By Scott Visy | Contributor
Despite three records, millions of listens on Spotify, hundreds of concerts, and playing guitar for over five years, Houston native Thomas Csorba just had his first guitar lesson.
Csorba is one of Texas’s young rising artists but said he feels like he is just now getting good at playing guitar.
“It’s a weird feeling. I’ve been playing shows and making records for five years, but I’m just now learning how to play guitar well,” Csorba said. “I have to unlearn a lot of bad habits and take a few steps back in order to get better.”
Although Csorba is always seen on stage with a guitar, serenading audiences with his sharp voice, his desire to play music stems from elements other than melody and rhythm.
“I didn’t really want to play music if I didn’t get to write lyrics,” Csorba said.
After deciding he wanted to write music, Csorba looked to the artists that inspired him growing up – Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Townes Van Zandt – and chose to pick up a guitar to accompany his lyrics. He sat down by his computer, pulled up his sleeves, and simply typed “guitar tutorial” into YouTube. His journey began with a few basic chords.
“Today, it’s so accessible,” he said. “Anyone can play guitar. That’s why it’s not as big of a shocker now when someone says they know how to play guitar. So I think being a better guitar player and understanding music theory a bit better will inform my songwriting in ways I haven’t yet experienced.”
After five years of playing music in various states and sharing his creations with family, friends and strangers, music has become more than just a hobby to Csorba – it has evolved into his career, his passion and his life.
Song writing did not simply propel Csorba into the music industry; it is also his passion and prowess. The imagery his lyrics paint in “Harvest,” the vivid story-telling captured in “Leaving This City” and the emotional pull of “Blank Yellow Sheet” usually leave the listener feeling a strong connection to Csorba and his lyrics. However, the young artist thinks his new songs are the best he has written to this date.
“There are some songs that I’m excited to play for people that they haven’t heard yet. I think the stuff that I have been working on for the last six months is the best that I have worked on,” Csorba said.
The key to Csorba’s approach to song writing is simple: literature – lots of literature. His song “Murmur of Yearning,” which has yet to be released, was inspired by one of his favorite poets, Walt Whitman. Csorba said poetry is one of his favorite forms of literature, but he tries to read a variety of publications.
For example, the occasional agricultural themes Csorba applies to his lyrics, especially in his song “Harvest,” derive from Wendell Berry’s printed thesis “The Unsettling of America,” which examines agriculture and agribusiness. To Csorba, musicians are unable to produce quality content unless they are well-informed.
“You have to read a lot, listen a lot – not just to music, but also to people. You’re putting out a social commentary,” Csorba said. “To critique something, you kind of have to remove yourself from the thing you’re critiquing – to take a step back and look at the world and the situation from a more objective perspective.”
After keeping from the stage for over a month, Csorba said he is eager to be on tour again. Csorba has a total of eight concerts booked throughout the southern United States in the month of February.
“When I write a good song, I think, ‘Man, I can’t wait to go share this with people because I think this is going to mean something to them,” he said.
Csorba played 66 shows in 2017 but is breaking new ground in 2018. On his February tour, he is returning to cities like Austin, Dallas and Fayetteville and traveling to new cities like Birmingham, Ala. and Chattanooga, Tenn.
Though he was born and raised in Houston, Csorba said Waco feels like home. He first came to Waco to study at Baylor but said he can see himself living in Waco for at least a few more years.
“I see myself being here a while,” he said. “I want to be a part of building the music culture here in town. Playing in new venues and stuff like that is really helpful.”
Csorba is scheduled to play on Feb. 23 at Balcones Distillery in Waco. According to Csorba, this is one of his most adventurous shows because Balcones does not have a built-in sound system and is not considered a traditional music venue. However, he said he’s excited by the opportunity.
“When good people are involved, you can put on some really, really great shows. These shows are all about the people – not the size of the room,” he said.
Likewise, Balcones is excited to host Csorba’s concert, according to Casey Hooper, Balcones Distillery’s Creative and Merchandising Director.
“We love supporting local musicians and artists,” Hooper said. “Waco is still a small community, and we enjoy working with those who are as passionate about their art as we are about our whisky.”
Although Csorba has played a vast majority of his shows with just his guitar, he said he thinks the full-band setup is going to be more common for him, especially on this upcoming tour.
“The manner in which I have been writing recently is much more conscious about how I’m going to play [my songs] live, which is something new,” he said. “And I want to play as many full-band shows as I can, so I’ve been writing in a way that will be more fun for the listener and the band.”
Csorba was selected as one of five finalists this week in Southwest Airlines’s “On the Rise to Luck” competition. The winner will get to play a show at Luck Reunion, a music festival hosted by one of Csorba’s idols, Willie Nelson. The rest of the lineup at the festival includes some of the greatest Folk/Americana acts in the country. The contest lasts until Feb. 23, and you can vote for Csorba once per day on www.southwest.fm/thomas-csorba.
Csorba’s career is the perfect example of why one’s passions should always be pursued. He illustrates, through his story and his music, that you don’t have to be a child prodigy to become successful, that you can wait to pick up a guitar until you are 15 years old and that you need not be afraid of the unknown. Thomas Csorba’s ability to capture the hidden truths of life in a chord progression and a lyrical stanza make clear to his audience the uniqueness of his talent, the flair of his imagination.