GOODFest: Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz On How To Not Be A Pretentious Artist
If you see only one Dadaist Spaghetti Western ballet this year...
Editor’s note: As part of our ongoing editorial coverage of GOODFest, we’ll be chatting with an artist from each of our five shows about the intersections of music and activism as it pertains to them. Check out our complete GOODFest coverage here.
Eugene Hütz, frontman of NYC-based indie gypsy-rock band Gogol Bordello, has spent almost two decades fusing art, literature, and history into a raucous, experimental sound. He extends his creativity to acting, art, and activist projects as well, all while maintaining a level of sardonic wit about his work and an appreciation for his musical idols. He also extends an open invitation for anyone and everyone to come join the party.
Today, in New Orleans’ Music Box Village, a community built to explore the sounds hidden all around us, Eugene will join Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and other creative friends to perform a musical tribute to Dadaism, all in the name of humanity.
GOODFest: How has your approach to philanthropy changed over time as your prominence and influence has grown over the years?
Eugene Hütz: Really, over the years, the only change has been that we went from playing to dozens of sparkling eyes and wide smiles, and now it’s thousands of them. It remains as it started.
So is there any feeling of personal responsibility as more and more of those sparkling eyes end up on you?
If you go into the actual meaning of responsibility—an ability to respond, not necessarily dragging something on your shoulders—in that sense, yes. We are the propeller. We propel that energy. And (sarcastically) once you have a microphone in your hand, it is a sensible thing to propel a good energy, because that’s exactly what you’re gonna get back. That’s a huuuge secret.
But this so-called secret is the engine of our longevity. Thousands of different performers get up on stage every night around the world and do their thing according to their method, the results greatly varying, for many reasons.
Our method, which is the only method I’m gonna speak up for, is more of a dialogue with the audience, rather than a monologue. A monologue is a one-way street and it’s draining. Your energy just runs out. Dialogue is that two-way exchange of energy.
Are there any specific instances of communication coming from the audience side that have impacted you?
Aside from general, traditional spirited fan response, we do have quite a few people who have suffered through something devastating in their lives, and the response from people like that … it’s a more significant point. These people who share that they appreciate our music for its uplifting quality, when I receive that kind of feedback, or have those people at our shows, that is pretty powerful and uplifting back to me.
I love to learn that our music has that sort of healing power that we intended it to have. Essentially music is self-therapy. It’s all self-medicating.
Do you subscribe to the philosophy then that, as an artist, your intent is less important than the audience’s interpretation?
I don’t think I even have too much of a fully formulated intention, honestly. That would be a pretty pretentious thing to talk about.
In fact, I think the job of an artist is to translate the voice of the so-called soul. We largely live in a society that’s interpreted by brains and logical operation. But this is only half of the picture. In the metaphysical sense, maybe not even half. The artist is less friends with logic and more of a receptor of all the rest of the energies. And to interpret them and translate them into human language is really all he does. Therefore, to have intention is silly. The channeling is already enough.
If you’re in a particular situation and it has a vacuum or void that needs to be filled with cathartic joy, that’s what we do.
What’s the primary energy you’re channeling in your new album?
I was hoping for it to be more introspective and composed, but of course, it turned out to be the exact opposite. Completely buck wild rocking and firing on all cylinders. I really did not see this coming. Went in thinking it’d be a nice collection of tunes, very meditative, and next thing you know, I’m bouncing off the fucking ceiling.
And the show at The Music Box will be another energy entirely?
Yes, this is not a rock show. It’s a collaboration between several artists and friends that is mostly a tribute to the art movement of Dada. It’s called “Dada Western.” As history has it, it’s been exactly 100 years since Dada took place in Zurich and New York.
Dada is the most important influence on Gogol Bordello, obviously. The earliest shows all being basically Dadaist exhibits. Eventually our band was playing the gallery and museum circuit, only later going to clubs and on tour.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.