Marah are indelibly linked to their hometown of Philadelphia, bars and guitars. But for the rockers’ forthcoming third album, they have abandoned Pennsylvania — ditched the United States, in fact — and relocated to Wales. The foursome is recording the follow-up to 2000’s widely lauded Kids in Philly with legendary producer Owen Morris at Rockfield Studios near Monmouth, the same scenic spot where he oversaw landmark albums from the likes of Oasis (Definitely Maybe, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory) and the Verve (Northern Soul).
“That town means a lot to me,” guitarist Dave Bielanko says of Philadelphia. “I grew up there. But we honestly reached a point this past year where we were like, ‘We’ve gotta get the fuck out of here . . . tomorrow!’ We became so closely associated with the city but at the end of the day we just didn’t feel it. We couldn’t write a fucking thing there anymore.”
Dave and his brother Serge, Marah’s raspy frontman, spent the summer of 2001 ambling about the U.K., moving from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast with guitars and a boombox to capture demos. Eventually a producer wish-list was compiled and Morris’ name was squarely emboldened atop it. Trouble was, Morris had, in all his years, categorically refused to work with American bands.
“He’s said no to some fucking amazing people that I can’t believe he turned down,” says Dave, refusing to name names. “But we got pissed [drunk] and became friends and convinced him it could work. The last fucking person we wanted to do this record was some fucking American or Americana guitar-rock dude,” Dave adds. “What [Morris has] done with the Verve and with Oasis, those are the only records I could think about where rock bands made records that didn’t sound like they were trying to be in the past . . . all fuckin’ bullshit Beatles references aside. And those records still sound current today, which is so much more than I can say for most producers, especially the ones in America making alternative rock & roll that’s formulaic and goofy sounding. I wouldn’t want to be in a band like that and make records, ’cause in ten years they’re gonna sound really silly.”
Eyeing a late March release for the as-yet-untitled album, Marah — Dave, Serge and their newly installed rhythm section of bassist Jaime Mahon and drummer Jon Kois — are already deep into tracking. Whereas Kids in Philly endeared many with it’s Replacements-minded ramshackle vibe, Springsteen-esque poetic sensibility and garagey production values, Dave says its follow-up will be a wholly bigger affair. The multi-instrumentalist left his banjo back in the City of Brotherly Love, and the band is bringing in a sixty-piece Welsh choir to fatten-up what he calls, “one fuckin’ rave-up of a rock & roll song.”
“We’ve made a real attempt to write some jukebox songs,” Dave says. “So you can put a quarter in the jukebox and be fucking proud you played that song — big giant choruses and those kinds of things. We’re going for a big rock & roll record that isn’t retro in any way. If people who liked our last record don’t like this one, fuck ’em. I could care less. This one is about [reaching] sixteen-year-old Japanese girls, not Bruce Springsteen fans.”
Among the current songs slated for inclusion on the album are “For All We Know We’re Dreaming” and “People of the Underground,” but Marah are writing new material even as they record. Dave says he’d like to pen a September 11th related song to capture “the fear and paranoia that the event caused.” However he adds, “After a terrible fucking thing like that a lot of really bad songs are written, so you have to be really careful.”
Marah will be in Wales to play the inaugural Writs (The Welsh Music Awards) in Cardiff on January 14th.
“We’re thinking about never moving back [to Philly],” Dave says. “Serge’s girl lives in London, and, besides, we kind of sold or gave away all our shit back home and got rid of our apartments.”