He grew up listening to Elton John and Billy Joel and Harry Connick, Jr., and later, Ben Folds. Today he is his own piano-playing singer and songwriter, and an awesome one at that. Armed with his debut on Island Records, OK Now, Jon McLaughlin (no relation to the older jazz guitarist) is not out to try and match the success of the icons he has looked up to, but to channel those influences into a great set of music, which he’s clearly done. And McLaughlin has learned recently not to take fantasy football advice from a former NFL player.
Jon McLaughlin: Hey Mike. It’s Jon McLaughlin. How are you?
Bullz-Eye: Good. How are you doing, Jon?
BE: Cool. So are you on tour yet or are you in Indiana?
JM: We go on tour…we sort of start on Sunday night. We’re in Indianapolis on Sunday night and then we head up to Milwaukee and start our circle around the country. Last circle of the year.
BE: Are you based in Indiana still or do you live somewhere else?
JM: I just moved out to California a few months ago. It’s kind of weird. All of our stuff is still stored in Indiana and we’re still pretty much…we spend more time in Indiana than out here for sure.
BE: So, I love the new album. I submitted a review last week.
JM: Oh thanks.
BE: This is your second?
JM: Second one with Island.
BE: Did you do anything before that on your own?
JM: Yes. I did a little solo piano EP before I signed with Island. And then I did a record while I was in college. The university I went to had a student-run label that they started up while I was there. So I did a record there, like a self-titled thing.
BE: What school was it?
JM: Anderson University in Anderson, Ind.
BE: OK. That’s a really cool thing that they did. So, ironically where I first heard you, I know Adisena because we work on Ludo together. But I first heard you because I grew up in New York and I’m a huge Mets fan and I heard you on WFAN doing that Mets song. I was listening online and I was like, man, who is that guy? He’s got a great voice. And I asked the producer and he told me. And I’m like, yeah, I remember Island telling me about him.
JM: That’s funny. That was the funniest radio thing I’ve ever done. Obviously it’s kind of a different show than I’m used to. I think we got there at like 8, and we were there, we were on the air from 8 until 10:30 or something, just hanging out.
BE: Those guys must be crazy too, to be on the air with.
JM: Yeah, well you know I got some fantasy tips from Boomer. Hadn’t really helped me out much.
BE: That’s funny. So did they just present you with those lyrics and tell you to sing this to “Hey Jude?”
JM: Yeah, well their whole show that day was talking about the Mets and how frustrated they were with the Mets. And they were like, do you want to sing a song about the Mets? And I was like sure. I don’t follow baseball at all. So I was like sure, you know, I have no loyalty to any team. I can build up or break down any team. Yeah, they just wrote out some lyrics.
BE: So how often do people ask you if you’re related to the jazz guitarist?
JM: It used to be more in the beginning when I was starting out. What most often would happen would be I would go play at a club. And they always spell my name wrong. And they would spell it like the jazz guitarist -- they would put the “h” in the Jon, which I don’t have an “h” in my name. Especially in towns like Memphis or Nashville or Dallas or Cincinnati even, they’d put it up on the marquee and people would come out for the show thinking that it was the jazz guitarist. We would always have, every now and then one or two guys that would come out for the show. Some of them were great, some of them would end up staying for the show and buying a record. But some of them, even before the show, they would see that it wasn’t the jazz guitarist, they’d get pissed. A couple of guys in Cincinnati got really pissed one time. We were playing at Century Theater. And they thought it was like false advertising. (Laughs) I’m like, dude, I can’t help it. They spelled my name wrong on the marquee. What am I supposed to do?
BE: I could imagine seeing a lot of old, crusty people that are fans of his that were pissed.
JM: Yeah. It’s funny. The craziest thing that’s ever happened, and it’s been a while, but that was probably two years ago or so. And that kind of died down a little bit. People started getting it right on the marquee and information got a little more available. But I played a show in Chicago last year, and I’ve never met him before -- but I was playing a show in Chicago and he was playing a show in Chicago the same night. And there was some, like we went out to dinner before the show, my band and I and we were headed back to the venue. And they came and got us, one of the venue guys, and they were like, your tour manager needs to come work this out at the door because we’ve got a group of college kids at the door who are trying to -- at that time the show had sold out. And they were trying to get into the show because they’d bought tickets for his concert and went over to the House of Blues where he was playing. And they were walking around the House of Blues thinking, this is just not right. And then there were some people who wanted to go to his show who bought tickets to my show. It was the craziest thing. So our show had sold out and his tickets were like $50 a piece, so they had spent a couple hundred bucks going to his show. So we put them on the list and got them in.
BE: Wow. That’s a nightmare. And that will probably never happen again.
JM: Who knows. I kind of hope that it does. It was kind of fun.
BE: Well cool. So the state of radio is really different now than it was even 10 years ago. Do you feel like your role in the Disney movie kind of helped you in that regard?
JM: I think that it did, yeah. I think that, not that I was really involved in the business 10 years ago but, everybody knows that it was different. I guess the further that you go back in time it was just a “way” you did things. You recorded a record and you got on the radio and you played shows, and that was it. Now it’s just different with MySpace and YouTube. It’s more of a tool now to get a song like in “Grey’s Anatomy” as opposed to getting an add on a radio station. It’s weird because the thing with “Enchanted” was never, you know, I didn’t know the movie going into it. I didn’t know that it was going to become such a big thing. It was kind of this thing that I did on the side. But it definitely turned into something and taken on a life of it’s own.
BE: Sure. Everything like that helps for sure. Do you see any acting rolls in your future because of that?
JM: I’ve always said that I’d be open to doing something like that. I used to do a bunch of plays and musicals when I was growing up. I would definitely be open to it. I’m not going to not sleep at night reading scripts and stuff. At least not at this point in my music career, but it’s not exactly the focus. But I would definitely be open to it. I think that would be great. And being on the set of Enchanted for a while…it’s definitely a lot of work. Just that one scene that I was involved in. And I came and visited the set on some other scenes that they were doing. It’s interesting. It’s interesting seeing a totally different side of entertainment. It makes you want to be involved in it.
BE: Yeah. They probably treat you like royalty too.
JM: It was really interesting to see it. When I was there for a week, it took a week to shoot that scene. They had tons and tons of dancers and extras and all that. As far as the cast, we all had our own little dressing rooms up in this one little hallway. It was really weird. It was kind of low-key. You never really know what it’s like if you’ve never been to a movie set. So I’m picturing like Patrick Dempsey in between takes with someone to come up and carry him to his trailer or something like that. But it was pretty like, everybody just hanging out. I mean we’re there till like 3 in the morning. Even if it starts out like that, with that kind of treatment, I’m sure everybody just gets on the same playing field and we’re all just here to do a job. The hours get long.
BE: So this is a two-part question. What is the songwriting process typically like for you and who are your biggest songwriting influences?
JM: Well when it comes to songwriting it’s definitely Billy Joel, like all the way for me. I have a lot of…a couple of guys that are big influences on me. Billy Joel is one, Elton John, Ben Folds and Harry Connick. And I think that they all have different roles in the life and inspiration of Jon McLaughlin. Like Billy Joel was my first image of a rock star. Ever since I was five years old I’ve wanted to be Billy Joel. With Billy Joel, just the songwriting, as a lyrist the guy’s just amazing. There is just no one better than him. And Harry Connick as a player is just unbelievable. He’s just one of the greatest piano players ever.
BE: I think a lot of people forget that too.
JM: Yeah. The guy is unbelievable. He does all his own arrangements, string arrangements, orchestrations. He’s a genius. And Elton…probably more so than Billy, I mean Billy’s more just the guy at the piano that plays that amazing song. Elton is kind of that larger than life kind of rock star side of it. And when it comes to Ben Folds, like I grew up listening to those other three guys. But Ben Folds I can remember the first time I heard that kind of music for the first time. It’s only been in the last 10 or 12 years that I’ve been familiar with Ben Folds and the Ben Fold Five and all that stuff. And I think that Ben Folds is the reason I felt like I could actually do this. Like you have all those other influences from all those other guys that I grew up listening to and I thought it was great. But then when I heard Ben Folds, it was like, okay now I’m going to actually try to do this myself.
BE: Absolutely. And now that you mention that, I can hear all those influences in your music, now that I’m thinking about it.
JM: Yeah. Those guys are just amazing. Before I die, I’d love to have a slumber party with all of them.
BE: (Laughs) So that would probably be one of those artists, or all of them would be your ideal tour too, right?
JM: Any of them. I would love to -- the weird thing is -- not that I’m on the same level as at all as any of them but, we’re all piano players. We’re all doing a similar sort of thing. It would be odd to team up with such a like thing but I would gladly go out and play. Or be a piano tech for any of them.
BE: Well cool. So what is your favorite thing about the road and your least favorite thing about the road?
JM: I really, really love the road. I’m still young and I’ve been on the road pretty full-on for the past three years, maybe four years. It’s kind of gone in waves. Right now it seems pretty easy. You kind of just get used to living out of a suitcase and anything different would just be kind of weird. It’s tough to say what I love the most because I really, really just love it. I love all the guys in my band…I’ve known them for quite a while. They’re like long, long close friends. It’s not just like we’re a band. If we’re home, those are the guys I’m probably going to hang out with anyway. So I just love those moments on stage. For example, we played a show about a week ago. There was just something about the night. The band was just playing great. Everything was just flowing great. The crowd was great. You play those songs that people are singing along to. Just those moments where I just kind of like, on stage, look around and look over at Dylan playing guitar and think, this is just the greatest thing ever.
BE: That’s really cool.
JM: Least favorite thing about the road is probably -- the band. I can’t stand any of those guys.
JM: (Laughs) Probably the thing that’s toughest about the road is just…it’s kind of an all or nothing thing. Whenever I go through a town where we know some friends or something like that and we go to dinner and they talk about their Wednesday night poker club or something….that’s the worst part because I’m not going to have a Wednesday night poker club. There’s no home life.
BE: And you’re married, right?
JM: I am. And she goes out on the road with me as well.
BE: Oh, I was going to say it’s gotta suck being away from your family, but…
JM: Yeah, no, it does suck…like my brother, he and his wife just had a baby last year. So things like that. You see them like once every month or two months or something. And she’s like twice the size than she was the last time I saw her. I’m like, she’s not going to even know her Uncle Jon. Things like that.
BE: There’s time for that. She’ll know you when she sees you on TV, I guess.
JM: Yeah. I’ll be that guy that comes in and buys ice cream once a month. (Laughs)
BE: (Laughs) So having your wife with you rules out having groupies chase after you?
JM: We have some people here and there. But it’s really great and it’s, I don’t know, I don’t want to seem unrealistic and naive but it’s not really tough living a married life on the road. At this point there’s not much that’s difficult about it. It’s all been great. She loves being on the road unbelievably. We’ve been married for two and a half years now and we’ve been really solid on the road for at least two years and five months of that. Somehow she’s still up for it.
BE: Well you’ve got a good woman then.
JM: Mm humm.
BE: Well that’s about all I’ve got. Do you have anything else you want to add or plug?
JM: Just the new record. That’s about it.
BE: You want to give anyone fantasy football advice?
JM: I would have to say, if there’s anyone to ignore when they’re talking about fantasy football, it would be me. I’m dead last in my league and last week half of my guys were on a bye week and I didn’t even notice. I’m not so good with managing my team at all.BE: Oh that’s not good. I have a good team, but even I had a bad week last week.