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Swythe Aims To Make a Name

Fairfax band prepares for heavy metal success.

"Heavy melodic music and raw inimitable presence" is how members of Swythe, a band from Fairfax, describes its sound.

The group formed in October 2002 through the connection of lead singer Andy Donnelly. Before the formation of Swythe, Donnelly was in two bands, one with bass player John Bruner and guitarist Huy Nguyen in Fairfax and another with guitarist Mark Staszko and drummer Brandon Wingfield in Carlisle, Pa. Nguyen said that Donnelly was the middleman that brought the band together.

The group's first show together was at T.T. Reynolds' in Fairfax, which Staszko said was not a great show.

"It was all family in the crowd and not much of a showing," said Staszko.

Since that show, the band has worked hard to promote what Donnelly describes as its "heavy rock" sound.

"We make press kits to send to record labels and hand out CDs with upcoming show dates on them to promote our shows. We also hand out fliers at Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University," Donnelly said.

ACCORDING TO Donnelly, the band is also enlisting outside help to get more publicity.

"We formed a new street team, which is a collection of people that help us give out fliers and get the word out for our shows," Donnelly said. "Each member accumulates points for bringing people to our shows, and in turn, they can get free Swythe merchandise."

Swythe is also competing in the Battle of the Bands at Jaxx Night Club in West Springfield.

This is the fourth year that Jaxx has put on the Battle of the Bands. According to Dave Beebe, who runs the competition, 88 bands are competing this year. The first round of elimination finished on Aug. 4., with the quarterfinals taking place over 15 nights in August. The semifinal and wild-card rounds will take place in October, and the finals are in November. Swythe's quarterfinal appearance at Jaxx will be on Friday, Aug. 20. Also appearing that night will be Inkoherent, Bob and Sun Star Gazette Enquirer

"None of last year's finalists have, as of yet, entered this year," said Beebe. "Cock Farm, Swythe and Quogue were all semifinal wild cards that just missed making the finals."

Swythe has already won its elimination round battle, defeating the bands Inertia and Uses over Laura on Sunday, July 18.

DONNELLY SAID that all of this work has helped the band to improve its fan base, which will help it in the Battle of the Bands this year. According to the Jaxx Web site, votes from fans are worth 30 percent of a band's score for a given night.

In addition to fan votes, 50 percent of a band's score is produced by judges and 20 percent by the order the band plays in. Beebe said that the judges are different each night and that they are music professionals whose names he cannot disclose.

Beebe said that the judging is generally based on "such things as musicianship, stage presence, crowd interaction, professionalism and so on, as well as negatives such as tuning, timing mistakes, bad notes, how do they handle a broken string," he said. "And finally, is this a band that can make it, can be marketed and get a record deal."

Since last year's Battle of the Bands, members of Swythe have worked to improve the band's sound. The group has moved in together, which bass-player Bruner said has allowed them to practice every day and play more shows.

"We play about three or four shows a month now," Bruner said.

Besides live shows, Swythe has also spent time recording its music. Bruner said that the band finished recording with Dragonfly Studios in Haymarket, and the band will be doing more recording this month.

IN ADDITION to the Battle of the Bands and other shows in Northern Virginia, Swythe has played shows in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and, according to the group's press kit, has performed with national acts such as Flaw, Ill Nino and 40 Below Summer.

Recently, the band has added a new member, keyboard player and backup vocalist Pedro Seminario.

"Pedro performed with us in a few cameo appearances on vocals," said Nguyen. "Then we decided to bring him into the band."

Seminario, who said that his first appearance with the group was in May, is hoping that his addition will help Swythe's performance this year. Though, he added that the competition is not the most important part of the Jaxx Battle of the Bands.

"All the local bands support each other, even at the Battle," Seminario said. "If we beat them, it's because we put on the better show, and if they beat us, it's because they did."

The members of Swythe don't know what is in store for their future, though Staszko said, "We just want to do this full time."