The holidays are a special time for many, but for Jon Chorba, Christmas is the day his dreams were formed, and this year, just a day after, when his dreams will come true.
“What got me into music was Christmas day at night, my family would have a huge party at our house. We’d have like 50, 60 people over; it was just insane. My uncle played guitar, my grandfather sang, my great uncles played guitar, and so I remember being a kid, like 4 or 5 years old, and there’s just all these people around making music. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that is the most badass thing in the world. I want to do that,’” Chorba recalled.
From there, as he was “force-fed” Guns N’ Roses and Metallica throughout the ‘80s, which led him to beg his older brother to teach him guitar. Largely self-taught, he knew for sure that he wanted to be a musician after borrowing his mother’s four-track recorder, which she used a court reporter.
“I take it, I got up to my room, and I play Metallica’s ‘One.’ On one track I play the rhythm part, and then track two I played the lead, and I heard it back and it sounded terrible but I’m like, ‘That’s it.’ That moment was bigger than the first time I ever played guitar or anything. Hearing myself back on a recording, I was like, ‘Holy s—t. This is awesome!’ From that moment, that took me in a whole direction of going to Full Sail (University) to study recording,” he explained, later becoming a music teacher.
“I wanted to write and record and release a record all by myself. It took me about 12 years to do it since that first day of hearing myself back on my mom’s four-track, but I got there.”
The day after Christmas, the 30-year-old Scranton native now residing in Arlington, Texas will release his debut album, “Three Feet from Gold,” at the Wildcat Saloon & Eatery in Sturges, near Archbald. The band is called The Liberty Underground, but on the record, he sings and plays all the instruments (with the exception of drums by longtime friend Zhach Kelsch), inspired by how Dave Grohl formed the Foo Fighters.
“For that first record, it was all him. He played all the instruments and then he’s just like, ‘It’s a band. I’m calling it the Foo Fighters. I’ll get the guys later.’ So I’m like, ‘I’m going to do the exact same thing.’ It’s not a Jon Chorba record. This is a band; it just doesn’t have any members yet,” he noted.
Splitting his time between a small basement in Archbald and a living room in Grand Prairie, Texas, he created a sound he describes as “getting punched in the face by Alice In Chains and Metallica, suplexed to the ground by Tool and Velvet Revolver, and then picked back up to your feet and dusted off by the softer sides of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.”
“I identify with heavy rhythm, if something can kind of catch my ear and my heart with a groove. It can come from any of those hard rock-style bands,” he continued.
“They all have that ‘it’ factor of groove and rhythm. I kind of start with that with my writing process. It starts with the riff… and I just kind of take it from there.”
What makes the songs stand out from some of those aforementioned influences is Chorba’s Libertarian philosophy, which is found within the album’s 10 tracks.
“The Libertarian, right side of (things) isn’t really brought to the forefront, so it’s kind of a little bit of an underground to me,” he said of the group’s name, which he credits his fiancé with.
“The whole Libertarian philosophy, to me, is you stick to your principles and you let the chips fall where they may. If that’s who you are, that’s what you believe in. It totally might turn some people off, and that’s completely OK.”
Opening track “The Letdown” was inspired by the Jerry Sandusky scandal that rocked Penn State University.
“I’m a huge Penn State fan. I just remember watching that night Joe Paterno got fired. I’m like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. This is the one institution that I put all my faith in, and now it’s just blackened,’” he said, while “Fully Eradicate” is about another public institution.
“With that one, I was just pissed off at local Scranton government just stealing everybody’s money and giving it to their crooked crony friends.”
But songs like “Never Let Up” tells the listener to push through hard times, while “Checkmate” encourages seeking help when it’s needed, so “Three Feet from Gold” isn’t as political as it may sound. It’s more of a collection of relatable life experiences, and even its title contains a positive message Chorba took from a story he read.
“Back in the gold rush, this lawyer bought this land that he was told was going to be one of the biggest gold mines in the world, so he’s digging and he got some gold, but it wasn’t as much as he thought. He went into a lot of debt and ended up having to sell the land. So when he’s selling the land, a junkyard guy comes in to buy some of the equipment and he takes a look at the whole operation and he’s like, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s an idiot.’ So he buys the land off the lawyer for dirt cheap, and in the same spot where the lawyer stopped drilling, if he just went three more feet, he would have reached the biggest gold mine that was discovered at that time,” he related.
“So the whole moral of the story is that you don’t give up. … Don’t stop three feet short from your goal.”
He took his own advice to become the frontman of The Liberty Underground. Playing in local bands like Marshwood Road, The Brig, and Bliss for years, he wanted to form his own group, but as a vocalist, he was, in his own words, “terrible.”
“I was ridiculed by every band I was in. They would just call me tone-deaf and just tell me to give up. Right around 2008, I quit smoking and I was in a couple bands at that time where the lead singer was always the problem,” he said.
“I’m always being handicapped or handcuffed by a leader singer, so I’m like, ‘You know what? Screw this. I’m going to learn how to sing. I’m going to do this.’ So I started training, I got a couple vocal training programs, and I just really worked my ass off.”
Out of all the effort he put into his debut, he worked on the vocals the hardest, and it shows. Rehearsals with his live band – which include Kelsch on drums, Mike Mancia on lead guitar, Bryant August on rhythm guitar, and Mike Stang on bass – have been running so smoothly that he’s not even the least bit nervous for their first live show ever.
“I’m super, super excited. I feel like I have all this energy that needs to get out, and that’s the perfect outlet for that,” he said of the Dec. 26 show.
“From the start of our set to the end of it, it’s basically non-stop, pedal to the metal, punch-you-in-the-face rock – start moving, start jumping around, and get nuts. It’s definitely not going to be a show that you want to bring your grandmother to. If you just like to sit around and chat and have some background music, it’s definitely not your cup of tea. This is something that you want to go to and let some aggression out.”
If that is indeed not your cup of tea, there are other reasons to come out on Thursday, including free pizza and free beer, though Chorba hopes people will dig deeper than that later if they purchase the album.
“A song like ‘Never Let Up,’ what I would love to hear is somebody say, ‘You know, man, I put that song on when I was on the treadmill at the gym and it made me do the run that much faster,’ or listening to ‘Good Again,’ ‘You know, I was really upset about my life and that song just helped realize that it’s going to be OK.’ Really I just want people to like it, and that’s all I can hope for,” he emphasized.
“Even if you don’t like music, if you like pizza and you like beer, (this show is) a good reason to get out and get fat and get drunk.”