There is one piece of advice that Dave Bielanko -- lead singer of Marah -- has for people who bash his band: "Whatever you wanna do is good with us. Don't come to the gigs, cause you're probably a dick and you wouldn't have sat at my lunch table anyway in high school." And that's that.

The Philadelphia-based band Marah -- having just released their fourth album, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky -- have become the highly praised underdog of the indie music world, an odd spot for a band to be in. With admirers of the band ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Nick Hornby, Marah have become the band that tops every critic's list and still no one seems to know. Even Stephen King has gotten into the Marah action. Bielanko explains, "Right after he got hit by that car, he was wearing a Marah shirt in all the photos. It was like the coolest thing in the fucking world. It's flattering beyond words. It doesn't, in fact, pay the rent, but it's really cool to be appreciated by the right people."

Along with not caring about bashers, Bielanko takes everything in stride. "We feel an amazing connection with the '93 Phillies," he says. "The whole underdog thing makes perfect sense with how we feel." He even takes working with Bruce Springsteen lightly. When Springsteen sang back up on their album Float Away With the Friday Night Gods, Bielanko says, "I was actually saying, 'Nah, not that one. Do it again.' But he's got a great sense of humor about it." And that's the kind of attitude that reflects who Bielanko really is: a person who doesn't take everything too seriously.

20,000 Streets sounds like a group of people, completely influenced by their surroundings, coming together to create an album that will, at the very least, keep you interested the whole way through. And that could be saying quite a lot.

After the last album, the band, Bielanko explains, was in a "dark place." They were fighting, firing people and not in the best situation to make music. So, to get themselves back on track they returned to their innocent beginnings. They wanted to be at the same place they were for their first album, "where we just didn't give a fuck. There is something so beautiful about that."

But getting back to the basics wouldn't be easy. "We're sort of obsessive professionally," Bielanko confesses. "On the borderline of insane people. It's the truth." So to complete the process they severed all ties in the real world, picked an isolated spot and "went back to where essentially we made the rest of our music. [We] did it that way and just said, 'Fuck being fashionable and everything and let's try and get on with our lives and speak to the people that want to listen.'"

And that's exactly what they did. Bielanko's vocals are passionate and sincere. His voice is distinct, sounding completely foreign and entirely familiar at the same time.

20,000 Streets is one of the few albums that can get away with a line about a transvestite that goes "This dick between your legs/ just makes me cry," ("Feather Boa") without sounding ridiculous or intentionally shocking. Bielanko explains, "You look empathetically at a transvestite as much as you do at a kid."

Marah is a bunch of kids who grew up in Philly, loved Philly, loved making music together and ended up in a place musically where they could easily be jaded and bitter. But they're not. They're happy with what they have done. "At the end, it's really nice," Bielanko says. "It's really nice that people listen. I don't care if they love it. I don't care if it speaks to them, because it meant so much to us at the moment. It's just another chapter in a book that I hope continues."

Dave Bielanko is the man we all wish had sat at our lunch table in high school.


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