Musician Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou’s Midvalley root run deep. Her parents are both from the area and, while they raised a family in Pittsburgh, then Philadelphia, Marmaluk-Hajioannou has fond memories of visiting the valley for holidays and vacations.
She used those roots to inspire her new album, Come From a Coal Town, available on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon. Here’s what she had to say about the project and her life as a singer and songwriter.
Q: First, tell us about your family’s connection to NEPA. How are you linked to this area?
A: My father was from Jermyn — the birthplace of first aid. His dad came from Ukraine intending to work in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, but stopped in Jermyn to celebrate Easter and fell in love with a pretty young girl who was walking down the steps of St. Michael’s church. He stayed there, married her and became a coal miner, but died early of black lung before he got to see any of his grandchildren. That’s the subject of the song: Stories Of Your Life.
My mom’s family were from Mayfield where her dad was the undertaker. She came from a large family and shared how her dad often buried folks for free when they did not have money to pay. She liked to brag that they had the second telephone in that area and that her phone number was 2.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Come From a Coal Mine Town?
A: I noticed that my parents spoke little about their childhood and yet the issues they faced such as hunger, poverty and prejudice shaped their lives tremendously. “Come From A Coal Town” includes songs that uncover this history such as conditions in mines and coal patch towns, dress factories and even the use of child labor. To do the research, I tracked down relatives, cross-checked stories and scoured the internet for historical documents like immigration, Census Bureau records and newspaper clippings. I actually found an ad for my grandfather, Peter Wilcha, Undertaker, showing that his phone number was actually 2.
This history is important because our relatives and ancestors deserve credit for the tough conditions they endured. We stand on their shoulders and it’s time we talk about the past accurately so we can create a better future. I completely agree with the Winston Churchill quote that says“those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
Q. About how long did it take to write and record all the songs?
A: It took about a year to write and record all the songs on “Come From A Coal Town.” Some of the delays in the album were due to COVID-19. We worked out of a small studio in Ottsville, Pennsylvania (called) Sweetcreek Recording and they helped us navigate the process of recording at the same time while being in isolated areas. It was a little awkward, but we made it work.
Q: What’s your favorite song on the album? Which was the hardest one to write?
A: The hardest song to write is the first one on the album, Stories Of Your Life. How do you write a love song for a grandfather who died before you were born? After struggling with that concept for about a month, I sat down with a guitar and these words poured out:
When you set out, grandfather,
You were just a kid
Did you know what you were heading for?
Were you happy that you did?
You didn’t find streets of gold,
But struggle, storm and strife,
How I wish you lived to tell
The stories of your life.
And the bridge to the song says:
When you tell somebody’s story
It’s like a light goes on
So I will tell all that I know
So your life can live on.
I think my favorite song on the album is “Hold The Line.” For me, it summed up the incredible spirit of folks from NEPA — that when times got tough, they got even tougher. I really like how the chorus is both realistic and hopeful at the same time:
Q: What’s coming up next for you?
A: I have 10 new songs as singles scheduled for release this year and I’m working on some creative videos for each of the songs from the Coal Town CD. I’m trying more collaborations with other artists and and recording a favorite song in Russian. I’m also working on a humorous song about how hard life is in the COVID-19 economy. It’s a parody of the song, “Hallelujah, I’m A Bum,” which appears on the Coal Town album. The new song is called “Hallelujah, I Work 3 Jobs!”