Interview – Eszter Balint

In life there are some natural impulses we just cannot deny. In fact, some are just born into art and it is a passion that burns deep inside. Migrating to the USA from Hungary as a child, Eszter Balint has spent a good portion of her life in New York City and has consumed herself in music and acting from day one. 
Taking on roles in a variety of mainstream projects as well as more underground ones, these days Balint has primarily turned her focus to music. A singer and songwriter, she has produced a list of albums through the years and in November of 2022 offers listeners her latest work, I Hate Memory! A piece of work inspired by her own life, I Hate Memory! is a delightful piece of music that will not only grab your attention, but drive your curiosity to learn more about the artist. Excited for the release of the new album, Eszter Balint recently sat down to talk about her journey, staying true to herself, writing music, plus more.  

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in the art for nearly four decades as a musician and actress. First tell us, what initially inspired you to pursue artistic ambitions?

Eszter Balint – Well, I was kind of plopped into it at first. On my dad’s side the artist gene goes back about 3 generations. My father was a poet first, then a writer and creator in the theater group I grew up in. My grandfather was a wonderful and accomplished visual artist. And his father was one of the premier intellectuals and art critics at the turn of the century in Hungary.

When I was a teen, we had all this music all around us that I absorbed day in day out, in NY, when my home was transformed into a nightclub featuring some very exciting music of the time. I also studied violin as a kid. I acted in many of the plays and then later I transitioned to doing more film work outside the theater. Throwing myself into songwriting came much later and that truly emerged out of my own solitary efforts.

All that said, none of this background guarantees you will grow into an artist, in fact most of the other kids in our theater, surrounded by the same environment, did not end up pursuing that path. If anything, seeing up close how difficult the artist’s life is, how insecure financially and how much it can take out of you, is just as likely to be a deterrent. As is having the internalized, and often judgmental voices of artist parental figures in your head.

So, to answer your question, I was certainly inspired by all that art I was fed from an early age, but at some point, it also became clear to me that this is not something I have any choice in, it’s just the way I’m wired. I have to do creative work.

Cryptic Rock – Right, in many ways artistic impulses choose us, not us them. You are a violinist, singer, and songwriter. Music and acting are two very different mediums of expression. Do you favor one form of expression more than the other, or do you equally love them both?

Eszter Balint – They are certainly different, but I’ve discovered that performing a song and performing a scene have more in common than I thought. I would say singing, writing words, and writing songs are the primary love for me. That is if you’re going to make me, choose my loves. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – It has to be hard to choose when you love creating! What is interesting is that your acting career sort of took the front seat for a while as you found success picking up roles in a list of films and television through the years. Have you always made an assertive effort to assure music was still a place you could turn and create? Furthermore, is it difficult to find time for both?

Eszter Balint – I didn’t really discover myself as a songwriter until later in life. Acting was something that I had fallen into without “pursuing” it per se at a very young age. But at some point, I really fell head over heels in love with songwriting and I steered away from acting. In part this was because the conventional path of pursuing acting work was really a soul killer, and not for me. But in part it was because I really found my truest self in music and words. So, I devoted most of my time to that.

I don’t do much acting anymore, and just about all the acting work I’ve done in my life that I care about came to me outside the normal path of a “career pursuit.” People who wanted me and who I fit with, found me. (Smiles)

So, no I would not say it’s hard to find time for both. I raised a child, so during those years of active motherhood it was definitely hard to find the time to do the art I wanted to make. That said, no creative endeavor fulfilled me more than the creative endeavor of motherhood, so it’s all cool and certainly well worth it. (Smiles) But I’m very hungry to spend a lot more of my time making stuff, since he’s flown the nest. He hasn’t totally flown yet. but I do have more time now.

Eszter Balint – Mud Album / Bar/None Records
Eszter Balint – Airless Midnight / Red Herring Records

Cryptic Rock – Understood. Being a parent is perhaps the biggest change in one’s life, and those who want to be parents, completely devote all of themselves to the task.

Let’s talk more about you some more. You have a very interesting background. You spent most of your life in America, but are an immigrant from Hungary. You were very young at the time you migrated to the US, but what do you remember of communist Hungary? This in mind, what did it teach you as you grew into yourself as a person in American culture?

Eszter Balint – I was 10 when I left Hungary, so I remember quite a lot. My father and his collaborators of theater makers were considered a quasi-sort of enemy of the state entity, which sounds almost funny since they were making performance art/theater, not revolution. And the work was not even particularly overtly political. However, it didn’t follow any established conventions, it was wild and free; this in itself was considered a radical act.

This spirit of creative freedom I was surrounded by was a huge influence on me as I grew into an adult. I think I also had a very strong connection, even as a child, to the idea of like-minded, unconventional creative people forming a community… a sort of tribe. I’m still always striving to be a part of a community like that, and to some degree I think I am. I believe this is probably not so particular to Hungary or America though; it’s a fairly universal phenomenon, right?

But if you mean your question in a more overtly political sense, well I just despised the communist regime, even as a kid. And it has struck me recently that my severe allergy to dogmatic thought and to politics with an ideologue’s bent stems from that background, perhaps.

After Hungary, American culture felt like a huge breath of fresh air, but obviously with time and as I grew up from my illusions, its own terrible flaws quickly became ever more apparent. Never more so than in the recent past.

Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. It sounds like you have a very balanced view of life and one that is based in reality, even as an artistic spirit!

Let’s talk about your music now. Your style is a unique mix. You can hear Alternative Rock, Folk, Jazz, among other styles in it. How would you describe your musical style?

Eszter Balint – I’m so happy I’m not in charge of having to describe it. (Laughs) I am just not sure; I like many different kinds and flavors of music. I think there is a consistency of a certain simplicity though, that I lean towards. And I like grooves, and riffs, but also flow with memorable melodies.

I tend to prefer a raw-ish earthy sound by and large to a polished sound, for sure. Blues, Country, Folk leanings were always there. But so is a bit of your face Punk attitude. I’m a very lyrically driven songwriter, who refuses to follow strict rules of any musical genre, I just have to serve the story, the words. But I definitely have sounds I gravitate towards. Apologies, that wasn’t a very good description.

Cryptic Rock – No, it was a perfect description; you focus solely on the songs themselves and not on what box someone would like them to fit in just to sell them. You recently released your fourth album I Hate Memory! So, where did the concept for this new album come from?

Eszter Balint – It came from a meeting I had with the brilliant songwriter and director/creator, Stew. We wanted to work on something together, and he suggested, much to my utter horror, my life story. He thought I had a worthwhile story to tell, as a witness to such an exciting and special time in NY. A participant, even!

Then Stew and I had a lot of productive conversations about my experiences growing up in NY and I started thinking a lot and taking notes. There were a few moments that stood out, perhaps because of a strong visual or emotional component, as building blocks which could form the basis for the larger arc and fir the individual songs. These memories are somewhat random, but collectively they form the larger story of a young girl growing up in this extraordinary world, with, it turns out, a lot of ordinary human concerns.

In reality it isn’t my life story at all, of course. At least it’s not how I see it. It’s from my perspective, but it is laying out a kind of emotional reportage, an oral history.

Cryptic Rock – That is really cool. So, from within you recollecting your life creativity just flowed out. There are a lot of delicate details within each song on this new album. Something like this can almost be lost on today’s short-attention spanned culture. Was it important for you to create something that enticed and required people to stop and actually let something sink in?

Eszter Balint – I like that, delicate details, thank you. This is just the way I write. I do think there are a lot of people who are getting bored of the fast-paced short attention span diet, actually. I think they are longing for something deeper. I am not sure it was an agenda, it’s just me. I just don’t know how else to tell a story. And yes, this album is a story album.

Eszter Balint – I Hate Memory! Album / Red Herring Records

Cryptic Rock –And it will find an audience because of such factors. Speaking of the details of the album, there are a good number of collaborations with other musicians here as well. How did you go about selecting who you wanted to play on the album and what was it like working with them?

Eszter Balint – I had been working on the live version of the show when the pandemic hit. So, the amazing musicians who had been working on it with me were all on the record (Marlon Cherry, Brian Geltner, Kato Hideki – who also co-produced – and David Nagler.) We also brought Stew in as he was an important collaborator on the origin of this project, not to mention he co-wrote most of the songs, so I wanted his presence on the record.

My long-time Guitarist Chris Cochrane also joined. He’s played on all of my records. And finally, we brought Jeff Hermanson in on trumpet which adds so much, and the wonderful Syd Straw. She sang “The First Day” with me live, at a performance, and offered to record it. I couldn’t be happier with the collection of awesome musicians/contributors on this album.

Cryptic Rock –It all works very well and just adds to the mood of the music. With the new album out now, will your focus be on the music for the foreseeable future, or do you have any film/television projects coming up that you will be a part of? If so, what can you tell us about them?

Eszter Balint – Well the show that I’m developing around this set of songs is actually more than just music, it’s pretty ambitious. I wrote this whole long performance and my Director Lucy Sexton and I will be doing it at Joe’s Pub in NYC during Under the Radar on Jan 19th; with a full cast and band. We hope to expand this into a bigger theatrical production. There is some acting in there by the cast, me too, and actually I think this project has the potential for a film too.

Other than that, I don’t have any acting lined up, and am not really in that world in the conventional sense; I don’t have an agent, etc. But if I’m asked to do something in the right project, I’m open. Lately I’ve had a very full plate with this show and album and all the aspects of doing both.

Cryptic Rock – The show sounds really great and hopefully it is something that can grow into more performances.

Those who are familiar with your career are aware you have starred in various television series and films. One of your earliest roles was back in 1985 when you portrayed a young mother named Dorothy Bain in the episode Buddies in the season 2 of Miami Vice. To be honest, this episode is a fan-favorite for many Miami Vice lovers. The most popular television show on the air at the time, what was that experience like for you as a young actress?

Eszter Balint – Wow honestly, I had no idea this was a fan-favorite. (Laughs) It was actually a bit of an odd experience for me. I felt out of my natural element and hated Miami. (Laughs) As cool and hip as this show was considered at the time, the director on this particular episode was actually a very traditional and conventional pro TV director. Very nice guy, and super-seasoned, we didn’t have any conflict, but I don’t think we really got each other.

I talk in my show about how after I started acting in more traditional projects. I felt like “a crooked puzzle trying to fit into the wrong jigsaw.” Now that you mention it, this Miami Vice experience was exactly like that for me, at the time.

Stranger Than Paradise Movie Poster/ Samuel Goldwyn 
Miami Vice DVD Art/ NBC

Cryptic Rock – It is interesting to hear that, and now you know fans of the series really enjoy that episode! Last question. On Cryptic Rock we cover a broad range of films, but do have a concentration in Horror and Sci-Fi films. Are you a fan of either genre, and if so, do you have any favorites in these genres?

Eszter Balint – Definitely a huge fan of so many films in either genre. Probably Horror more than Sci-Fi… especially the ones with a strong human psychological component. I’m not going to surprise you. All the old classics for sure – The Exorcist (1973), and Kubrick checks both boxes with The Shining (1980) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Alien (1979) checks both boxes too. Psycho (1960), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Don’t Look Now (1973)… and so on.

I really loved that Sci-Fi film some years back, Under the Skin (2013). I am a big fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Is Vampire’s Kiss (1988) Horror or Comedy? Anyway, I loved it. There are so many, I could go on and on. Doubt I can name a single favorite. But if I had to, at the risk of being very unoriginal, it would probably have to be The Shining.

For more on Eszter Balint: | Instagram 

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