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The Bon Vivant Behind Gogol Bordello

With the release of Pura Vida Conspiracy, lead singer Eugene Hütz is jumpstarting a new music scene

Eugene Hütz’s rock band, Gogol Bordello, has long attracted fans with its smart, energetic mix of world music and rock—not to mention Hütz’s larger-than-life persona, which has landed him extracurricular gigs including a role in the Liev Schreiber-directed Everything Is Illuminated.

Now Gogol Bordello, which has relocated from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to South America, is releasing its eighth studio album, Pura Vida Conspiracy (out July 23rd). We caught up with Hütz to talk about finding joy, traveling the world and planning a tour through the jungle.

The title of this album translates to mean “Pure Life Conspiracy.” What does that mean to you?

“Pura Vida” is the perfect phrase to sum up the album’s songs. Pure life is here and now at all times. That simple fact is quite hidden from people, because everyone’s so focused on everything that’s going wrong. People don’t give life a chance. The music itself is very healing, that’s why people associate music with freedom.

How did an album based on that idea come about?

Every record I do starts on the day the last record ends. Right after [2011’s My Tsyganiada] was finished—it was, in a lot of ways, our Latin-American record—this one started to happen out of the polarity of Eastern Europe and Latin America. It was then that I started to go back home to the Ukraine and do different artistic things there. Instead of going from New York City to Rio regularly, I started going from Rio to Kiev or Moscow and that brought up a lot of feelings and solidified my observations. It made me realize how I will never be Brazilian or Argentinean, just like I will never be Ukrainian or Russian. People are usually scared of losing their identity, but for me that was a big breakthrough. I started writing out of the place of pure human potential, beyond any cultural masks.

Your band is comprised of musicians from all around the world.

We as a band deal with different cultures a lot. Every member is from a different place; we cover five continents within the band. That alone is a source of endless challenge, comedy and insanity. We all appear quite crazy to each other. We burn through those cultural differences faster than average people; we’re forced to process that information. The theme of this record is human potential.

In addition to the thought behind the record’s title, the music itself has a celebratory quality.

Absolutely. There are several sources of that joy, the biggest is the pure joy of being. If you stop tormenting yourself and constantly living in the past or future, soon enough your very organism will respond with a joy of being from within. A lot of artists exercise that quality, whether or nor they know it. We seem to be more in touch with it. The second source of joy is doing it together: We’re taking the joy of being and turning it into a collective experience. In the case of Gogol Bordello, it’s more massive simply because there’s a lot more horsepower, there are a lot of people in the band.

For your last record, relocating from New York to Brazil seemed to really affect your creative process. Is that still the case?

Yes, I still have an apartment [in Brazil]. But I’ve been spending a lot of time in Argentina and also going back to the Ukraine, where I got busy with an art collective. That’s a very fertile situation: that art collective is an actual house, quite massive actually, where I’m programming musical events. My focus, at the moment, is on Balkan and Eastern European New Wave music and all of the Latin American roots bands, from roots rock to folk-electronica that’s happening. Music that didn’t lose its folklore in the face of modern media. That’s very exciting for me, I feel as if I’m jumpstarting a new scene.

Speaking of scenes, having come out of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1990s, are you over New York?

I am there so often, I hardly feel like I’ve moved out. All the people in the stores around the Lower East Side have no idea I’ve left. The sad part is that a lot of the places that were allowing for new things to happen have transformed into places with a more conservative attitude. It’s a fact that New York is not the same.

It’s been 14 years since your first Gogol Bordello record. What’s next for you?

What’s next is just the next now. There is never any other moment but now. We’re a different kind of crew; we’re not so obsessed with this pragmatic lineage of time. If you’re talking about projects, I have projects in front of all, all growing and waiting for their now.

Such as?

On the immediate side of things, I’ve started to train in martial arts with some of the other members of the band. I got this crazy idea that I wanted to become an acoustic band, strip down Gogol Bordello to a four-member acoustic band and go on escapades through the jungles, to see the tribes of indigenous people all over the world. And I want to capture this on film to demonstrate what music, our music, will bring to these people. It will be a most powerful tool for establishing positive communications.