Interview with Tommy T from Gogol Bordello: World Citizens Brigade

Greed and politics may divide the Earth, but Gogol Bordello is doing what it can to bring the world back together with their new album, Trans-Continental Hustle. Frontman, Eugene Hutz, has described Trans-Continental Hustle as a “quest for solidarity” among the world’s ghettos. And calls his bandmates “unofficial ambassadors for immigrants around the globe.”

Hutz, Oren Kaplan (guitar), Sergey Ryabtsev (violin), Yuri Lemeshev (accordion), Thomas Gobena (bass), Pedro Erazo (percussion), Elizabeth Sun (percussion) Pamela Jintana Racine (percussion) and Oliver Francis Charles (drums) hail from countries as diverse as Ukraine, Israel, Russia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, China, and the U.S. And just like their membership, their trans-cultural music knows no borders. Bassist Thomas Gobena talks about Trans-Continental Hustle, the internationally-acclaimed collective’s fifth studio album.

What does world citizenship mean to you?

The funny thing is that before I even joined the band or met Eugene or anybody, I always subscribed to that kind of thinking. These borders are meant for something else. We’re all the same beings. And world citizenship means respecting every other culture and understanding that we’re all one at the end of the day…. It should not be the way things are done today… Everything’s political. Everything’s divided, instead of being unified.

I like the thinking of humans helping one another and moving forward. We’re a perfect example of that. We’re people that come from different parts of the world that are united together making good music. It’s sort of an idealistic way of looking at things, but I was asking myself individually if that’s the kind of thing I subscribe to and playing music helps re-affirm those thoughts. I was in Germany Sunday, Copenhagen today and tomorrow I’ll be in Sweden, and I see the same people loving the same things that I do. We’re on common ground. We see this every day and it makes things a little bit easier.

How is Trans-Continental Hustle different from Super Taranta!?

It definitely shows a lot of growth with the band. And it’s influenced with many different kinds of music. Eugene wrote most of the album while he was in Brazil so there’s that influence. There are other influences too. For example, on the song “Raise the Knowledge” there’s a part that I sing in Ethiopian and the beat is very similar to an Ethiopian beat. Things like that. So it’s very inclusive, very diverse. The musicianship is at its highest. Writing is at its highest. Performance is excellent. Production is the best in the world—you know, with Rick Rubin. With each album we seem stronger and get better.

What did producer Rick Rubin add?

Well his biggest influence is in songwriting, I think. More than anything he said there has to be a song there. For example, if I had a great bass line he said, “That’s not a song. That’s a bass line. What we need is a great song. And if that great song happens to have a bass line, that’s fine. But sometimes simplicity is the key.” And his instinct is deadly. Basically that’s a man that feels music and really trusts his instincts. And we trust his instincts because of all of the work he’s done in the past. And now we know better because he worked with us. So we follow those steps. He brings a lot when it comes to song crafting and stuff like that.

Do you have a favorite track?

“Sun On My Side” is really laid back with an acoustic introduction and a nice reggae kind of vibe. It’s just a beautiful song. And then “Immigraniada,” because of the message. And because of who we are and the energy of that song; it’s going back to the punk basics as well, so it’s great.

Your live shows give people more than they bargain for. Does the band have a philosophy about performing live?

Definitely. There’s a whole lot of thought that goes into the shows, but the underlying philosophy is to be honest musicians. We take everything that we have out there on stage. Luckily we have the most amazing audience, and they give it back to us. So that process just keeps going on and on. The rest is up to the music and the music is great.

Describe the band’s process.

Eugene might have a song idea or he might just be writing—like tonight, after a show. He might be jamming stuff that he’s been thinking about. So within that process we all bring our own opinion to it. If he’s feeling a direction he might say, “What do you think of this? What kind of bass line would you put on this?” And I’ll play something. It might work right away or it might need work in the future. Then some of the stuff he might have written and he just gives to us. We’ll take it home and put our two cents into it.

What’s the most satisfying thing about touring the world?

Being on stage. You can be exhausted, tired, passing out but when you hit the stage you have a new life until the next day.

Gogol Bordello performs at Terminal 5 in NYC on Jan. 1.