On June 29 gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello announced its plans to officially boycott the state of Arizona over the highly controversial SB 1070, the toughest anti-illegal immigration bill passed in America in decades — one that requires authorities to demand proof of citizenship papers from anyone they suspect is “an illegal.”
Just one week prior, when Gogol Bordello was in Los Angeles for two, back-to-back explosive shows at The Mayan theater, the band also took a day to film the music video for its new song “Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)” off Trans-Continental Hustle, Gogol's latest album released on Rick Rubin's American Recordings.
Directed by Isaiah Seret and shot partially at restaurant Citizen Smith in Hollywood, the music video depicts the day-to-day life of an immigrant in America and stars members of the band. It's a subject Gogol Bordello knows well and has tackled many times before.
Gogol frontman Eugene Hutz, a Chernobyl refugee who emigrated from
the Ukraine to the U.S in 1991, wrote a personal statement to the band's fans online asking them to educate themselves and support The Sound Strike, a group of musicians and bands organized by Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha that are boycotting performing live in Arizona. Hutz wrote:
“Immigration naturally enriches culture and human resource of any country […] As a band of immigrants we have received both honors and welcomes that reinsure the positive aspects of immigration. And we have been grateful about it to NY ever since. Especially when seeing other countries not doing their best. With my own experience I must say U.S. actually stands out as a better one amongst others. However we can not look the other way when double standard and face control is taken place.”
We met up with Gogol's charismatic frontman in L.A. to discuss the politics behind the new music video, the reward in being adventurous, and why the whole concept of VIP can fuck off…
L.A. Weekly: Tell me a bit about the concept behind the new video.
Eugene Hutz: It's for “Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher).” It's time to address this issue that has never gone away. With [Trans-Continental Hustle] I thought, ok, after this record I have to stop writing about immigration. And it's just like, as soon as I said it, it's the most relevant thing again.
The immigration issue is bigger than it's been for generations.
Eugene Hutz: Yeah, I know. The thing is, it's a truly traumatic experience. There is a reason I kept writing about it — because I can't really not write about it. I either have to write about it or either go to therapy about it. It's not a fucking easy thing. There are different ways to handle it. The sensitivity and the real human approach that it requires is yet to come. Right now destinies of people are still smashed by bureaucratic treatment too hard.
The way I see it is that there are many different angles to this issue, and we've addressed it in “Immigrant Punk,” “Illumination,” “Punk Rock Parranda” and many different songs. But I [wanted] this song to be an immigrational anthemic song, in a generational sense. It wasn't about U.S. or France or any particular situation. It was the philosophical approach to this issue. We were in the process of putting all these things together and suddenly immigration's [a national issue again] which actually makes it kind of tricky for us because we don't want to attach the song to this particular situation [in Arizona]. We wanted to make a video that stimulates against judgementality. Not just now. Always.
What led you to hook up with Rick Rubin for this album after years with Side One Dummy?
Eugene Hutz: It's funny you ask because I met Rick at The Mayan. Tom Morello broke Rick, as the story goes. Rick just got a text message from Tom Morello, “Hey man, I'm going to see the best band in the fucking world. Let's go! Come on down and check it out!” [Laughs] So Rick came down and that's how we met.
Tom is one of your biggest supporters.
Eugene Hutz: Yeah, we just did a run with Rage Against the Machine in Europe which was fantastic. [Laughs] One of the few bands that has no problem following us is Rage Against the Machine.
Is that a good problem or a bad problem for a band to have, when you put on such a great show that no one wants you to open for them?
Eugene Hutz: There are ups and downs of that. We still find that there are great, fantastic powerful musicians that we love like Rage Against the Machine and Manu Chao. That combination with them works perfectly, all night long. Best nights of my life, playing with those bands. There is no problem there. Ninety-percent of the time we headline. We've been doing our own thing a long time. We have our people — from Australia to Brazil, from the States to Japan…
Are you still living in Brazil? Last we talked you had just moved there.
Eugene Hutz: Yeah, it's been a while. I wrote the whole record there. It's fucking fantastic. A very inspiring place. It's a beautiful mess, you know?
You're also a DJ and spun at Bardot recently. How was it?
Eugene Hutz: DJing is a great, fun way to wind down after the show. We're music fanatics so almost all our activities are connected to hanging out with our fans and friends. I am not so interested in VIP after party. That whole concept of the VIP can fuck off; it's never been our way.
As a DJ, is there one record in your collection that people wouldn't expect you to have?
Eugene Hutz: I don't know if there's a thing people wouldn't expect; I've pretty much broke down the barriers of anybody's expectations. I'm a jukebox of unpredictable things. I was never really trying to impress anybody with it. A part of my internal motto is keeping myself interested and being adventurous. I'm an adventurer and discoverer by nature. At the back of my mind, what moves me is not impressing other people but being adventurous and impressing my friends, my bandmates… if I impress them, those guys get the word around. Then the rest of the work is done [laughs].
I have my criteria. [DJing is] always very connected to creative adventure and the fun of it all. Especially now, we've been going strong for many years and as respect for Gogol Bordello is accumulating, I hear a lot of things which are very rewarding. People say, “You work so hard and you deserve all these things.” But when I hear it, I always remember how Mark Twain said, “Hey man, I never worked for a fucking hour in my life.” [Laughs] You know what I'm sayin'? I ain't even workin'. It's always good. Sometimes it can be a grind. So fucking what? I have no problem with touring. I think boredom is a bigger grind. I think a lot of things connected to the daily life — the mundane daily life — is the real fucking grind.
I overheard someone at the Mayan say that Gogol Bordello's performance reminded them of a very punk rock ballet.
Eugene Hutz: Oh, that must be my special moves [laughs]. It's funny that you say that because I actually have gone back old sources of inspiration and I've actually been exposed to ballet quite a bit through my mother. When I was a kid growing up it was mandatory for me to attend [laughs]. My mom was strict about certain things and ballet was one of them. I must say, I never hated it as much as my peers. But all the mayhem that you see on stage [with Gogol Bordello] — all the catharsis that you see — is originated by nothing else but songwriting. I assure you that no stage tactic, no confetti, no hundreds of chicks on stage, is ever gonna create that reaction in a crowd unless it is actually backed by the art and craft of songwriting. That's the only real driving force. And whoever thought that I drink a bottle of Jack Daniel's and then walk out on stage and [the performance] just happens can try it for themselves.
Who said that?
Eugene Hutz: There were many people who had this idea that it was alcohol-ized catharsis.
Well, that's what they said about Charles Bukowski too.
Eugene Hutz: Exactly. It's very easy to check. Guzzle down half the bottle and let me see if you can hold the attention of the crowd even for 30 seconds.
View more photos of the band Timothy Norris' slideshow, “Gogol Bordello @ The Mayan.”