Frontman Eugene Hütz talks about the band’s new album Solidaritine and the ongoing war in his Ukrainian homeland
Eugene Hütz, bandleader and main songwriter of Gogol Bordello, has never been a man to keep his opinions – political and personal – to himself.
Since Russia invaded his Ukrainian homeland, he’s redoubled his efforts to speak out and make people aware of the global crises we all face. As a Ukrainian ex-pat, it’s natural that he’s focusing a lot of attention on the Ukraine war.
The new Gogol album, Solidaritine, was released on Friday, September 16, but Hütz and various compatriots have been busy addressing the situation with several other projects.
“On the new album [Solidaritine], there are songs addressing the situation with the contribution of Ukrainian artists,” he tells Rock & Roll Globe. “‘Forces of Victory’ was co-written with Serhiy Zhadan, a punk rocker, poet and novelist, who has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. He performs on the track with Kazka, a Ukrainian electro-folk band. We also co-wrote ‘Take Only What You Can Carry.’ The album was finished before the invasion, so we went back into the studio to respond to it.
“I updated a song I wrote with my band before Gogol, The Cossacks, called ‘Teroborona.’ The rhythm is based on a Ukrainian traditional dance, the arkan. It’s music with a direct purpose, to be unifying and inspiring for all Ukrainian defenders. Encouraging their spirit with urgent new lyrics sung to a timeless melody. The original song – ‘Brief History of Ukraine’ – was written, arranged and recorded in 1996, with hardcore drummer Dana Shepard. We used some of that recording and overlayed it with new lyrics. Teroborona is the name of the defense units, made up of civilians, that got together to defend Ukraine. I still have many artist and musician friends in Ukraine and they’re all fighting. It was meaningful for me to bring that music into the now, because its distinctly Ukrainian melody touches my roots in the punk and hardcore sound I love. That’s also where the new album landed. It’s stripped down to basic punk rock, making a full circle from where we came from.”
VIDEO: Gogol Bordello “Teroborona”
The video for “Teroborona” shows Hütz and Gogol performing the song, in Ukrainian, intercut with videos of his countryfolk marching off to battle, digging defensive trenches, practicing with weapons and a battlefield wedding. All proceeds from the sale of “Teroborona” will go toward the Cauze campaign, a fund that donates to Care.org’s Ukrainian Crisis Response.
On the night of the Russian invasion, Les Claypool of Primus contacted Hütz and asked him to collaborate on a song he was writing – “Zelensky: the Man with Iron Balls.” In the studio, they were joined by Stewart Copeland (The Police, Curved Air), Sean Lennon and other heavies.
“Les initiated the idea while I was reaching out to people in my circles to make music in support of Ukrainians. It meant a lot that Les was making things happen. It was an initiative of American musicians of conscience. I was there to do my part. I co-wrote it with Les. We’ve been friends for 15 years and he reached out immediately. That was very punk rock of him.”
Les Claypool and Friends “Zelensky: the Man with Iron Balls”
All proceeds from the sales of the track will go to Nova Ukraine, a nonprofit providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine. Hütz is also close to finishing another release in support of Ukraine – “Strike Back.”
“A lot of people were stimulated by the insanity of the Russian invasion and a lot of people came out to show solidarity. I’m working with Jello Biafra, a big influence of mine musically; Roger Miret from Agnostic Front on vocals; Tré Cool, drummer from Green Day, and Joe Lally from Fugazi on bass. Everyone playing on the song has a huge fan base in Ukraine. Punk, hardcore and metal have always been a thing for kids in Ukraine, since I was young. It will soon be out on all digital platforms and much respect to everyone on this track. They put their amazing talents into it.”
While Hütz is dealing with the war in Ukraine, he’s also helping to promote the release of Solidaritine, with its back-to-basics sound. “I never think about our sound for a second,” he said. “We do what we do and it comes out the way it comes out. The fusion [of punk, Ukrainian folk, ska, gypsy swing and more] happens seamlessly. It’s all real, not a super-exotic sound that took months to figure out. It’s just punk rock.
“It was done at the end of Covid, which was the end of many eras for many people. Like the song on the album says, it’s ‘The Era of the End of Eras.’ A forecast of many changes happening in the world. We’re going through tectonic shifts and they are going to define the next century. The pandemic ended a lot of infantile perceptions of reality. It was a wake-up call to a lot of people to what this life is made out of, beyond the meta universe and beyond things that are essentially fiction. During the pandemic, we were moving toward rearranging our inner core and inner forces and creating music with a real purpose.
“When things opened up, we shredded through a tour and jump started our lives again. It was cathartic and fun, but it wasn’t easy. There was a lot of commotion and hiccups and ended with several people getting Covid and having to get off the road. Doing shows with two people down for the last two weeks made the situation a bit extreme. I grabbed an electric guitar, instead of my usual acoustic, because our guitarist Boris Pelekh was down, and fell into my basic sound. I wrote the album on electric guitar instead of acoustic, so they were loud from the get go. They were about what we were all going through – resilience, strengthening your inner core and mobilizing yourself.
“We went into the studio with [producer] Walter Schreifels [Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools] and tracked the album, all together, live. That’s our way. We had five days booked and did it in four. The band was bonded from the tour. The pandemic, and war in Ukraine, closed down an era and pointed to a time where things need to be done a lot faster. Life is short, but we still had fun with our exceptional abilities and whimsical aspirations and the sheer joy of making music.
“I make elaborate demos, by myself or with my extended family and friends, who are engineers and producers. I try to distill songs to the maximum impact, before they get to the band. The fun part begins when the band gets hold of them and breathes their personal magic into it. Everyone listens to a demo and comes to the studio with their interpretations of it, then we quickly select what will take it to the next level. Everything falls into place in a very obvious way. We’re all maniacs. Everybody enjoys high energy. Anything in the way of that energy gets weeded out. Walter is well seasoned, not only in getting the frequencies right and the mixing right, but in helping distill the songs into their most impactful form.”
Catch Gogol Bordello on tour this fall.
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