Born into a life of art, Eszter Balint has been a musician, an actor in both stage and film, and a witness to the vibrant art scene of New York since the late seventies. Known to many for her role in Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise", her deadpan performance as John Lurie's cousin Eva encapsulates a beat mentality that together with Lurie and Richard Edson create the fascinating trio that's the backbone of the film.
At the age of 10, the Squat Theatre group for which her parents were members was exiled from their native home in Hungaria after angering the authorities. Wandering through Europe and performing in abandoned spaces (hence their name), they eventually moved to New York in 1977.
With encouragement from her grandmother and mum, she took up the violin at 6 and the passion for music would foment during her teen years when the Squat Theatre's New York home would transform into a nightclub for which she would DJ. During this time, she made her recording debut playing violin on an early rap track produced by Jean Michel Basquiat and featuring rapper Rammellzee, made a cameo in Basquiat's "Downtown 81", and featured in Jim Jarmusch's classic "Stranger Than Paradise".
In the years to follow, Eszter aspired to work in film though a move to Los Angeles soon took the sheen from this endeavor and she returned to her musical roots creating music for films, forming a short-lived band with Sixteen Horsepower's Pascal Humbert, and finally returning to New York to write and record her debut album Flicker in 1998.
In addition to her musical work, she also made appearances in other films over the years, most notably Steve Buscemi's "Trees Lounge" (1996) and Woody Allen's "Shadows & Fog" (1992).
This interview was conducted shortly after the release of her latest album, Mud, in 2005 and is part of the Ramble Rocket archive. It is also significant in terms of SiouxWIRE in that Eszter was the first person for whom I requested an interview and her enthusiasm has to a great extent remained with me to this day.
SIOUXFIRE: It's kind of strange. Before getting this set of questions together, I read a lot of reviews for your albums Mud and Flicker. It's this kind of thing that makes me think I'm not listening to the same thing or I'm in an alternate reality. A lot of reviews describe your voice as harsh and the music as "heavy". (Your music is uplifting to me - Mud is like sitting in a cabin in a bayou drinking cognac by candlelight where you can smell the wood and earth, and friends are all around) What do you think about reviews and some of these descriptions they
attribute to your music?
ESZTER: Well, I'm not entirely sure we're reading the same reviews. I love the way you describe Mud, that's just fine by me, lovely in fact. Thanks. But there were a number of reviews here that did seem to hint at something similar. On Flicker I think my voice probably is a bit
harsh, harsher than it has since become, so that may be somewhat deserved. (I've worked on becoming a more relaxed singer. And still have a ways to go, it's an exciting and probably never ending process.) I don't recall reading that so much about Mud, but if the words harsh and heavy popped up, it maybe because my lyrics, musical sensibilities, and well perhaps even my vocal delivery has a bit more edge than a lot of the material these reviewers listen to within the so-called "singer-songwriter" genre. Which, for better or worse, is the context in which they're going hear me; obviously what I do is not hip hop, or a punk-rock thing. For a generally earthy, warm, somewhat rootsy, and very much song-driven record, Mud has a few harsh and maybe even heavy touches. (Honestly I am not thrilled with the word heavy, but if it means the opposite of light, well, I can live with that)