“I’d rather be called a Folkie than someone who plays acoustic music,” says Todd mack, who will celebrate the release of his first solo CD, Looking for Leon, this week.
On the album, the 28-year-old Atlanta singer/songwriter's music and lyrics have a direct energy and honesty which he feels sets them apart from most current acoustic music.
“Folk has a bad connotation — being really over dramatic and kind of sappy,” he says. “But to me that’s not what folk is all about. Folk is Bob Dylan in the early ‘60s. There’s nothing sappy about that; it’s pretty powerful music. i think acoustic these days is more towards the puffy and polished side — cleaner, smoother, and nicer. Folk to me has a really fritty connotation.”
Most of the songs on Looking for Leon have simple but powerful structures, rhythms and chord changes. The music is centered around the acoustic guitar and achieves a rough folk-like sound with the addition of fiddle, harmonica, fretless bass, and congas.
Although he was influenced by folk singers like Dylan, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, Mack thinks his style is more rock-oriented. “i think the songwriting style is more similar to rock than it is to folk. I mean growing up in America, I don't see how rock can’t be an influence on you.”
However, he admits that lyrics are his main focus. “Lyrics are important in rock or folk especially because so much of that is rooted in singing. i think if you're going to sing why not try and put a little thought into what you're saying.“
The lyrics on the album deal with a wide range of topics including love, disillusion, religion and political views. Mack takes a reflective, sometimes ironic tone set in frequent and clever rhymes.
“This album tends to be a little on the serious side,” he says. “But I've got a few songs that are light-hearted. I don’t claim to write pretty stuff, by any means. A lot of it isn’t so optimistic and enthusiastic. I think if you look around, not everything is that way. I wanted the album and the look of the whole package to have a very reflective, introspective feel.”
However, he trieds to make his songs listenable as well as meaningful. “Actually I take formulas that you would take for pop songs. i write a hook and groove like any other pop songwriter would write. but my angle is I try to find a good catchy melody and put words together in such a way that they flow.”
Mack started playing in Atlanta as a solo act, after earning a political science degree from Emory in the mid ‘80s. he also formed the five piece band Cosmic Gypsies a few years ago and has lately been working with a duo or trio. He travels regularly and has played New York City as well as several other places along the East Coast.
He had intended to put out a CD for a number of years and finally decided to finance the project himself. He bought his own recording equipment and taped the album in his house with the help of engineer Blair Lott and several local musicians.
The recording's a professional touch was given some polish when Mack had it mastered at Ardent Studios in Memphis, an unusual step for a local self-produced artist. Otherwise all the production, graphics, and promotion were entirely “homespun.&rdquo
Overall he sees himself and his music as somewhat outside of Atlanta’s acoustic scene. “As far as the local scene, I sort of drift from it a little bit. I’m not a big part of it, especially the acoustic scene. but in some ways I think that’s good —maybe that’s helped me get out on the road a little bit.”
“I think there’s a danger in local scenes,’ he continues. “Especially in a city like Atlanta. What’s so great about it can also hurt it in ways. It’s a great big cosmopolitan city, but yet it’s still got a very small town feel — which is great. But the danger in that is that a lot of good talent goes unrecognized. I think the general public only sees one iota of what’s really out there.”
However his music may be labelled or accepted, Mack is happy just to pursue his own direction. “I mix a lot together. I guess the idea is to try and come up with ideas that are still new and fresh &mdash that seems to be harder to do these days. i guess you’ve got to take some of your own ideas and some ideas that other people have already done — mix it up and shake it around and see what comes out.&ldquo
Todd Mack will play Limerick Junction, 824 North Highland Ave. NE, Saturday afternoon, March 5. Call 874-7147 for more information.