Scythian has always been a difficult band to define. Influenced by a collision of sounds and cultures, they ably blend bluegrass, Celtic, folk, Americana and other traditional templates to create a sound that’s uniquely their own. The bands’s founders, Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka, immigrated with their parents to the United States from the Ukraine where they had first learned to play their instruments at an early age. Their initial inspiration came from their 92-year-old grandmother who shared stories about a roving fiddler who would visit her village and ignite a massive celebration filled with music and dance.
“We grew up speaking Ukrainian and listening to Ukrainian folk music,” Danylo recalls. “My parents had to escape the communists, and they got out just before the Iron Curtain came down. They were two of 900,000 refugees allowed in that year. Then, when we were little, we moved to the Shenandoah Valley where we were introduced to bluegrass music. My mom really liked it and there were always mix tapes playing.”
Now a DC-based band, they trace their beginnings back a dozen or so years ago when they and their college pals would perform music on city streets. Eventually they worked their way up to headliner status on the festival circuit, particularly those gatherings that allowed for the possibility of creating a bond between artist and audience.
“My brother Alexander and I fell in love with Celtic music and spent months listening to tapes and learning the tunes by ear,” Danylo continues. “We had already had a career as classical musicians — my mother was a Juilliard graduate and taught us all our instruments — and we were then drawn to folk music. It wasn’t long before we realized the connection between Celtic music and the bluegrass music we had grown up listening to. So we took to the streets and busked for a year or two before popular demand had us forming a band.”
Their energetic performances and spirited sound soon garnered them a faithful following that eagerly anticipates their every effort. And while they may push the parameters, there’s a common core withintheir music that captivates crowds wherever they appear.
According to Danylo, that approach appears to come naturally. “Since our background is so diverse, we decided we wanted to play the music that influenced us and that we love,” he insists. “It’s folk music, music that was written by the people and for the people, and we really felt called to stay true to this spirit even while writing new tunes. We see our live show as a tapestry of our musical and cultural experiences, and the overwhelming feedback from the audience is that we should keep doing what we’re doing, since it makes our shows very entertaining… Our audience has been our weather gauge. We can tell by their reaction if what we’re doing is going in the right direction. The response has been very encouraging, and we find that there is a desire on their part to engage with us. Because of that, we’ve developed a following that has a family vibe.”
While there are some who might question Scythian’s desire to tout the bluegrass basics, the group’s new single, Crawdad Hole, leavens doubt as to where their loyalties lie. It finds them paying tribute to Doc Watson with a song that was originally made popular courtesy of the The Andy Griffith Show, and is available for download at no charge from bandcamp.
“We recorded this tune in honor of the man who did so much for musicians throughout the decades,” Danylo explains. “May his memory live on and may his tunes be listened to by generations to come.”
The group also have a new LP scheduled for release in July titled Roots & Stones, and they’re taking preorders for the album on their website. In addition, on Saturday June 13, the band will be doing a live stream show that they’ve dubbed “Quaranstreams.” As of now, their annual Appaloosa festival is also scheduled to take place Labor Day weekend, September 3-6 barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Ultimately, while their take on tunes may vary, Danylo says that Scythian’s appreciation for bluegrass remains as steadfast as ever.
“It’s just happy music,” he maintains. “It’s hard to hear a banjo and stay crabby. There is a certain quality to the music which reminds people to slow down, and that life is not about what you get done, but the stories you can tell.”
Clearly Scythian have no shortage of stories they themselves can share.