The Successful Failures
THE SUCCESSFUL FAILURES BIO (2015)
No Depression magazine dubbed The Successful Failures as “one of the hardiest and most prolific outfits on the planet” playing “instantly infectious melodies that tread the line between power pop and Americana without wholly committing to either”. With a name borrowed from a Jack London short story and an indie rock work ethic The Successful Failures burst onto the scene out of the NJ pinelands in 2006. TSF has released 5 full length albums full of songs about vikings, armadillos, old cars, murder, prison, fences, and girls. The band continues to showcase their versatility, seamlessly marrying power-pop, garage-rock, classic country and un-affected rock n roll with roots-inflected rock and winsome, harmonic, pop. The band has shared the stage with Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Jeff Tweedy, Deer Tick, Dr. Dog, Strand of Oaks, JD McPherson, and many many more. Most of all, the band’s infectious energy and love for what they do shines through in every live performance. One fan put it this way, “SF could play on a small raft heading over the falls and still have a blast and crank out best tunes this side of the Milky Way.” In the winter of 2015-2016 The Successful Failures will break from live performance to record their 6th studio album, then tour in 2016 to support the new effort.
The Successful Failures–Captains of Industry, Captains of War (FDR).
The finest pleasure for music fans is to watch great bands get even better, and Chesterfield, NJ’s The Successful Failures have perfected their already deeply respectable/respected craft on their new fifth LP,Captains of Industry, Captains of War (FDR). All their formidable strengths have been streamlined and crystalized on Captains; already one of the most dependable, refreshingly honest and smart rock ‘n’ roll bands in the U.S., they still seamlessly mix melodic classic power-pop, garage rock, and ageless rock ’n’ roll with more roots-inflected rock and winsome, harmonic pop. Now with Captains, they’ve arrived at a place of timelessness, not unlike Pleased to Meet Me-era Replacements, Cheap Trick (note Captains’ “O Carolina” nods to their 1977 In Color killer, “O Caroline”), and Superdrag—whose drummer, Don Coffee Jr., once produced them—or contemporary Teenage Fanclub, Sloan, and Nada Surf.
Like such stalwarts, listening to Captains, you don’t know what’s best: singer/guitarist/songwriter/FDR Records head/former Dipsomaniacs leader Mick Chorba’s stubborn, gripping hooks and thoughtful-as-ever lyrics, or the trio’s insistent yet smooth attack. Like 2012’s Here I Am, Chorba caresses or stomps out sticky, lashing licks on his guitar, bolstered by Ron Bechamps supple bass (and cool vocal harmonies) and Rob Martin’s powerful pounding. Pleasantly, they sprinkle in acoustic-built gems such as the elegiac, quietly heartbreaking, piano-fed “Falling Out” and “Meal Parade” alongside sublime guitar rockers such as “Stagger Lee” (an original twist on the wicked protagonist of the 19th Century folk/R&B classic associated with Mississippi John Hurt, Woody Guthrie, Lloyd Price, and Wilson Pickett, with a prominent reference to a 1969 Neil Young LP), “Sunny,” and the evocative—of another American folklore archetype—“John Henry.”
Formed in 2005 and named for a 1901 Jack London short story, Minions of Midas, it’s significant that like The Replacements’ Pleased, Captains sees The Successful Failures slimmed down from a quartet to their initial threesome. Second guitarist John Williams “had to leave to open a running store,” explains Chorba,” bringing them “back to the original roots: a collection of songs I wrote that is band arranged. We wanted it to be an up-tempo rock ’n’ roll record,” he remembers. “I write a lot of songs, and some are more on the alt.country side, but we were picking through the ones that Rob could bash around a bit.”
“There still are a few in-between tracks,’ he allows. “But it’s a guitar record. We record live, no click track, so it has the right energy, at our studio FDR studio C. And after every best take, Rob would stand up and say, “F-ing rock,” and we’d know it was the one—you can even hear that once on the album.”
Meanwhile, fans will note something familiar about “O Carolina.” “Right, that’s a continuation of ‘Carolina (I’m in Love With You),’ a song on [2007 second LP] Ripe For the Burning, The earlier song was a guy in prison that married, based on a real story. And in this new one, he realizes she’s double-crossed him.” Likewise, in literary-minded Chorba fashion, “’Milwaukee’ is “written from the point of view of Pip from [Charles Dickens’ 1860 landmark] Great Expectations,” which he teaches as a New Jersey High School English teacher. “A lot of the songs are about someone setting off on a journey, he continues. “For instance, ‘Hit the Ground Running’ is about turtles racing to the ocean, a metaphor for starting out your own adventure in life, while all sorts of predators are trying to get you… It’s the only song I’ve ever written from the point of view of a turtle,” he laughs.
In addition to their new EP, Pine Hill showing their range by convincingly covering Old Crow Medicine Show, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams Sr., The Successful Failures often do special acoustic shows that include covers of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Irish folk. Clearly they can do it all, with spirit, intelligence, determination, and sneaky power—and Captains is their finest statement of purpose to date.
—Jack Rabid, editor and publisher, The Big Takeover Magazine
The band’s newest album, Here I Am, gets you smiling immediately with the sly wordplay of How People Start Sentences. The cleverness continues throughout — I certainly never thought I’d be humming a song called The Rise of China. And just try to remove the addictive opening chant of Pig Tight Cattle High from your brain after the first listen.
Here I Am, like the Successful Failures previous efforts, is a near perfect blend of Replacements-inspired rock, some alt-country leanings (see Clifton Mills), and crunchy melodies that never lose their timelessness. It’s feel-good music. Go ahead and listen. “ Fresh Droppings: The Successful Failures — Here I Am APRIL 27, 2012 BY JEREMY ZUCKER
“With Trenton’s Dipsomaniacs on extended hiatus, Mick Chorba’s “other band” has become his priority, and they’re even better. They replicate the Dips’ energy and melodic thrust, but the ‘Failures third LP again indulges a wider scope. Three opens with folk-pop, takes three more valid excursions into country-rock shakers (“College Scholarship Blues,” “All You Had,” “Any Ol’ Thing”), and kicks ass on a harmonica-blazing rave-up, “Scream”—reminding oldsters of that forgotten word “repertoire.” Beyond that, proving that 2007’s cheekily-titled Ripe for the Burning was no fluke, Three is another sweet treat for lovers of recent Sloan, Pleased to Meet Me Replacements, Matthew Sweet, Velvet Crush, Mike Ness, and Cheap Trick (whose “Surrender” lyric “Got my Kiss records out” is referenced cleverly on “Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem”). Besides, the ensemble’s arrangements (piano a plus) and harmonies allow for lighter touches to tickle backgrounds, even while one falls anew for the band’s bread ‘n’ butter bold ‘n’ bursting big guitar power-pop prowess, on hotfoot treats such as “Armadillo Boy,” “Fletcher,” and the buzzing title track. Take it from a long-ago native—New Jersey can rock.” (Jack Rabid in The Big Takeover March 2010).
“With their fab merging of crunchy power-chord pop and Stonesy drive, these Jersey rockers, with Mick Chorba of Dipsomaniacs fame leading the charge, are one of the best bands going. One listen to the rousingly infectious “All I Can Take” will hook you” (Pop Culture Press Magazine, Austin, TX, 2008).
THE SUCCESSFUL FAILURES STORY FROM THE BEGINNING
The Successful Failures formed in 2005 as a side project for Mick Chorba (Dipsomaniacs). In 1998 Chorba had released the solo song “Hick Bars” on a compilation CD using the name Successful Failures (taken from a Jack London short story) as his moniker. The name was resurrected 8 years later when drummer Rob Martin and bassist Ron Bechamps were recruited to form a real band. The trio rehearsed in Martin’s Pine Hill, NJ basement, learning the songs that would become their debut CD. In May of 2005 The Successful Failures played their first show in Dewey Beach, DE at the Dewey Beach Pop Fest with Greg Potter (Blank Pages) sitting in on guitar. The band’s debut self titled CD (featuring “Up to Her Ears”, “Sewer Water”, and “If That’s the Way That You Want It”) was released. Later that year guitarist John Williams joined the group and the quartet began working on their sophomore effort.
In 2007 the band played a series of out of town shows in DC, Baltimore, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, and more. In July of ’07 the band camped out in Knoxville, TN to record with Superdrag drummer/producer Don Coffey at Independent Recorders. The Successful Failures also appeared at the Corner Lounge at the Coffey-run festival, Hottfest. The 5-song EP, Bridges Over the Delaware was released (featuring the title track, the Kristofferson cover “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, as well as a live version of “Sewer Water” recorded in Arlington, VA). In November of ‘07 the band released Ripe for the Burning (featuring “All You Can Take”, “Sun Makes Circles”, and “Carolina I’m in Love”). The band celebrated with a show at what was becoming SF headquarters – The Khyber in Philadelphia. SF opened for Ike Reilly at the Khyber as well around this time. The band closed out 1997 by contributing a version of the Big Star song “Oh Dana” to the FDR tribute CD, About a Girl.
In 2008 The Successful Failures traveled to the Midwest for a series of memorable shows in Chicago, IL and Madison, WI. A live recording of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (recorded in Madison) was featured on the 3 song digital only ep, Time to Sell (also featuring “Time to Sell” and “Fishing Boat Picture”). In the summer the band played with Mic Harrison (former member of Superdrag and V Roys) in Richmond and continued to play locally in Philadelphia as well as DC, Baltimore and other East Coast hot spots. In 2009 the band began work in earnest on their third album which was recorded at Chorba’s home studio in Chesterfield, NJ and mixed by Drew Mazurek in Baltimore, MD. The rockin’ new album, Three Nights (featuring “Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem”, “Armadillo Boy”, and “Scream”) was released in May of 2010 to much critical acclaim.
In 2011 SF released a digital-only-single called “Liar in the Room”. The band used most of the year to work on 20 plus songs slated for what became their 4th album, Here I Am (released in April 2012). The band continued to play shows with stops in Richmond, VA and Winston-Salem, NC as well as many local shows in NYC, Philadelphia, and NJ. The band performed a marathon set as a featured artist at the Philadelphia Rock n Roll Marathon in September of 2011 and participated in a tribute to Clash front-man, Joe Strummer, at the North Star in Philadelphia in December. The band ended the year with a special release, a digital-only-single called “The Voice of Joe Strummer” in December.
In 2012 the band released their 4th full length CD, Here I Am, and continued to tour in support of the new album. The album was well received, earning praise from press and fans alike. The opening track and single, “How People Start Sentences” has become a fan favorite and is the most downloaded song the band has released. On Valentine’s Day 2013 the band released a digital only single… an underwater love song called “Sea Flowers”… it was presented as a thank you to fans as a free download. SF also contributed a vivacious cover of The Fountains of Wayne song “Flair” to the FDR Tribute to NJ: My Hometown. In the fall of 2013 they appeared at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion in Bristol, TN (also appearing Lucinda Williams, Deer Tick, Blitzen Trapper and more). Guitarist John Williams left the band in Sept. of 2014 to open a running store in NJ. Jim Becker from the NJ indie rock band, Taggart, filled in on guitar.
In December of 2013 The Successful Failures released the Christmas vinyl split EP Snow Day (Take it Easy). SF contributed 4 holiday songs (3 new originals and a cover of the Ramones song “Merry Christmas I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight”) and Taggart contributed 4 songs as well. The bands celebrated with a festive show at Ortlieb’s in Philadelphia, PA. In the new year The Successful Failures dedicated their time to finishing their new album, Captain’s of Industry, Captains of War, featuring 12 new Mick Chorba originals. The band also began playing more and more frequently as an acoustic trio with bassist Ron Bechamps playing mandolin and drummer Rob Martin on the cajon drum. Notable shows included a St. Patrick’s day performance at the Parlour in NYC as well as a series of shows at local wineries and outdoor events.
In March of 2014 the band recorded 4 songs live in Rob Martin’s Pine Hill, NJ basement, The Bunker, with producer Matt Gorman. The songs were released as an EP, titled Pine Hill, in August 2014. The EP features the new SF song, “Mike Malloy” and three covers (Old Crow Medicine Show, J Cash, and Hank Williams respectively). Joining the band for the recording and other live performances is Pine Hill resident and former Chubby Checker and Robert Hazard guitarist Pete Smith.
In the fall of 2014 The Successful Failures returned to perform at The Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival (Jeff Tweedy and Emmylou Harris headlining). The new album Captains of Industry, Captains of War (featuring “Stagger Lee & Woodrow Wilson”, “Milwaukee”, and “Ghost Around Here”) was released in October of that year. The band celebrated with a hometown show to a packed house at The Record Collector in Bordentown, NJ. The album received local and national praise for it’s production, songwriting, and musicianship. The song “Ghost Around Here” was featured nationally on SiriusXM radio. In 2015 the band played to a packed house at Triumph Brewery in New Hope, PA with friends The Paper Jets. St. Patricks Day 2015 proved to be another busy time for SF as they performed several shows in NYC and NJ featuring acoustic versions of several Pogues songs and many traditional Irish tunes with Ron Bechamps on mandolin and lead vocals for much of the set. 2015 found the band at a series of unlikely venues that pretty much rocked… for example: a bike store, a library, more wineries, street fairs, food truck events, and farm markets, performing sometimes as a full electric band with Pete Smith on guitar and sometimes as an acoustic duo or trio.
In the fall of 2015 The Successful Failures returned to Bristol VA/TN for their third year performing at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Festival. This year the band shared the stage with Steve Earle, Dr. Dog., Josh Ritter, Strand of Oaks, and many more. The band played two different stages over two days and played an impromptu street performance with some borrowed instruments. In October SF will headline at the Philadelphia Rock n Roll marathon. November has the band returning to Triumph Brew Pub in New Hope, PA with The Paper Jets. The band will close out the year with their annual Black Friday show at the Chesterfield Inn. In the winter of 2015/2016 The Successful Failures will take a hiatus from performing to record their 6th full length album, this time with Pete Smith on guitar. The band plans to tour in 2016 to support the new effort.