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INTERVIEW: Eszter Balint

INTERVIEW: Eszter Balint

By: Morgan Y. Evans
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Eszter Balint's Airless Midnight is a beautiful record, as comfortable as the warmth of an old friend who you don't mind keeping company with but also with a sort of isolation perhaps many singer/songwriters share, in that it is a window into one person's experiences.

The musician and actress spoke to Spacelab about her experiences making this great 2015 gem that should be on your radar if it isn't yet.

 



1.The song titles all evoke sort of a lonely feeling. Was that intentional or sort of accumulated emotion?

It was neither exactly planned nor accidental. Many of the songs were inspired by my father’s passing and the specific, very lonely circumstances around that. Loneliness on some level is something that’s easy enough to identify with, have empathy and compassion for, it is one of the universal human conditions and emotions after all, isn’t it. So it’s a substantive and interesting and rich preoccupation, in that sense. I’ve heard it said that there is really only one essential thing, theme, idea, that a writer writes about all the time in different iterations. I think there is some truth to that, and for me, if I review my writings, it does seem to be this preoccupation  with this question of internal existential, essential loneliness, and the frailty of connections, and so on… It’s not because I consciously decided I want to write about these things, just because it’s something you can’t really avoid. I am interested in going deep into things - I really hope this doesn’t sound pretentious. And if you go deep enough, you are going to eventually bump into this little issue. Sorry, no way around this one,  you know?

2. You're very talented and play many instruments. Was there one as a child that was your primary and then you branched out or was it always several at once?


Thank you. You are so kind. But I think my ability to play many instruments has been overstated lately. Honestly I am a violinist and singer, mainly, that’s pretty much it I’d say I am getting  a little better with time on guitar, in my own completely idiosyncratic and extremely limited fashion. I can find my way around a keyboard instrument - that’s about it. I”m not really a super accomplished expert at anything - not even the violin, which is the instrument I have most command over.  I have a good set of ears.  I catch on to melodies pretty quickly and easily, and when I hear things in my head that I come up with, I can replicate what I hear with some facility. I write 95% of my songs on the guitar.

3. The album title Airless Midnight sounds suffocating, in a sense. But also reminds me of letting go. Or even holding onto the little breath you have when all seems lost. Is that too dark an interpretation? I am mainly a metal blogger, haha.

I like the idea of letting go you mention. That’s maybe a little more in tune with how I sense the title myself. It just came to me, after many weeks if not months of being literally suffocated - no pun intended - by the effort it took to find a fitting title. Now this wasn’t by design, but if I had to assign a meaning to it, I would say there is a crispness, sharpness, an undiffused quality that is evoked by that title and perhaps that’s why it felt right. It’s not a willy nilly collection of songs but each one taps into  stories with some sharp essence.  That’s more what comes to me,  than the claustrophobia you mention. There is a line in the last song that captures what I'm talking about: ”It’s good to step outside, where the bright reflection from stars cuts through the flesh, you’re alive and raw.” It’s kind of like that. Even in pain, there is something beautiful when it’s sort of pure. It’s real. But this is not something premeditated, analyzed, planned, as I said.

4.How have your experiences been with Pledge Music as a way to reach fans and source projects?

Mixed. The people at Pledge Music were lovely and helpful, specifically the person assigned to oversee my specific project was just wonderful,  easy to work with and bright. And of course the people who supported the project through Pledge are very dear to me, thank you! There is simply no other way I would have been able to make this particular record, and I’m very happy I made this particular record.

That said, the whole formula and process is something I never got comfortable with and I’m not sure I can repeat. There are simply too many roles that you as an artist are expected to take on. I’m a solo artist. not a band, so it’s all on me; I can’t delegate. I had to be cheerleader, fundraiser, video update poster, PR person, and so on - all the while doing the hard creative work of writing and recording my songs, and doing the hundreds of practical things that making a record entails. It’s not just the immense time and energy demands: what was even more challenging to me personally is the switching of gears. It’s simply too many different hats to wear. And if there are two things I”m not great at - or maybe it’s the same one - it’s asking people for things,  and promoting myself. So I never developed any ease with the process.

5. Is it hard when you are used to acting to switch to music, which is in some senses a more "honest" medium if you are just pouring out your own feelings via sound? I only mean that in the sense that in acting you can at times be married to a script or a certain characters allowed range of experience.

Well the question should be reversed because I do a lot more music nowadays, so when I did Louie it was very interesting and challenging to switch back to acting after so long. But to backtrack - and I mean a long ways back -  to when I first switched to singing from acting, I would say yes,  that is a very legitimate question, it WAS hard, indeed. Although my acting background and style  always had a striving for a fundamental honesty and authenticity, there is still some protective framework, because it’s a role, and someone else’s creation. Singing my own songs, wow, that was raw and naked and extremely scary. Some of that never goes away. Returning to acting recently, I felt like I could draw on my live performance skills, of  being real, diving deep into a song, delivering a story and character (in the song) all these things were actually helpful to acting. This  was a tremendous relief, because I’d been away from acting for a long time and was not at all sure I could pull it off -  but finding some parallels really helped me. I’m interested in letting the two mediums inform each other.

6. How was your working process with JD Foster recording the record?

Really easy this time, and great, I would say. Maybe he would disagree (insert laughter emoji here.) Not that it was hard before, I returned because it had worked well previously, obviously. But I think I may have been a bit more chill this time around, having more faith in my songs and just being an all around more confident artist. I had a sense that he appreciated the songs, and this made it fun for him, and fun for me. There was a mutual trust. And when something needed to be reassessed, he was game and a very good listener.

7. How much faith does it take when working with someone whose reputation proceeds them like Swans, or when doing something like Airless Midnight where you know you feel strongly about making a statement from the heart resonate in the studio?

Well they both require different ways of having immense faith in yourself, which is the hardest thing. It’s a constant struggle, but an interesting one. And it’s a long view kind of game. Maybe I eek out a millimeter more faith every ten years, if you could measure it.  I love how slow the process is, and how because of this you appreciate every droplet like it’s liquid gold. It’s a real test of patience, a life’s work kind of project, to cultivate the faith in yourself ; whether it’s to deliver for a great artist like Michael Gira, or to deliver something I’ve created for my listeners and peers, something that I can proudly stand behind. And faith isn’t this absolute thing, like “Oh now I got it” The minute you try to pin it down it’s like a puff of air that vanishes. The patience required to eek out any gain is so antithetical to the fast food instant gratification / rewards culture in every other aspect of life; I love it for this reason. Even though it can be quite painful, it is somehow also an immensely interesting and even joyous process in the long run.

 

 
 
 
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