After winning the Ram Jam at Robinson Secondary School last year, Swythe's shot at the big time in the rock ‘n’ roll world came at the end of their favorite band, Seven Dust's, performance at the 9:30 Club in D.C. While being shuffled out the door by the staff at the show's end, Andy Donnelly had a window of opportunity.
"During their last song, I handed them a CD," he said, which was later played between bands.
This is what it takes sometimes to be discovered in the music industry.
"They said they'd e-mail me," Donnelly said, which hasn't happened yet, but they're still hoping.
For up-and-coming musicians, it's those episodes that keep them alive on the circuit, hoping for that big break when they land a recording contract. Until then, Swythe continues to hammer out originals, playing for college crowds at TT Reynolds in Fairfax, riding on their Ram Jam success and jamming in Donnelly's basement in Burke. They're still young and want to shoot for fame while they can. The horror of being a 50-year-old rocker like Mick Jagger is too much.
"The younger you are, the better off you are," he said.
Along with Donnelly, the rest of the band consists of Mark Staszko, John Bruner, Huy Nguyen and Brandon Wingfield. Bruner, Nguyen and Donnelly are graduates of Robinson Secondary, Class of 2002, while Staszko and Wingfield are from Carlisle, Pa. Connelly and Staszko are cousins, so that's the connection with Burke and Carlisle.
"Now that we're all 18 and up, we're able to play more places," Connelly said.
The more places he spoke of include TT Reynolds, which they played at for the third time on Saturday, Dec. 7, as well as backyard parties and high-school performances. They have made a connection at TT Reynolds, though, in the form of Phil Clayman, who is the bartender as well as the singer for SEV, a band that's performed nationwide. It's the closest thing to the big time that they have.
SEV is with Interscope Records, and their big song is "Same Old Song," which has received some radio play. Clayman acts as their agent and made arrangements for Swythe for an upcoming show at Springfield's Jaxx music club.
"For the most part right now, he's trying to get us shows," Connelly said.
Bruner met Clayman while working his summer job selling artwork from the trunk of his car.
"I ended up talking to Phil for about two hours," he said.
SWYTHE DOES HAVE a CD out, consisting of three original songs. It was put together with the help of Jason Rubal, who has a studio in Harrisburg, Pa.
"He's a genius," Bruner said.
"Hit 'Em Here" is one of the songs on the CD. It's written about a personal experience with violence.
"One guy was drunk and out of control," Connelly said.
"Wasted" is the second song, and the origin is self-explanatory. "Shamrocks" is the third song about an inner struggle, but isn't Irish and has nothing to do with a clover. The name origin was hard to pin down by band members.
"It has nothing to do with shamrocks," Connelly said.
"The topics of our songs aren't too deep," Bruner said.
The name of the band, Swythe, had no divine inspiration for that matter.
"I think Bruner found out it was Old English," Connelly said.
Bruner wouldn't take the credit.
"It doesn't mean anything," he said.
THE ATMOSPHERE was laid back at the band's Dec. 7 performance at TT Reynolds in Old Town Fairfax. The band arrived promptly at 8 p.m., which was when they were told the show would start, only to be told to set up and wait. They were not going on until 10:30 p.m.
"I guess that's how these things work," Bruner said.
The closest thing to "groupies" they had were a couple of friends, Maureen Snyder and Amanda Tuckey, who drove down from Carlisle. Snyder saw the band at another performance.
"They played at my house for the Fourth of July party, she said, providing some insight from a fan's prospective. "They're not up there just playing music," she said. "They mesh real good. I think they'll go somewhere. They were good when they were in high school."
George Mason student Stephanie Burns is a waitress at Reynolds. She's seen her share of bands on their way up but couldn't recall seeing Swythe. She does remember SEV, though.
"Phil bartends, he's the lead singer of SEV. They're playing on Christmas," she said.
While the band members hung around, talking to Snyder and Tuckey, waiting for 10:30 p.m., Nick Hughes of the band 33-West came by, tacking up fliers for his band. The conversation between the musicians was held to a minimum. The scene was reminiscent of a scene in the movie "This Is Spinal Tap," when the two bands ran into each other while waiting for their limos.
"I'm promoting my band, we play here like once a month," Hughes said.
Hughes is a Chantilly resident, and his band, 33-West, is further along on the road to the big time than Swythe is. They've played at the 9:30 Club and Nissan Pavillion.
"We spent all summer touring," he said.
Although the musicians were in competition for the recording contract and the shot at the big time, Hughes made it seem like a communal effort.
"Everybody tries to help everybody out," he said.
Jon Calvert of JM Promotions was at Reynolds as well. Somewhere in the mix of things, JM is involved. Their sign hung behind Swythe's drum set.
"We're independent promoters, we want to develop local talent," he said.
He even hyped up TT Reynolds as a hot spot for emerging musicians.
"It's been compared to CBGBs (in New York City's Greenwich Village)," he said. "It's a stepping stone."