"If you Didn't
Laugh, You'd Cry"
in Ireland on Munich Records
resounding triumph" ~ Uncut
strongest effort to date" ~ Mojo
through with wicked humour and a social conscience, If You Didn’t
Laugh, You’d Cry is one of the most consistently satisfying
albums of the year. It’s a handclapping, tap-dancing treat"
~ Classic Rock
highest on my approval chart is the latest from Marah, If You Didn't
Laugh, You'd Cry, which argues that nothing produces strong art
like struggle" ~ Philadelphi Daily News
is Marah sizzled to the bone. Every track here, whether skewing
country, folk or full-throttle rock, glitters like a jewel in dirty
snow" ~ Washington Times
unfailing ability to rock with conviction adds fire to their lyrics
while ensuring that Marah's sound is never mediocre or mundane"
pomp-free take on blues rock" ~ Q Magazine
aren't many bands as genuine and guileless as Marah" ~
Friends and Fellow Believers,
You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry, the fifth, and
arguably finest, record from that little ole’ band from Philadelphia
known as Marah is out in October. These days the
group’s core, brothers Serge and Dave
Bielanko call New York City – Brooklyn, to be precise
– home, which is where these 14 tracks here were recorded.
Some were done within the confines of a proper studio, others in
the cramped quarters of a tiny apartment, but all of them delivered
with the kind of power and passion you’ve come to expect from
a band that’s been bearing the torch for literate and inspired
rock ‘n’ roll for a decade.
the tracks here you’ll find the usual assortment of compelling
Marah musings: drunken anthems of lust, songs of howling intensity
and brute honesty, vignettes of tragi-comic brilliance – all
balanced by some of the most achingly beautiful melodies and sharply
penned narratives you’ll find anywhere.
magic etched in the grooves of If You Didn’t Laugh,
You’d Cry, wasn’t achieved by the Bielankos
alone. The Marah family now includes guitarist Adam Garbinski
and drummer Dave Peterson from Philly band Squad
Five-O, who add their talents to an impressive unit that
already features veteran multi-instrumentalist Kirk “The
Barber” Henderson and lap steel virtuoso Mike
“Slo Mo” Brenner and drummer extraordinaire
Jon Wurster. (a stripped-down incarnation of the
band– minus Brenner and Wurster– will hit the road
starting this fall).
Bielankos and Marah have come a long way since their classic 1998
debut Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight.
It’s a journey that’s taken them around the world more
than a few times, found them sharing stages with some notables and
then sometimes still passing the hat in pubs in the UK & Ireland,
but always blowing the roofs off clubs all across the U.S.A.
think you’ll find that they’ve managed to grow their
sound, yet retain their spirit, drawing on their most personal experiences
to create an album that will be staking a special place in your
heart and your record collection for quite a while.
will no doubt be passing through your town in the near future, at
which point you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
In the meantime, cue up If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d
Cry, and enjoy.
It was around ten years ago that my brother Dave and I began writing tunes,
drinking a lot of beer, and playing shows around our hometown of Philadelphia
with our band Marah. It wasn’t until 1998 that we released our first
album Let’s Cut the Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight, a record we
wrote, produced, and recorded above Frank’s Auto garage in South Philly.
What followed was a decade of touring in a van (the late, beloved Adrian)
playing countless shows, recording two more self-produced LPs (one with
a big name producer) -- with as many rotating band members than I could
keep track of. So, this year, when it came time to begin work on album number
five, we decided to try something we’ve been dying to do for quite
a while – record our band live in the studio – swift and raw.
And so we did.
The result is If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry,
which I’m guessing you’re getting a free copy of today.
Okay. So with the intention of capturing the intensity
of our live shows on tape and knowing that we were gonna just walk into
the studio, plug in and let ‘er rip, inspired a kind of liberation
of the pen that we’d never really experienced before as songwriters.
We began to look deep inside ourselves and at the cast of characters that
envelop our daily lives. And man, believe me when I tell ya that this
was an unsettling but rewarding experience.
Our reward? This record. This loose-ass album about the
bittersweet feeling of recognizing yourself as a fucked-up, dysfunctional,
frightened, curious, sex-starved, jealous, loving, vengeful, financially-strapped
drinking buddy, lover and human being. Splatter THAT canvas with six-strings,
maracas, banjos, drums, wine glass rims, a barking dog, a tack piano,
harmonicas, dulcimers, and vocals sung into my buddy’s dryer in
Brooklyn. We finally found ourselves making the folk-punk record we’d
So here you are… If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d
Cry. The fifth Marah album. Produced by us in a NYC studio and a Brooklyn
kitchen, it’s a record of music we taught the boys in the morning,
and then recorded in one to three takes in the afternoon. Spontaneous
as all hell, you can probably taste the strong studio coffee pumping through
our veins as we cut "Fat Boy". Hell, I bet you can even get
a drag off the cigarette dangling from my brother’s lips as we blasted
through "The Demon of White Sadness," "The Closer,"
or "Sooner Or Later," all on the first take. Up, down, all over
the musical map, we wanted to create a record that could be tender and
cool one minute, skittish and spazzy the next. Hopefully, by the time
you reach "The Apartment" at the album’s close you’ll
feel as worn out, nervous and strangely alive as I did the night we cut
Well, that’s about it. Marah will be touring pretty
extensively starting this fall, with some new members - Adam Garbinski
on guitar and Dave Peterson on drums – and of course, Kirk Henderson,
a.k.a. "The Barber", the man who does it all, on bass/keys.
My brother and I will charge our band through two plus hours of blood,
sweat, piss, and music every night… for one thousand fans or three.
Marah has always wanted to be Townes Van Zandt fronting The Faces, Bob
Dylan leading AC/DC, Sly Stone fronting the Ramones or Nick Drake fronting
the Dead Milkmen, but however you hear it, we’re cool with that.
See you out there.
Brooklyn, July '05
turned ten years old in July 2005.
debut, Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight, was recorded
on a broken seven-track in an auto garage in South Philly and released
fifth album, If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry, contains brothers Dave
and Serge Bielanko's most personal songs to date– songs inspired
by their lovers, their buddies, their drinking, their idiosyncrasies,
and their everlasting quest to obtain a fiver or tenner.
had 14 various members through the years. Some were cool, some not
2005 line-up is Dave Bielanko (vocals, guitar), Serge Bielanko (guitar,
vocals), Kirk "The Barber" Henderson (bass, keys), and two
new members, formerly of Philly punk band Squad 5-0, Dave "Fire
& Ice" Peterson (drums) and Adam Garbinski (guitar).
course of their career, Marah have been described as "a humble
bar band," "poetic," "working class prophets,"
"broke," "too self-conscious," "unselfconscious,"
"epic," mythic," romantic," "the once promising
Philadelphia rock band," "increasingly difficult to compartmentalize,"
"the could still bes" "the best band you've never heard
of," and "one of the best live acts on the contemporary
self-produced four of their five records, and performed in 14 different
countries (and Arkansas!).
Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry was cut live to 2-inch tape and was recorded
over nine non-consecutive studio days and two weeks at The Barber's
apartment. (It took that long to record the drone before the song
"Freedom Park" on our fourth record 20,000 Streets Under
the process of writing bios and spent way, way too much time working
on the latest one!
for twelve white tube socks and a tub of hummus on their live rider.
In Charlotte, NC they once received both.
believed in Santa Claus until he was 14-years old. As a child he also
had a tremendous fear of Sasquatch.
concert trail Marah has visited interesting places such as Walden
Pond, Emily Dickinson's House, The Empire State Building, The Golden
Gate Bridge, that cool fish market where they throw fish in Seattle,
Niagara Falls, Ozark World (16 times!), The Vincent Van Gogh museum,
Motown Studios, the school book depository in Dallas, The Grand Ole
Opry (we sat on the stage!), Abe Lincoln's Springfield Home, William
Faulkner's grave, Joshua Tree National Desert, Babe Ruth's house,
some babe's apartment in Chicago ($65 cab ride from Suburban Hotel!),
General Patton's museum of Rusty Tanks, and the Crossroads in Mississippi,
the songs on If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry were written in either
Brooklyn, NY, Philadelphia, PA or Pleasant Grove, UT. Nine songs recorded
didn't make the album.
spotted at Marah gigs through the years: John Corbett 2X. (John…call
once said "motherfucker" on the grounds of the Mormon Temple
in Salt Lake City where it is highly illegal to cuss. He did, however,
obey the No Open Containers policy.
Dave "Fire&Ice" Peterson should not, and therefore does
not, drink gin.
once got very drunk with the late Townes Van Zandt at Nick's Roast
Beef in Philly in front of a very large aquarium.
is an old Hebrew word for "buffalo mozzarella" or "bitter".
Historical linguists continue to debate.
took a meeting with the people at MTV and were very plainly…
involved in each project stole the master tapes for Float Away With
The Friday Night Gods and 20,000 Streets Under The Sky. One held them
hostage for several days, the other caved in to physical threats within
24 hours. In 2000, a band from Austin, TX stole a box of tuners and
pedals from Marah at the Khyber Pass in Philadelphia. No names, but
what goes around comes around!
Apartment" is the first "road" song ever included on
a Marah record.
The Skyline Of A Great Big Town" off of Marah's second album,
Kids In Philly, is a mysteriously weak track for the band.
third album, Float Away With The Friday Night Gods, is incredible.
I've Been Reading
Excerpt from "A Monthly Column By Nick Hornby"
Nick Hornby | 2004-03-30
…This month, however, the cultural highlight of the month was a
rock and roll show—two shows, actually, one of which took place
in a pub called the Fiddler’s Elbow in Kentish Town, North London.
The Fiddler’s Elbow is not somewhere you would normally expect to
find your most memorable drink of the month, let alone your most memorable
spiritual moment, but there you go: God really is everywhere. Anyway,
against all the odds, and even though they were fighting above their weight,
these shows punched the books to the floor. And, they were good books,
Five or six years ago, a friend in Philly introduced me to a local band
called Marah. Their first album had just come out, on an indie label,
and it sounded great to me, like the Pogues reimagined by the E Street
Band, full of fire and tunes, and soul and banjos. There was a buzz about
it, and they got picked up by Steve Earle’s label E-Squared; their
next album got noticed by Greil Marcus and Stephen King (who proudly wore
a Marah T-shirt in a photo shoot) and Springsteen himself, and it looked
like they were off and away. Writing this down, I can suddenly see the
reason why it didn’t happen for them, or at least, why it hasn’t
happened yet. Steve Earle, Stephen King, Greil Marcus, Bruce, me…none
of us is under a hundred years old. The band is young, but their referents,
the music they love, is getting on a bit, and in an attempt to address
this problem, they attempted their ancient fans with a noisy modern rock
album. They succeeded in the alienation, but not in finding a new audience,
so they have been forced to retreat and retrench and rethink.
At the end of the Fiddler’s Elbow show they passed a hat around,
which gives you some indication of the level of retrenchment going on.
They’ll be OK. Their next album will be spectacular, and they’ll
sell out Madison Square Garden, and you’ll all be boasting that
you read a column by a guy who saw them in the Fiddler’s Elbow.
Anyway, the two shows I saw that week were spectacular, as good as anything,
I’ve seen with the possible exception of the Clash in ’79,
Prince in ’85 and Springsteen on the River tour. Dave and Serge,
the two brothers who are to Marah what the Gallaghers are to Oasis, played
the Fiddler’s Elbow as if it were Giants Stadium, and even though
it was acoustic, they just about blew the place up. They were standing
on chairs and lying on the floor, they were funny, they charmed everyone
in the pub apart from an old drunk sitting next to the drum kit (a drummer
turned up halfway through the evening with his own set, having played
a gig elsewhere first), who put his fingers firmly in his ears during
Serge’s extended harmonica solo. (His mate, meanwhile, rose unsteadily
to his feet and started clapping along). It was utterly bizarre and very
moving: most musicians wouldn’t have bothered turning up, let alone
almost killing themselves. And I was reminded-and this happened the last
time I saw them play, too – how rarely one feels included in a live
show. Usually you watch, and listen, and drift off, and the band plays
well or doesn’t and it doesn’t matter much either way. It
can actually be a very lonely experience. But I felt a part of the music,
and a part of the people I’d gone with, and, to cut this short before
the encores, I didn’t want to read for about a fortnight afterwards.
I wanted to write, but I couldn’t because of the holidays, and I
wanted to listen to Marah, but I didn’t want to read no book. I
was too itchy, too energized, and if young people feel like that every
night of the week, then, yes, literature’s dead as a dodo. (In an
attempt to get myself back on course, I bought Bill Ehrhardt’s book
Vietnam-Perkasie, because he comes Marah-endorsed, and provided the inspiration
for “Round Eye Blues”, one of their very best songs. I didn’t
read a thing, though. And their next album is tentatively entitled 20,000
Streets under the Sky, after a Patrick Hamilton novel- I’m going
to order that and not read it, too).