Q&A: The Hybrid Vigor of Gogol Bordello
Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz talks about headlining the Emerald Cup, his hopes for the future and how live performance can become a spiritual experience.
Cannabis breeders use the term “hybrid vigor” to describe the vibrant strength of plants created by crossing two different cultivars from vastly different places, and it’s a concept that also comes to mind when considering the traveling musical carnival known as Gogol Bordello. With seven current members hailing from disparate countries, this cross-cultural phenomena originally took root in New York City in the late ’90s, and has since toured the globe, powered by their distinctive blend of gypsy folk and East Coast punk rock.
Taking the stage close to midnight on the first day of the Emerald Cup — California’s premier cannabis competition and festival — Gogol Bordello shook up the tired, stoned crowd with “Not a Crime,” off of their 2005 ‘Gypsy Punks’ album, which features a raucous chorus that also served as a worthy anthem to kick off a concert at the one of the world’s first cannabis events featuring fully compliant, legal sales to the public.
In the old time it was not a crime / Drop the charges / Not a crime
Whipping up a frenetic mosh pit towards the front of the stage, frontman Eugene Hütz strutted back and forth, dressed in a shiny black robe emblazoned with rasta-colored cannabis leaves, alternatively playing an acoustic guitar and splashing the front row with wine from a bottle clutched alongside his microphone. Primus frontman and Sonoma local Les Claypool then made a guest appearance on “Trans-Continental Hustle,” a song that praises “cross-pollination,” one of the central themes espoused by Hütz, himself a Ukranian immigrant.
With a fresh album out called ‘Seekers & Finders’ and an East Coast tour planned for next March, Gogol Bordello concerts promote a refreshing antidote to the xenophobic fear-mongering of current politics. So they were right at home playing at the Emerald Cup to a temporary city of farmers, traders and smokers brought together by their mutual love of cannabis and dedicated to perpetuating a new carnival culture based on compassion, consciousness and community.
Cannabis Now caught up with Hütz a few days before Gogol’s Emerald Cup performance for a wide-ranging discussion of cannabis legalization, spirituality and human integration.
Cannabis Now: Is cannabis something you enjoy? Does it help with your creative process?
Eugene Hütz: Cannabis has been in and out of my life and it’s in a fabric of everything we enjoy music-wise. It’s inseparable from so many beloved melodies and poems. The ambiance of it is always there in the art and music that we fall back on. As a band that’s so closely tied to carnival culture, where it’s all about celebration, we are more like an art carnival, music, songwriting, storytelling band. But there is that aspect of carnival — it’s a social equalizer, that’s what carnival is. As a person who saw it up close and personal living six years in Brazil, I understood that it’s not about the facade of it. Carnival isn’t about the facade and the flamboyance, it’s about social equalization. It’s the only time that a worker, a dentist, an athlete, a musician, a taxi driver and a lawyer all walk down the street singing the same song — and that does a lot of healing for social life.
In the past, you’ve talked about human integration and how we’re all one big human family. Do you think the influence of cannabis can help people see past the politics of separation?
Well, that idea is not mine, it’s a mystical idea that’s been around for thousands of years and there’s a reason that it’s been around for so long because that’s the real reality of it. We’re all an organism. From space, we can be observed as nothing but one colony of cells. The politics of separation reeks of the dark ages instantly, so anything that can put you on the track of thinking that it’s much more worthwhile to live a life of compassion is very valuable. Compassion is a sign of understanding that we are all one. Why would you want to mistreat yourself?
I’m wondering how you feel about the cannabis legalization that’s happening in the U.S.?
It seemed to be lurking in the near future for quite a while. It’s exciting and it’s a celebration across the board about that.
Have you been inside any of the cannabis retail stores yet?
No, I haven’t. I’m curiously observing the whole thing and we’ll check it out. It’s an exciting page that’s suddenly here. I know for many people it’s not a new page because they’ve been working on it for so long, but for most people, it’s an exciting and uplifting development.
I’m very interested to see what you think of the Emerald Cup; it’s this enormous event with all of these farmers who come to show off their cannabis so it’s a very beautiful place.
Yeah, it’s an important statement, too, that it is deeply connected to musicality, communication and sense of community. It’s a helping thing, an asset, an ally.
I know you have such an incredible reputation for high energy, immersive live performances. Are these performances a spiritual experience for you?
Very much so. It’s incredibly uplifting before anything. The very secret of its uplifting quality is the chemistry of the personalities that we have in the band. The openness of people in the band to experiencing each other’s cultures, because we’re all coming from different countries. We’re a New York City-based band, but we come from not only different countries but different continents. The self-rejuvenating aspect of it is that openness and also by being able to propel that kind of energy between the band onstage and then communicate it to the crowd is what built the whole legend and the bubble of Gogol Bordello mythology. It’s a very interactive, all-inclusive communal celebration feeling.
It’s been a dark time, with authoritarian politics rising in the U.S. and Brazil. When politicians scapegoat immigrants, what are they trying to distract the public from?
I don’t know, after a while, I felt like I can’t make any sense out of it. Even years back, I just realized that it’s impossible to understand. I really don’t know… I started siding with poetry and music that doesn’t see its credo in trying to crack any sort of political issue because essentially political issues are operating on a different frequency.
How can people live up to their maximum human potential? Are you optimistic for the future?
Yes, I am optimistic. I think that the world always has yin and yang energies fighting or coexisting and dark times always brings a new lotus to the surface. That’s why the lotus is used in Buddhism so much as a symbol of higher vibration and wisdom because lotus grows on top of dirt. It’s something that appears out of what you could call dark times. That’s pretty much the flow of the planet, it will still flow and rejuvenate itself and find its next level of enlightenment.
Music and art have a lot to do with it — you’ve probably heard of experiments where they’ll have 30 to 40 people meditate in a certain city with the intention to decrease the crime rate, and that’s not some anecdote, that’s actually been done and it actually brings down the crime rate because the vibration of the city transforms to an extent. I think art and music does that — they’re meditators who help that process, that’s how I see it. It works in another way where you don’t need to understand the intricacies of the political situation but as long as you are an artist and meditator, it does the job for a greater harmony to evolve.
When you’re not traveling and working on music, what do you like to do to relax?
Traveling and working on music is only a fraction of my life. Most of the time, I’m writing things, whether it’s songs, future scripts or a novel — that’s a whole other conversation. Mostly my creative daily operation revolves around writing in its various forms.
Is there anywhere in the world you haven’t been yet that you’d really like to go?
Of course, tons of places! I haven’t been to Asia at all and there’s places I’d love to go back to. One of the beauties of traveling the world extensively is that you develop a sense of homecoming towards a lot of places. When we go to Italy now or Argentina, there will be a sense of adventure, but also homecoming, so it’s a homecoming adventure, which is how we like it.
Well, I hope you feel very much at home when you visit Northern California…
Yeah! I think we will. We have a great history there and a great following. It’s an extra-celebratory vibe that’s in the works this time. We’re not going to be dragging anyone to the higher frequencies at the Emerald Cup, they’re already halfway there.
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Originally published in Issue 35 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE