From page 21 of Classic Rock Magazine December 2000
T he dauntingly youthful brothers Serge and David Bielanko (guitars and vocals both) who make up Marah (other members are, it seems, destined to come and go) found themselves in the midst of a small but healthy bidding war when it came to signing a deal for their second album, 'Kids In Philly'.
After confounding the press with their independent debut, 'Let's Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight' (Rolling Stone compared it to 'Exile On Main Street' on a budget), a handful of labels were keen to wine and dine the brothers. As part of the process, Marah (it's actually pronounced Ma-Raah) were more than willing to hotly contest the minutiae of any contract and, even more keenly if possible, find out what their perspective AEtR men thought to the Stones' greatest work, 'Exile...' Some, incredulously, had never even heard of it.
"We should fucking name and shame those guys, there's an amazing amount of ignorance out there," sighs Dave. "Exile's...' the pillar of the coliseum, the stuff that holds up all the other shit" Marah's name's comes from the Old Testament meaning for 'bitter', although there is an American soap star who shares the same name, much to the band's disgust 'Kids In Philly' is as intriguing as this build up might lead you to believe.
As ragged as the Faces, as sublime as the E Street Band and as finger-in-the-eye dangerous as Paul Westerberg and his Replacements might once have been.
They're lyrical and fiery and live (they were in town to support Steve Earle who eventually signed them to his E Squared/Artemis label; you can guarantee that Steve knew who the Rolling Stones were) dishing out a hotbed of soul vocals, slide guitar and a relentless energy that's almost overbearing. Simply put, they're a bit of a handful.
The band formed in Philadelphia (where they still live) in 1993, but wouldn't release their first album until five years later. Born very much of the place they grew up in, Marah take elements of their city not just musical and bring them to their music whole. The Phillies baseball commentator, Harry Kalas, appeared on their first album while Pennsylvania DJ Hy Litt does an elongated rap on `Kids...'.
"He's a legend, he's been doing radio since the 50s. Our mom used to listen to him," says Dave with obvious glee. "We went down to his house and he was telling us all these crazy stories about people like Jackie Wilson, man, he's seen some stuff."
The inner sleeve of the album is a collage of shots of the seamier side of the city itself, including a snap of the garage that the band recorded their new album above. Yet it's in their songs that the sounds and sights of the city come alive. As Springsteen once mapped out the alleyways and side streets of his hometown, Marah capture the nuances of the city they live in with charm and ease. They even went as far as hiding a tape recorder in a backpack and bootlegging the sounds of the city streets, capturing colours and sounds that would eventually shine through the body of their album. Song-wise, they can rowdy it up with bar room anthems with the best of them, but it's with songs like 'It's Only Money, Tyrone', 'Round Eye Blues' and 'The Catfisherman' (all different in their approach, but all equally compelling) that they really begin to broker their legend.
"It's Only Money...' came out of a newspaper article, that kind of thing happens a lot in Philly, a guy and a girl and a bunch of dope, someone's going to get killed eventually," says Serge with a shrug. 'The Catfisherman' as madcap as it sounds begins with the band's quest to find somewhere to fish in Philadelphia (truly) and ends with the band's friend finding a decent fishing spot off a pier on the Delaware River somewhere behind a Wal-Mart store. Meanwhile, 'Round Eye Blues' takes former Vietnam vet Bill Ehrhart's memoirs of war and makes flesh and blood from it.
"That's a very scary and sad book," says Dave.
"He's another Philly guy, we actually got to meet him not too long ago after he'd heard about the song. He wrote us this beautiful letter and kind of came over, he's a good guy."
Marah number writers Stephen King and Nick Hornby (the former wore a shirt in a New York photoshoot and the latter turned up at their London show with Earle) among their fans. And though the band are warmed by the attention, everything outside of rock'n'roll itself seems a little abstract.
"There's something timeless about what we're doing," says Dave. "For every record we sell we're making a fan, possibly a fan for life. Just think about it, man. It's glorious."