When Eugene Hütz was a kid, he thought the euphoric feeling he got from running was simply “magic.”
Hütz, frontman for gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, eventually became aware that it was his endorphins making him feel all tingly. Ever since he got that first rush, he’s spent his whole life staying physical to mimic it. From sprinting around on stage during performances to running as a youth on champion level teams in Kiev, Ukraine, Hütz doesn’t stop moving.
After the release of his seventh album with the band, Seekers and Finders, Hütz went deep about how long distance running, martial arts, and the non-stop spirit of rock ‘n’ roll have informed his life thus far.
What are your earliest memories of running?
At five or six just running at home in Kiev and listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys. I just knew this music and moving was making me feel good. I thought it was magic.
Were you running alone or did you join an organization?
Eventually, when I got toward my teens I was on a running team. We won three Kiev city championships. It was about 12 girls and five or six guys. I became their spiritual guru.
Oh, please explain.
Every summer we’d go to a sport camp that was up in some mountains. It was very isolated, the food came from the villagers and the only adults were the two female coaches. I corrupted the team pretty much. I rolled up tea into paper to make cigarettes and brought some juice that had fermented for 10 days and we had a party. I just wanted to impress the hell out of the female portion of the team. It was mostly me talking about Jim Morrison and them smoking tea and drinking fermented juice. My popularity skyrocketed!
Did you ever get caught?
Never. We just waited until the coaches went back to sleep and we’d sneak out. It was the beginning of my unorthodox athletic lifestyle.
What do you mean unorthodox?
I’m not a proper athlete of any kind. Back then when I was a kid, basically, there was a chance I could become a professional runner. So, my activities were split between athletics and music 50/50 for a number of years. But when I was 12 to 15 I started playing music and noticing I could get high off of pumping the endorphins in my body. Even as a teenager I knew this wasn’t the only way to get high [laughs].
Even though I experimented within all of those dimensions, I kind of noticed that being on stage when I was 15 years old, I could whip myself into a frenzy and be relentless. This would pump those same feelings that running would always give to me.
So you made a decision to focus strictly on music as a profession and way to get that natural high?
In Europe it was kind of frowned upon to do anything decadent and poetic as well as athletics. Therefore, I sort of started to hide my athletic side. It was once I moved to the United States that there were people kind of occupying that space. I would see figures like Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins where they were being incredibly physical. Even if I didn’t immerse myself in those scenes I saw the athletic side and musical side come together.
I looked around and thought that really made me feel at home so I kind of developed my own idea of what those guys were doing. I wanted to take their tools and tell stories like Johnny Cash and perform with the intensity of Iggy Pop. That became my personal mantra.
You’re currently in New York, but have lived all over the world. Have any of these locations inspired your personal performance and active lifestyle?
When I lived in Brazil I got really into Qigong, which is an advanced form of kung fu body conditioning. I basically started it to save my shoulder. I had been practicing Mo-ichido, but after a couple of whiplashes I decided to stop experimenting with that. It was basically like, keep doing ichido and mess up my shoulder and not be able to play guitar. I chose guitar.
What drew you to martial arts?
It has always been running parallel to my life. Since I was kid I always had close fiends who were martial arts fanatics like I was a music fanatic. They’d come over to my house to hear rock music and I’d go to their house for martial arts. We’d feed each other different information. Anything but Soviet fucking crap!
The discipline of that world really appeals to me. For a number of years it was a very strong element of my personal life and I turned most of the band on to it. It kind of resulted into this program we had on stage called MMMA, Musical Mixed Martial Arts.
Are you still doing any long distance running these days?
I really don’t. I cover almost 10 miles on stage every time I perform. I just feel like it’s unnecessary for me personally to do more [laughs]. When I get off tour it depends on where I’m living. My physicality can always take one form or another. I don’t have a regimen. I can fall back into doing Qigong or I’ll just run out into nature and climb some trees.
Since you spent a large part of your childhood running long distance, is there anything you miss about it?
I think the long hours of running by myself, just spending all that time alone showed me the condition of dwelling within. That can be quite intense. You learn a lot about yourself being in the trance of running for hours.
Was that trance something you enjoyed slipping into?
Did I like it? I’m not sure. It was just always something I could challenge myself with. It was a way to see what my physical limits were.
Do you get that feeling onstage, like pushing yourself to the physical limit?
The stage is just a prime zone for me to experiment now. It’s like being on a playground instead of running in a forest. The real key thing that kept me running on the teams back then were the girls. I had just immersed myself into this world to impress all these girls.
Perhaps that’s the biggest drive behind my whole career.