Todd Mack’s style is gritty and grungy.
That said, it’s not what you’re thinking.
While Seattle has taught us that grunge means grinding minor-chord rock with lots of screaming, Todd Mack is busy trying to prove that it can also mean earthy music in the tradition of Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
Augusta and Aiken residents get a demonstration tonight when Mr. Mack performs at Squeaky’s Tip-Top, 2596 Central Ave.
“The common thread with music I listen to is that is has some kind of roughness,” he said in a telephone interview from the offices of Muddy Creek Productions, the Atlanta company that released his first CD, Looking for Leon. “I tend not to listen to people like James Taylor because, while they’re good songwriters, they sound too pretty for me.”
Mr. Mack, 28, was listening to Bob Dylan when he was a sophomore in high school, a time when most of his classmates were quickly being sucked into MTV.
At that time, he was going through the usual experiences of a high school musician, playing in the marching band, taking music courses and being Joe teen-ager. he only had an inkling that he might want to pursue music as a career.
“Somewhere, way back in the back of my mind, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Mr. Mack said. “It took a while to surface, but one day, I picked up a guitar and figured out a few chords. Then I started writing songs because I wasn’t proficient enough at guitar to play anyone else’s songs.”
Becoming a songwriter-guitarist, however, didn’t immediately put him on the fast track to troubador status. While at Emory University, he focused his attention on groups that brought bands to campus. It put his own ambitions on hold for a bit, but Mr. Mack took advantage of the opportunity to learn about the business side of being a touring performer.
“I learned all about booking, pricing, and what goes into setting up a show out-of-town,” Mr. Mack said. “I’ve fallen back on those lessons a lot.”
One thing that hasn’t plagued him too much is bringing an acoustic show to clubs used to louder fare, such as Squeaky’s.
But there have been moments.
“It was in a room in Virginia, and I don’t know what the guy who booked the show was thinking, because I sent him a tape with my three quietest songs on it,” he said. “It ended up that we were playing for this fraternity party that was expecting drums, bass and the whole nine yards. We just got out of there as fast as we could.”
A saving grace at that show was his sometime collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Beth heidelberg, who tends to up the tempo of his shows. Ms. Heidelberg will also perform with Mr. Mack tonight.
Another favorite collaborator for the folkster is Augustan Blair Lott, former leader of Reuben Kincaid and producer of Looking for Leon.
“He was a big fan of the production on albums by Matthew Sweet and Lenny Kravitz, where it wasn’t clean, and you did things like put drums on one side and bass on the other,” Mr. Mack said. “It makes it sound very raw, which is perfect for what I do.”