This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here
The Successful Failures
By Gary Wien
originally published: 11/22/2017
Long before The Successful Failures were even a band, lead singer Mick Chorba had them in mind. You could almost say he willed them into existence.
At the time (late 1990s), Chorba was fronting The Dipsomaniacs, a popular indie rock band that was often compared to The Replacements. He found himself writing a bunch of songs in a more alt-country style than the band’s normal sound. One of the songs was a story about a guy who had a band called The Successful Failures. It was a bit of a nod to the indie rock lifestyle that had failed to make him famous and an ode to a Jack London short story.
Years later when he sought a side project for tunes that didn’t seem to fit, he created the band for real. For a few years, both bands were around and releasing albums. When The Dipsomaniacs finally called it quits after more than a decade, The Successful Failures became his only band.
The Successful Failures are now into their second decade as well putting Chorba in that rare category of artists with more than one band to last a decade or more. Considering how hard it is for any band to survive 5 years, much less 10, to have two bands make it that long is quite an accomplishment. He’s been with The Successful Failures for so long it is no longer his current band, it’s just his band. And the period with his former band seems a bit like music from a different era and even a different artist.
When asked why he didn’t just become a solo artist he explains, “I like being in a band. I like the camaraderie of it. I do some solo stuff, but I never follow through on finishing it. Somehow or another I lose steam with it. I find it’s more interesting to hear what someone else will contribute.”
The article continues after this ad
His bandmates include Ron Bechamps on bass, Rob Martin on drums, and Pete Smith on guitar. Based out of Chesterfield, NJ in Burlington County, The Successful Failures recently released their latest album, Ichor of Nettle. It’s not only another strong release by the band, but one that bridges the gap between the different styles of Chorba’s two bands.
It’s been so long since The Dipsomaniacs broke up that Chorba no longer has to consciously try to sound different. He can just write songs as he wants to write songs. So this album sounds closer to a blend of the two bands as any of their prior releases. Songs like “Misguiding Light” and “When Did Everybody Grow Up” remind me of Dipsos songs while tunes like “Sam Houston” and “The Shit That Weighs You Down” lean more to the Successful Failures side. The end result is a record that showcases the best of Chorba’s songwriting and its wide range.
Chorba says that in the beginning he was trying to write the songs in a specific way, but no longer feels the need to do so. He started out with songs that didn’t fit with the Dipsos style - songs that were too alt-country or too pop sounding would be steered to The Successful Failures. “But now the songs are whatever I’m writing and whatever fits with the band.”
Ichor of Nettle is another wonderful release from a guy who has been one of the Garden State best songwriters for decades. He’s had a knack for writing great songs with the spirit and energy of Paul Westerberg, the classic wordplay of Elvis Costello, and music that would not be out of place on an album by Wilco. The latter is perhaps the greatest addition to come about with The Successful Failures. While The Dipsomaniacs may have been tied into a certain power punk sound, The Successful Failures have a bit more room to play with. And on the latest album they take full advantage of it.
The record has songs that utilize the band’s alt-country sounds and harmonies and songs that completely rock out. If you listen to the album from beginning to end, you can imagine the fun they must have had in the studio. Nothing seems forced; the band just moves from one style to another effortlessly. The one constant is strong lyrics.
“I try to listen to good writers to not get lazy with lyrics,” said Chorba. “Westerberg does the same sort of word twists and fun with language as Costello does.”
Chorba has a lot in common with Elvis Costello and Paul Westerberg. Throughout his career, he’s been a prolific songwriter like Costello - generally putting out a full album every other year or so. And he’s begun releasing tracks online under a pseudonym (Timothy Hay)as Westerberg does.
The latest release contains 16 tracks, but could easily have included more. The album was delayed because the band was halfway through the project when Rob Martin hurt his shoulder and needed surgery. During the break, Chorba wrote a few more songs and the band decided to record some of them. Ironically, the album is so packed with material that fans keep telling him they’ve recently “discovered” new songs they like on the record.
“Someone told me about a middle track song,” recalled Chorba. “He said, ‘I just discovered this track. I’ve been listening to the album a lot but I was really focused on the beginning and the end. I finally got into the middle area and I love this song. There’s just too many songs!’ I’m like, ‘You’re right, there’s too many songs!’”
One thing you will rarely see Chorba write songs about is politics. Even in such political times as we find ourselves in today, he tends to steer away from writing overtly political tunes. It’s not that he worries about offending anyone or losing an audience, it’s just that he prefers writing songs that tell stories. He thinks the stories can do more to help change perceptions than anything, although he has penned songs like “Letting The Terrorists Win” on occasion.
If you see The Successful Failures live you might hear mini sets by The Beatles or Johnny Cash in addition to their originals, but you won’t hear songs by Chorba’s former band. That band consisted of different musicians and a different identity. In a strange but real way, playing those songs would almost be like cheating on his band. But you will probably hear the band rock out harder on stage than on record - just like The Dipsos used to do.
“When you’re playing live it’s kind of fun to just bash it out,” admitted Chorba. “I always think I’m writing these folk songs or concentrating on the lyrics, but when you’re in the room with the drummer you want to play rock and roll.”
Some things never change. He might be older, might be wiser, but he’s still a rock and roller at heart.
Mungion To Perform At The Stone Pony (ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- Since their inception in the Spring of 2015, Mungion (pronounced mung-yin) has quickly made a name for themselves as one of the rising stars of the jam scene. The band will open a pair of shows for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park on January 24-25.MPAC Presents Disney's DCappella Live! (MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- Disney's highly acclaimed a cappella group, DCappella comes to Mayo Performing Arts Center on Friday, February 15 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $39-$89.Leonia Chamber Musicians Society to Present Benefit Concert for Leonia High School Music Department (LEONIA, NJ) -- The Leonia Chamber Musicians Society, Inc., a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization based in Leonia, New Jersey, presents "Our Hearts in Music", a benefit concert, on Sunday, February 10 at 4:00pm at Leonia High School’s Little Theater, located at 100 Christie Heights in Leonia, New Jersey.The Newton Theatre Presents Ruben Studdard (NEWTON, NJ) -- Ruben Studdard, the Grammy-nominated R&B, gospel and pop singer was the winner of American Idol’s second season. He has recorded six studio albums, appears frequently on tv, toured extensively and has sold over two million albums worldwide. Studdard officially confirmed that he will be releasing RUBEN SINGS LUTHER to his musical hero Luther Vandross on March 16th and will be launching a 25 city ‘Always and Forever Tour’ starting in Sacramento, California on April 8th. Locally, he will perform at the Newton Theatre on Friday, March 29 at 8:00pm.Bill Frisell To Headline the 8th Les Paul Festival Concert at Ramapo College (MAHWAH, NJ) -- Guitarist Bill Frisell will headline the Les Paul Festival Concert on Saturday night, February 16 in the Sharp Theater at Ramapo College. Often hailed as one of the most distinctive and original improvising guitarists of our time, Frisell’s career as a guitarist and composer has spanned more than 35 years and 250 recordings, including 40 of his own.
The Empire Strikes Back in Concert with the NJSO LIVE! at the State Theatre Some of our favorite childhood memories growing up at the Jersey Shore involved going to our town’s grand old movie palace, The Community Theater, in Toms River. Built with colonial architecture and featuring large white columns in the front, paned glass windows in the lobby, a circular brick walk from the sidewalk to the box office, and a white picket fence which enclosed a lawn and a flower bed, this local gem presented the latest Hollywood films. For kids like us back in the 1960’s, that meant pictures like Mary Poppins, Cinderella, The Love Bug, and Flipper.Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes At Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme This coming Sunday, January 20, Scott Wolfson and his band will be serving up their unique blend of Americana at the Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme series at Investors Bank Theater in Succasunna, New Jersey. The band – Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes – formed in Jersey City in 2011, and, even though the members have migrated in various directions since then, they still consider themselves to be a Jersey City band."He Totally Wowed Us!" John Oates LIVE! at SOPAC It’s brisk for an evening walk on South Orange Ave. in South Orange, NJ, this Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 evening, but it’s a good road to follow as it leads us directly to the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) for a special performance by singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Oates and his backup group, The Good Road Band.“Tons of Fun!” The Glenn Miller Orchestra LIVE! at the Grunin Center Although Friday, December 21, 2018 is the shortest day of the year, the audience of big band music lovers here at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts is hoping for a long evening of classic swing and holiday tunes performed by the incomparable Glenn Miller Orchestra!Mike Davis and The New Wonders Mike Davis traces his love for the trumpet back to a Disney movie.
He grew up in a musical family, with both his parents playing strings in the Seattle Symphony. But Davis wanted an instrument of his own.
Then, at age 9, he saw “The Aristocats,” the animated film about a bunch of French felines — including a group of jazz-playing alley cats.
Event calendar Tuesday, Jan 22, 2019
Sorry, no events listed for today. Here are some upcoming events.