It often leads to burn out, band implosions, drug and alcohol addiction and creative droughts. Just ask David Bielanko, singer and songwriter of the E-Street-inspired Americana rock act, Marah, who has had to deal with all the not-so-glamorous aspects of band life. But as quick as he is to acknowledge his falls throughout his career, he’s even more excited about getting back up and forging ahead. In anticipation of its upcoming Twangfest set on June 11 at the Duck Room, I interviewed Bielanko via e-mail about starting from scratch to record the band’s newest, and appropriately titled, full length, Life is a Problem.
Michael Dauphin: What do you hope to achieve with Life is a Problem that you have yet to capture in the past?
Dave Bielanko: LIFE IS A PROBLEM -- good question, the answer is honestly nothing...little things perhaps; release a couple very traditional, nearly country songs, make a record on some very old broke down instruments in a country house. Write some good songs, get back on the road, run away from the past. To me this record has more of a sadness and possibly beauty to it then any other Marah record and it is certainly as decidedly raw and unpolished as anything we'd done. It doesn't feel like a repeat of anything in my past in any way.
You recorded the album in an old farm house in rural Pennsylvania. What was that experience like? Where there any recording nuances that you captured that you didn’t necessarily anticipate?
COUNTRY HOUSE -- if you get a chance I wrote a pretty cool story writing essays about this record on our website there is a page called Life is a Problem that could illuminate certain things....when the recording process began we had very little, really just me and Christine, a rusty old electric bass we trash picked, an old tack piano that was being given away by a little local church, flea market drums...that sort of thing. We let that dictate the tone, we had to I guess.
If I’m not mistaken, Life is a Problem is the first Marah album you’ve made without your brother Serge around. What was that like?
BROTHERS -- I miss my brother, he is a very talented rock n roller. In fact, he's about as unique a motherfucker as I've ever known...some nights I hear him singing with me very clearly, it's spooky. He had a baby girl called Violet and while we were making our record he was a thousand miles away with entirely different priorities. We came from a pretty broken home and "the Surge" was not at all interested in being anything but a superb parent at the time. We remain very proud of him, but he should get his fucking guitar out one of these days, I mean c'mon.
What was it like to have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and essentially start from scratch after much of the band quit on you a couple years back? Is there a sense of excitement that comes with trying to re-establish yourself?
BOOTSTRAPS -- honestly, I've been up and down of a fucking roller coaster so many times I'm starting to not notice/care. I do recall seriosly considering changing the band name, not for my sake so much as for the others in the band, give them their own identity, something to fight for...but, in the end I simply couldn't walk away from the music, the songs are my life's work, a legacy that I just could not turn my back on. Sentimental I guess. Do you consider yourself difficult to work with? If so, in what way?
DIFFICULT -- yes, I'm very difficult because I keep going, I wanna play music, it's all there is for me...I stay up super late playing records...I wanna tour and write and rehearse... the band can become all consuming and exhausting, I'm sure the many members who have passed through it would say the same, but none of them continue to make music for a living, they fell off to have babies or get jobs with health insurance or whatever the fuck? They stay home now and diddle around on Facebook I assume.
After years of partying and whatnot, you’re now sober, correct? What kind of impact, if any, would you say being sober has had on your songwriting?
SOBER -- no, I'm no longer sober, was for about 2 years there though...I also quit taking anti-depressants because quite frankly I'm tired of watching people take every fucking pill some yahoo doctor prescribes today. I'm tired of pill commercials when I'm trying to watch my River Monsters...so I self medicate, sorry. Songs come when they come. Drunk, High, in church, it don't matter.
You released this album on your new imprint, Valley Farm Songs. What was the motivation behind self-releasing this album?
SELF RELEASING -- necessity more then anything, Christine Smith who's been playing the piano with us since '05 saw this band as something worth saving and did all the work to put an independent release together. I think however at this time it would be next to impossible for us to release on an outside label...we simply can't afford it, can't afford to receive a modest 15k, go into a studio at $1,000 a day, inevitably go "over-budget" then never see another dollar from a record sold again...it's the 1990s "Music Business." It don't work anymore. Not for us.
Your band played a notable Bonnaroo set back in 2006 and St. Louis' own Beatle Bob introduced you to the crowd. Do you plan on tapping Bob for your upcoming Twangfest gig?
BEATLE BOB -- love that guy! He used to send me emails, lots of 'em...I never wrote back, so he's prolly pissed at me, but I'll tell ya Bob, I never write back to anyone. I'm kind of a mess. Sorry;)
Thanks for the questions,
P.S. We last saw the Baseball Project at a magical festival in the north of Spain. We hung out at a bar and had a blast with them. Can't wait to share this bill.
Marah opens up the Twangfest 15 finale at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on June 11.