What started out as street performing turned into a full-time gig for the members of Scythian, a Celtic band that mixes in Klezmer, Gypsy, Middle Eastern and Ukranian music, with a bit of bluegrass. Accent Editor Jamie Saine spoke to Scythian’s drummer Mike Ounallah about life on the road and the Scythian experience.
Jamie Saine: How would you describe Scythian’s sound?
Mike Ounallah: It started as mostly a Celtic band. … We incorporate now elements of Eastern European Gypsy music, some Klezmer stuff, and now we’re starting to get more into Middle Eastern music and Ukrainian music. … We kind of play it all with this energetic almost punk sort of sensibilities, especially when we’re playing some of the Irish stuff. We’ll play with a lot of energy, and a lot of our music’s fast. … We draw from all over the place, all kinds of different influences. We try to fuse it all together like one big melting pot.
JS: Is this what you thought you’d be doing 10 years ago?
MO: I thought that I would be playing jazz music actually. I thought I would be doing jazz stuff in New York [City], that’s where I assumed that I was going because I went to school for it and everything. I assumed that I would be up here, you know, kind of hashing it out in the jazz music scene.
JS: Are you disappointed you aren’t on the jazz scene in NYC?
MO: I’m so disappointed! No, not at all, not at all. … It’s amazing just to be able to play in a band that can play music full time and be able to travel around and meet other bands. … What’s cool about it is that we fuse in the world music elements so … it’s really exciting music to play.
JS: This summer was Scythian’s first appearance at the Grassroots Festival. What did you think?
MO: Grassroots is good but it’s muddy — no, I’m just kidding. Grassroots was amazing, we loved it. … We were on like a two-week tour at that point and I think that that was maybe our eighth or ninth stop and so we didn’t really know what to expect. … We didn’t really have much sleep, and we showed up and it was amazing. The reaction that we got was incredible — the people were so hospitable.
We got to hang out with some of our favorite bands like Cat Empire and Arrested Development, they were completely supportive, completely cool, real excited just to even talk to us. … I’ve probably been to like 50 or 60 different festivals and [Grassroots] was like, probably the best one I’ve ever been at. It was great for us, we were just kind of blown away from the whole experience.
JS: What’s your favorite song?
MO: We have a song that is off our new album [Immigrant Roadshow], it’s called “Boyko Dream” and it’s sort of like this Eastern European kind of fiddle-type tune. That’s definitely my favorite one to play.
JS: Where is your dream place to play?
MO: We’ve always talked about wanting to play at Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo would be amazing, but one of the other ones we’ve talked about, Red Rock, is an incredible place. Those are two high up on the list.
JS: The four of you spend so much time together, are you ever ready to kill each other?
MO: You would think, but I mean we were on tour for almost six weeks and I would say there was like one incident. That was it and it was just quick and so dumb and you’re just kind of like, ‘that was dumb’.’ … So no, I mean, we actually get along incredibly well. … Two of the guys are brothers and they get along great and then you know Joey [Crosby] grew up with those guys. … We enjoy each others’ company.
JS: If Scythian was an animal, what would it be?
MO: Scythian would be a mixture between a gorilla and a puma. … That’ll pique people’s interest.
Scythian is playing at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow at Castaways, 413-415 Taughannock Blvd. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. To learn more about Scythian visit www.scythianmusic.com