When Ukrainian-born singer Eugene Hütz came to New York in the late ’90s, he had a batch of songs that encapsulated the “traumas” of his experience as an immigrant.
He would eventually form the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello and record some of those tunes. Early on, he simply wanted to hone his songwriting skills.
“At that point, I was basically reinventing my whole approach to music,” he says in a recent phone interview. Gogol Bordello performs at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25, at the Agora Theatre
. “I was completely disinterested in any kind of massive arrangements, and I was coming out of recording a series of albums with my previous bands that were pretty much full-on experimental punk rock. So my focus became, rather, storytelling and crafting the storytelling of the musical chronicles. I was completely sick and tired of making loud records.”
Hütz says it took several years for him to assemble Gogol Bordello. After issuing a self-released album and one on the tiny Rubric Records, the band would sign with the punk imprint SideOneDummy, which would introduce the group to a wider audience with 2005's Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike
Now, after several more records on SideOneDummy, the band has become a festival favorite known for its supercharged live shows.
For the act's latest album, Seekers and Finders
, Hütz resumes production duties after entrusting them to outside producers such as Rick Rubin (Transcontinental Hustle
) and Andrew Scheps (Pura Vida Conspiracy
). The album kicks off with a gypsy punk free-for-all (“Did It All”) and includes collaborations with Manu Chao trumpet man Roy Paci (“Walking on the Burning Coal”) and Russian-born singer-songwriter and longtime friend Regina Spektor, who accompanies Hütz on the rousing title track, an epic number that finds Hütz and Spektor enthusiastically trading verses to a rich blend of rock and folk music that includes orchestral flourishes.
“That was a special one for sure,” Hütz says of the song with Spector. “Ironically, that song was one that I wrote for my solo record, which was a record of duets. I kept thinking of who can get behind a song like that. It needs some knowledge of perseverance and carving out a place in a new world and Eastern European street cred. I asked Regina and was very happy she loved the song. In fact, I think she really escalated that song a lot."
The social significance of a Ukrainian and Russian performing together isn't lost on Hütz either.
"It was important to address the whole conflict that unfortunately Russian and Ukrainian people have been pushed into in recent years," says Hütz. "In a way, it was our contribution to healing that situation and maybe be a kind of effort to warm up people’s hearts. It’s a very important thing for us to do.”
With its tender vocals and gentle, acoustic harmonies, “Clearvoyance,” which finds Hütz whispering his vocals, might be one of the band's most beautiful tunes.
“I find myself playing that song to myself long after it was recorded," says Hütz. "A lot of times when the song was recorded, you put it behind you and still dig into the song in a new way live. But it leaves your cooker. This one is still in the cooker, and I still keep writing new verses. It’s a central theme on the album, which is a kind of love telepathy."
The musically diverse album strays from the usual madcap approach that Hütz and Co. tend to take. As a result, it represents such a perfect distillation of the band's sound that Hütz says he'd even be satisfied if it were the last Gogol Bordello album.
"The album has this feeling of completeness," he says. "It might be our testament to the art of an album making from our point of view. We might move forward making other forms of recordings, maybe much shorter or much longer or maybe another album. This is our idea of a best album we could do. I could put it into Voyager as Gogol Bordello’s complete record, and I would be at peace with that."
Gogol Bordello, Lucky Chops, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $29 ADV, $30 DOS, agoracleveland.com.