Many of the bands I saw in those years were DC bands: Fugazi, Holy Rollers, Girls Against Boys, and all the Discord bands that were coming up at that time. I was also introduced to Void, The Faith, and Bad Brains. Of course, anybody who knows New York hardcore knows it was propelled by DC hardcore. It was propelled by Bad Brains and Minor Threat to a huge extent. It’s all connected on that level. I’m almost overstating the obvious.

I’ve kept in touch with Ian [MacKaye], Joe [Lally], and Brendan [Canty] from Fugazi for many years. Fugazi was the first hardcore show that I saw in The States. It was a life-altering concert for me. It was the first show in the US that displayed to me clearly that a whole new thing was going on there. Music mixing dub, punk, hardcore, and funk. These bands absorbed everything. They know everything to know about the evolution of punk music. They’re making this whole new progressive stew of all of it. Needless to say, at some point, we wanted to go and record in Washington DC at Don Zientara’s studio [Inner Ear Studios]. It’s where all the Dag Nasty, Fugazi, Gray Matter records, and so forth were recorded. So, we did that, and the tracks from the new album are from that session.

We recorded that Fugazi cover because we were inspired by being in the studio where they recorded all those great albums. I’ve been playing that song acoustically for years and found that kind of Gogol Bordello feeling in it. It was an instinctive thing. It just so happened that while we were recording the album, I met H.R. through a friend of mine. I got this idea to have him guest on a track, which originated from that chance meeting. We were so excited that H.R. was interested and that he liked the song. He helped take the song to the next level. Every time I hear it, I feel my hair standing up. I’m not exaggerating that when we heard the mix, we were nearly in tears. It was absolutely cathartic—a huge blessing for the album. H.R. is beyond being an icon. That sums up the innate connection to hardcore and ingrained respect for the originators of that music.

All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons/Reybee PR

What else is important for people to know regarding Solidaritine?

Walter Schreifels’s involvement. He co-produced the album with us. That’s a huge part of the album. The guy is a hardcore legend. He was a member of Quicksand, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Rival Schools, and various other bands. We’re talking about New York hardcore. Over the years, we became friends. He always came out and supported us when we were on tour. The time had come for us to do something together, and you’re listening to it.

It’s the 15th anniversary of Super Taranta!. How do you reflect on the album today?

It comes from a very manic era, that album. It was an album whose inception was near the start of our frequent international touring. Touring had become a lifestyle. I think you can hear a lot of that overdrive in it. It will be a forever interesting lesson for us as a band. It was like boiling milk on a fucking stove. It’s foaming over the top. “Forces of Victory” and the maniacal state of those riffs were indicative of how we were living. That was the inner speed of existence then. It can become detrimental if you don’t turn it into a method. It’s why a lot of bands that have high energy simply crash at some point and evaporate. Luckily, we were able to make music like that, and it did not evaporate. We were fucking burning through time and space at an accelerated mode during that period. Making experimental sounds that gave birth to music that went out on a limb.

Would you say Super Taranta! was a bookmark in the evolution of Gogol Bordello’s continued growth into more exploratory sounds?

Exactly. If you listen from album to album, the band is evolving in leaps. The first album is an acoustic trio. I was trying to take a year break from the hardcore punk I had been making for over a decade. So, I scaled it all back down to super basic storytelling. It was the mood of the moment. I wanted to tell the stories of immigration, and so I brought that to the first album.

But it rapidly progressed into full orchestration with blasting string sections. Gypsy music was a kind of fire that was fueling this new form of punk rock we were developing. The thought was, “Let’s take punk rock to another level. Let’s scale it all back down and bring it all the fuck back up.” Include a dimension of horns and ska-reggae sounds. A jolly rocking-boat vibe. Those are all deeply seated spirits in Gogol Bordello.

Gypsy Punks was our live set, as you would go and see Gogol Bordello. That was the blueprint of that time. It was mostly American and a little bit European in terms of touring. Playing small venues, driving in a van, and fucking grinding it out. You can feel the grind on that album but also the minimality of it. It’s a reflection of the frame of mind during that time. Only thinking of the next event. Everyone is in one room in a motel, where everything takes place. People sleeping on top of each other or in the van. That same room is also where the after-party takes place. Those are the colors of Gypsy Punks. It comes from that world.

Before Super Taranta!, we started doing significant traveling internationally. A lot more flights and jetlag. A lot of building muscle. You can look at it like training for the Tour de France. They go to train in more difficult environments, so they will perform better. Imagine that world tour as our training. Then you get to the Tour de France or the studio, and at that point, you’re in this beast mode. That’s the realm that Super Taranta! was derived. Looking back, many of the songs are not truly finished.

All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons/Reybee PR

Is that why you chose to rerecord “Forces a Victory” for Solidaritine?

That is precisely the reason why. The song was written as a kind of dedication to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. I know there are a lot of political events in Ukraine that are below the tip of the iceberg for most people, but the 2004 revolution was a major event. As you may know, the opening lines are, “My dear good friend, let’s not forget that we can take down Pinochet.” For those that don’t know, Pinochet was a Chilean dictator. The song is about people’s power and people’s struggle. And about people’s struggle in Ukraine that continues to this day.

However, as we were discussing, that song was somewhat incomplete. When you listen to it, you’ll see that a large portion is fully instrumental for what seems to be no apparent reason. If we wanted to get mystical, well… we easily could. Clearly, the song was left incomplete so that it could be realized to its maximum potential for this cause. I mean, the name of the song is already “Forces of Victory.” We did the version on Solidaritine in collaboration with a friend of mine named Serhiy Zhadan. He’s a Ukrainian punk rocker, a huge activist, an amazing poet, and a novelist. If I’m not mistaken, he is the first punk rocker ever nominated for a Nobel Prize. When this attempt at invasion began, the two of us quickly connected and fulfilled the destiny of that song. It’s all about scratching the surface and serving the purpose.

Not too long ago, I saw your performance at Riot Fest. During that performance, you mentioned that Gogol Bordello had just come back from performing in Ukraine. What was that experience like for you and the band?

Well, there’s a lot of there is a lot to say about that. I’m still processing that experience. It was really important for us to go there. We have been working nonstop on the cultural and fundraising fronts for Ukraine. At the same time, if you are as Ukrainian people are, you will not chill out until victory on Ukrainian terms is complete. It started to feel like everything we were doing from a distance, although helpful, was not enough. The people in Ukraine know that the world supports them. But when they see somebody coming to them, it strengthens that belief. It gives them confidence. It’s carved in stone. Going there and connecting with the people. Playing in military bases and refugee hubs. It’s an essential part of how we see supporting Ukraine.

The feeling of wanting to go back there is very present. I can’t wait to do it again. These experiences bear a special purpose for allowing us to tell the Ukrainian story authentically. It was also a new way of bonding for the band. After years of grinding in a van, it seems like no further bonding is available. [Laughs]. Fuck yeah, there is. After doing things like that together, you’re that much tighter. You’re that much more focused. We also didn’t just play for people; we played with them.

The battalion had musicians there who were superb. I’m not telling you they were pretty good; I’m telling you they were virtuosos. “Forces of Victory” is probably the most complicated thing to play in our catalog. It would be difficult for even the best classically trained musicians. Geniuses go in maniacal patterns throughout the whole song. I’m telling you this because when we got to rehearsal with musicians from the battalion, the first thing they suggested that we play was “Forces of Victory.” And when we started playing together, they just shredded right the fuck through it. We taught them some of our other songs as well. In turn, we learned some of their songs. Songs about defense and fighting, written from the horse’s mouth.

One of the highest compliments I ever received was from the musicians we met there, asking if it was okay if they kept playing our songs for the soldiers. That feels right. These songs are serving a purpose now that is way beyond amusement. The experience was difficult but meaningful—an invigorating musical undertaking. I’m glad that it was captured on a recording. We’re thinking about releasing it as a dedication to the border guards of Ukraine.

All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons/Reybee PR

Joe O’Brien (@JoeOB1005) is the Senior Columnist for and may be reached at

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