At a DIY venue, which will remain un-named and mysteriously located, I went to see Dolly Spartans‘ home-coming show from their two-week long romp across a cluster of Northeastern states. Having been to many a DIY venue before, the first initial surprise was the outstanding environment that Dolly would be playing in. Good space, good sound design of the room – it was someone’s recording studio – and good people to potentially get to know. One downside was the room was the temperature, due to the volume of people, but the door I stood next to led out to a great roof deck on which one could cool off.
After the opening acts, Laszlo and the Hidden Strength was introduced, consisting of Laszlo Horvath on vocals and guitar, Justin Fossela on drums, Max Beirne-Schafer on bass, and Ben Cohen on saxophone and keyboard. When Laszlo introduced himself and the band as new, and some songs unpracticed, it would normally send a rush of unease through any DIY show-goer, but I could tell by the posturing of the band and the experience of some of the members I recognized that they definitely knew what they were doing.
And yeah, they did. Laszlo and the Hidden Strength’s performance was – bar none – one of the best DIY (or not) performances I’d seen. Laszlo’s melodies and guitar work were stellar, and when the sax would drop in to harmonize with the notes that Laszlo was hollerin’, dear lord, it sent chills up my spine. The post-punky grooves were as tight and funky as any band I’d seen. Being that they were a new act, it really was a thrill to see that kind of confidence and assuredness.
After their set, I quickly snuck behind Laszlo to give him the quintessential DIY-ian greeting: “Good set, man.” Since the Hidden Strength was a new band, I wanted to see what the fuck was up, so I quickly swapped info with (the very kind) Laszlo to get an interview, and a week later I gave him a call to get the low-down.
Laszlo Horvath, the frontman and songwriter for Laszlo and the Hidden Strength, is a 22-year-old student of video art and painting. Having been born and raised in the financial district of Manhattan, he’s been part of several different music scenes that have grown and died. One of Laszlo’s first bands, Yabadum, began releasing records in 2014 before ending in 2017. Laszlo honed a large amount of the skills he now brings to the table with Hidden Strength through the four-piece pop band, and boasts a seriously sizable and impressive body of work with the group (author’s note: check out their 2014 release, Careful Kid.)
His brother is also the creative mind behind the forthcoming Dreamworks animated movie called UglyDolls, so…yeah.
How was living in New York City and pursuing music?
Growing up in the city definitely had a huge effect on who I am now. There’s stuff always going on, people always around you, so it’s hard for me to be bored by it even now. But going to shows and playing in them had a huge impact on my social and musical experience through high school.
How did those experiences affect your approach to bands and making music?
I think it really informed how I look at bands as sort of family units. With Hidden Strength, we haven’t known each for that long [6 months], so there aren’t toes to step on, and we feel really comfy around each other. It also definitely cemented my love of the classic sort of bass, drums, guitar, vocals unit that we have going with the Hidden Strength. With this project, I want to keep exploring the musical stuff I like: changing tempos, keys, rhythms, keeping the listener on their toes, stuff like that. But genre-wise I see Hidden Strength as a continuation of post-punk. But I also don’t want it to be strictly beholden to that.
What acts inspire(d) you?
Probably Big Black, Ambitious Lovers, Fall Out Boy, early Dirty Projectors, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. I take a lot of inspiration through their production techniques: being able to hear what every instrument is doing in a recording, stuff that’s richly textured, layered.
You said you want to keep the listener on their toes; how much do you care about the experience of the audience at live shows?
We want to put on good shows. Playing music is exciting when it’s good and the people listening feel the need to watch, so we try for that.
Is there sort of a ‘mastermind’ behind the Laszlo and the Hidden Strength?
I don’t know about “mastermind,” but I write the songs and most of the ideas going into our music. If someone in the band has an idea for some parts, I let them go for it.
Do you feel like that sort of model is good for bands nowadays? It seems pretty prevalent. [See Tame Impala, Wild Nothings, War on Drugs]
I think it’s good to have a sort of tyrannical voice to get things done and avoid indecision and arguments. I think an absolute democracy in a band hard to imagine, but if the feeling’s right, everyone involved usually gets something out of it, and we just try to go off of momentum. Hopefully we focus more on getting high and emo off playing rather than arguing about small things.
But on the naming thing, I think it’s also a little bit of a different message you send when you use your own name. I think it shifts a bit of the focus on who you are as a person, and if you have a lamer kind of name it doesn’t work either [chuckles]. The curated band name kind of gives more control as the kind of vibe you want to communicate with the project.
Laszlo Horvath sounds pretty cool though
[chuckles] Thanks, well, I guess I got the first name in there. But the Hidden Strength part was Justin’s idea.
What do you see for the future of the band?
I want to take over the East Coast first [chuckles], but in the meantime we’ve been working on our first LP coming up. It’s all recorded, so with any spare time I have between class, I get to mixing. But in general, yeah, play a lot of live shows, keep recording, writing.
Okay, thanks for doing this, Laszlo!