Arts Desk

Marah to Interviewers: “There’s Nothing to Gain from Another Fucking Comparison to Bruce Springsteen”

Marah-HighRes_20100512_140123Speaking from a Dunkin' Donuts in Manhattan, Marah singer Dave Bielanko is surly, frank, and self-aware. Now in his mid-30s on an East Coast tour supporting his band’s 10th album, June’s Life is a Problem, Bielanko is over the minor windfalls of write-ups touting his visit.

“There’s a guy I’m supposed to talk to after you from my hometown,” says Bielanko, whose band performs tonight at Rock & Roll Hotel. “I’ve spoken to this man maybe six times in my career. There’s nothing to gain from another fucking comparison to Bruce Springsteen, I’m not doing it.”

It doesn’t help that South Philadelphia’s Marah has weathered seas of misery just to break even. The backing band quit on the eve of a nationwide tour and effectively ended any hope of momentum for 2008’s Angels of Destruction. Dave’s brother and lead guitarist, Serge, cut bait as well, tending to imminent babies. Only multi-instrumentalist Christine Smith stuck around.

“People took advantage of a bad situation,” Bielanko says. “People stole our recording equipment. Everyone had an issue. Marah was a house of fucking cards. Christine was the only one with the strength to bring it all together...Most of the people I thought had it together turned out to be liars and idiots.”

The band likewise severed ties with longtime label, Yep Roc.

“I couldn’t afford to give them another record; it’s a little shot of money and then it’s gone and you don’t make another dollar off the thing,” Bielanko says.

Rather, Life is a Problem is Marah’s debut under their own banner, Valley Farm Songs. The tangible versions are restricted to vinyl and cassette. Notwithstanding logistical complications like vinyl distributors on the West Coast that botched orders and deadlines, the indie decision was the only way.

“I’m not in the music business,” Bielanko says. "I recognize we’re in a lower-tier and we have to play to people that make it to track eight on the record. We needed to suck it up, deal with hate mail for not pressing CDs, make mistakes...we’re doing this to stay alive.”

Marah has earned love for poetic, equally grand and gruff roots rock, and the good news is that Life is a Problem ("That’s the record man: life is a fucking problem,” Bielanko says) satisfies the urges of the band's previous work. The rotating cohorts, dire circumstances, limited budget are internal motivators and mostly afterthoughts; Life is a dignified, concise departure from past work.

The thing is messy as vocals linger with reverb, pretty guitar parts soak in distortion. It’s forceful in chunks. It was recorded on an 8-track, one-inch tape machine from 1968. Bielanko’s lyrics are tattered and accepting: “There’s a whole in my boat," he sings. "but nothing’s forever.” Comparisons to The Basement Tapes are fair, but overemphasize qualifying aesthetics and ultimately ignore the valor in this batch.

It should be noted that Problem was penned and finished in a rural Pennsylvania farm, buried in Amish country, during the dead of winter. It’s an album made possible by the adorning moment. The intro, for example, is a scratchy recording of Bielanko’s stepfather singing a Luzerne County prison song to goats named Mud and Fury. Bielanko calls it the “meandering tuneup that feels like my life.” It was a 45-minute drive to the nearest cigarettes but the distance became a nonissue as the snow disabled the van. Only the blue songs could stand.

“People need something to talk about,” Bielanko says. “I wish the house was haunted. Don’t know what else to tell you.”

Marah performs Friday at the Rock & Roll Hotel. The show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
...