Scythian: a little of this, a little of that

July 04, 2006|By MARGARET HAIR | MARGARET HAIR,MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Scythian, a collection of four classically trained musicians who have spent the last three years developing a following in pubs from D.C. to New York, is not easy to label.

A set from their regular Thursday night gig at Fado Irish Pub in Washington features dueling fiddle action by Oleksander (Alex) Fedoryka and Josef Crosby; a slightly Celtic-tinged rendition of "Wild Thing"; a funky washboard/drum solo by Mike Ounallah; and happy-go-lucky encouragement by guitarist Danylo (Dan) Fedoryka.

It's hard to nail down Scythian's take on influences from Irish, gypsy, klezmer, rock, funk and folk styles as a certain type of music. It's less of a challenge to say the result is infectiously giddy and disarmingly eclectic.

This summer will be Scythian's first festival season. From June to September, the guys say they will play more shows than they have in the last three years combined.

The group got its start as a street act, when brothers Alex and Dan decided to put their 20-some years of classical training to good use a few summers ago by earning a couple of bucks playing on sidewalks in Alexandria, Va. A year later, Crosby, a lifelong friend who was fresh out of college and also happened to be an accomplished violinist, followed suit.

"Before we knew it, we were a band. It was never really planned," Alex Fedoryka says.

From there, Scythian landed itself as an opening act for Irish music legends Gaelic Storm. When Gaelic Storm canceled their set, Scythian was asked to take their spot.

"So we brought three hours of music, and we just made it happen for a St. Paddy's Day show. And we realized, well, here we go, we have three hours of music, let's just start doing pubs. Why not, you know?" Alex Fedoryka says. "And that's how it all really started as the unit we are now, seven drummers later."

Seven drummers? Yes. It is, the guys say, a long story. In any case, Ounallah, a graduate student in jazz percussion at the University of Maryland, brings a rock-based background that has revolutionized Scythian's sound.

"It's like this new fusion that we can't put a finger on," Crosby says.

The addition of Latin, zydeco and jazz beats to music that strives to keep its Celtic roots - or gypsy or Middle Eastern, depending on the tune - has lent Scythian the ability to identify with a diverse audience, Alex Fedoryka says.

"It's fusion of a lot of the ethnic cultures, and I think that that's why we can appeal to so many of the people in a pub, and, even though it is Irish, they really respond well to it," he says.

But, until a few years ago, not one of them liked Celtic music.

"I always really disliked Irish music," says Alex Fedoryka, who grew up in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Then a friend introduced him to Celtic fiddling a few years ago, and he was hooked.

"We stayed up one night listening to these amazing fiddlers play just like ... virtuosic on the fiddle," he says. "When I heard the music, I couldn't help but ... become obsessed with it, because I felt that, in a way it was also tragic. ... Here I was, I had been playing the violin ever since I was 2 years old, and I had never been exposed to it."

He gave tapes of the songs to his brother, who set aside his classical piano skills to learn guitar. Alex Fedoryka spent four months in Dublin to immerse himself in Irish music and culture.

A grassroots effort to the core, Scythian does its own management. With two albums out and a third in the works, the guys are in no hurry to sign on with a record label.

"I think that can be one of the dangers of music, is you're looking for that goal of a multimillion-dollar record deal or to be famous, to have your picture everywhere, and in a sense, the music becomes subservient to your goal," Dan Fedoryka says.

Instead, he wants Scythian to be "Grateful Dead mainstream" - a traveling circus that goes where it wants and plays a different show every night for as many people as possible.

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