Michael Mazochi's got a smile that melts hearts. He's got a solid handshake. Factor in his affability and you start to wonder whether he missed his true calling as a car salesman.
Then he hits the stage and it's all business: Mozochi, an acoustic guitar and a palpable fire.
"There's a lot of people out there who just wanna hear, "This is a quick song, it's a poppy melody, and here's what it's about,' and I've never really been all that into it," he explains. "I also tend to scream a bit more."
He's got a voice that evokes both Gram Parsons and Springsteen's Nebraska, singing melancholic dirges and third-person narratives about the run-of-the-mill and the down-on-their-luck. It's the type of music that would have been revered during the Great Depression, or gotten him labeled a "Red" in the '50s. He's also not quite as sweet and accommodating when he's performing.
In a scene inundated with frat boys imitating Scott Stapp and meandering surfer-stoner jam sessions, the 23-year-old Mazochi sounds like Tom Joad personified. Anyone can tell a story, but to make it resonate in a song is difficult.
"It's more than the story itself," he explains. "It's selling the story, meaning it, playing that role even if it has nothing to do with you. No matter what you do, you bleed a little bit of yourself into it."
Mazochi first started writing songs while attending college in upstate New York. Feeling stifled by the college experience of parties and football games, he self-recorded and produced his debut, A Day Without the Rose. After his friend and sometimes bandmate Mike Miller moved to San Diego, he decided to follow. Traveling west by van and stopping along the way inspired the nomadic nature of his second album, California Bound.
"I didn't even know towns like that existed anymore," he says of the places where he stopped along the way. "One-road towns, a general store, and a train track at the end."
Now that he's here, Mazochi hopes only that his songs are good enough for people to think that he's "not just another guy in a coffee shop." The beaches and persistent sunshine have a way of corrupting the troubadour heart, but San Diego feels ripe for his brand of heart-worn stories.
"I'm settled in being unsettled," he says. "That's kind of the way it's gonna have to be."
Michael Mazochi performs at Blind Melons, 9 p.m. on March 20. $2. 858-483-7844.