Jon McLaughlin's Piano-Based Pop from the Midwest Jon McLaughlin's new piano-based pop album pays tribute to his native Midwest. On Indiana, McLaughlin candidly charts the ups and downs of the record industry, love, loss and the spirit of middle-America. It's the 24-year-old singer-songwriter's major-label debut.
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Jon McLaughlin's Piano-Based Pop from the Midwest

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Jon McLaughlin's Piano-Based Pop from the Midwest

Jon McLaughlin's Piano-Based Pop from the Midwest

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This song, "Industry" is the first one you'd hear on "Indiana" the major label debut recording for 24-year-old singer, pianist and songwriter Jon McLaughlin. The lyrics of the opening track reveal more than a little trepidation about the prospects of life in the music business.

(Soundbite of song, "Industry")

Mr. JON McLAUGHLIN (Singer, Pianist, Songwriter): (Singing) My debut is coming soon and you already know what I'm gonna do. You got my time on the dotted line. But you show up invited but before I sign it. Someone say I'm not making mistakes but please don't be fake.

HANSEN: Jon McLaughlin joins us from the studios of member station KUOW in Seattle. Welcome to the program, Jon.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: Thank you so much for having me.

HANSEN: Is it true an Island Record talent scout discovered your music on the Internet?

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: It was on the Internet. It was a girl named Danni Bancher(ph). It's one of those totally random right-place-at-the-right-time kinds of stories, which I always hated hearing when I was dreaming of being signed to a major label. And, you know, you would hear the stories of how people got their shot. You know, they were washing Clive Davis' tires, you know, and some - you know, and then they got signed or whatever. Some story that totally doesn't help anyone out at all, you know. Doesn't give you anything to go with but that's what I ended up with.

She discovered the music on the Internet and kind of waited it out. She knew I was in college and I just randomly happen to came up and play some shows in New York after I graduated from college. And she was up there and got in touch, and here we are.

HANSEN: So how is the, what Joni Mitchell called, the star-maker machine treating you so far?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: The machinery is very kind and good so far.

(Soundbite of song, "People")

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: (Singing) The reasons we're alive. And I will love you bad, I love you bad.

During college, I do a ton of writing and I was completely engulf in music and studying piano at the same time as Gavin DeGraw would come out and all these other, you know, singer songwriter guys coming out and playing piano. You know, and the Fray comes out and they're getting big and Ben Folds start there doing his thing. I was kind of getting worried. It was like, by the time I get my chance it's going to be like just another piano player out there, you know. But I think that overall, for sure, it's definitely more of a rarity to have a piano player, the, you know, the front man. But, you know, I'm glad that it's a growing trend.

(Soundbite of song, "People")

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: (Singing) One reason to care anymore. There has got to be a better way. A road that leads to better days.

HANSEN: When Ben Folds first hit the scene, he didn't have a drummer. I mean, he basically, you know, used the piano as a rhythm instrument as well as one that played melody and you a big fan of his, especially I read his CD "Whatever and Ever Amen." What did you hear in that recording that kind of just stuck with you?

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: You know, I can remember the exact place where I was the first time I heard Ben Folds Five for the first time. I was in a friend of mine's car. It was my freshman year of high school. We are on our way to ski trip. He had "Whatever and Ever Amen" in the CD player and the first song I heard was "Brick."

(Soundbite of song, "Brick)

Mr. BEN FOLDS (Vocalist, Ben Folds Five): (Singing) She's a brick and I'm drowning slowly. Off the coast and I'm headed nowhere.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: I was obsessed with the CD. I took it on a speech lab. I listened to it the whole weekend. You know, it was like the first time that I heard music that was like exactly what I wanted. I obviously always listen to Billy Joel and Elton John and Harry Connick, but this was, you know, a young guy out right at that time just traveling around with a three-piece and this was how everything was so centered around the piano. This is a guy out there doing what I'm - what I want to do and doing it really well.

HANSEN: Is there something about what you heard that - actually, now, has been translated on to your new recording?

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: The biggest thing that I take from Ben Folds is he has this honesty that I really admire. You definitely get this sense that he said exactly what he wanted to say right there.

HANSEN: Is there a song on this CD that you think comes close to that for you?

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: Actually the song "Indiana" is probably as good as I can do it, expressing the emotion that was behind that song. That's as good as I got, expressing exactly what I was feeling in a song.

(Soundbite of song, "Indiana")

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: (Singing) I'm glad I've never lived next to the water. So I could never get used to the beach.

HANSEN: "Indiana" is attribute to your home state. You're from Anderson. So what is it that you want us to know about your home state?

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: Well, I had never really been away from Indiana an extended period of time. So, you know, once you get, kind of, get away from your home, you, kind of, get to see it in a different light. And traveling around, I was getting to miss Indiana for the first time. I was getting to see, you know, how Indiana differs, you know, in the Midwest as well. It's just kind of the pace of life differs from other areas in the country and the modes of thinking. You know, I was getting to, you know, kind of defend Indiana for the first time. And through all that I, kind of, took ownership of it. It's just, kind of, owned up to it and got to see it and value it for what it is.

(Soundbite of song, "Indiana")

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: (Singing) But I love the miles between me and the city. Where I quietly imagine ever street. And I'm glad I'm only picturing the moment. I'm glad she never fell in love with me.

HANSEN: You know, your name is not only familiar, the famous guitarist, you know. Getting your name out there, any trouble people confuse you?

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: On a daily basis.

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: There have been several occasions where - the worse being, a couple of years ago in Memphis. I'd never even been to Memphis before and we pull up at this club. I'm obviously, you know, my stomach is churning because I'm so nervous that no one's going to come to the show. And I pull up and there's this crowd of people, like a line at the door. I'm ecstatic. And, of course, they spelled my name wrong on the marquee, but they always spell my name wrong. You know, so I don't give a second thought. They put an H there.

HANSEN: Right. Because you're J-O-N.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: I'm J-O-N, and they spelled it J-O-H-N, like Mahavishnu - John McLaughlin. And so we get in the club and the club owner comes over. And she's obviously very irritated. And she's like, which one of you is Jon? You know, and I'm like, you know, because of that line outside I'm still proud. I'm like, this is the greatest day. I love Memphis. And I'm like, hey, I'm Jon. And she's like you need to change your name. I'm like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: She's like I've had the worse week of my life at people calling me everyday saying, is Jon McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra really coming to the Hi Tone Café? So, you know, we had to tell this line of people, no, I'm really - I'm just some chump kid from Indiana, coming down here to play my keyboard. So. But a couple of people stuck around and it was a great night.

HANSEN: Jon McLaughlin. His new CD "Indiana" is on the Island label and he joins us from the studios of member station KUOW in Seattle. Thanks a lot. Good luck.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: Thank you very much. My pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Indiana")

HANSEN: You can hear full audio cuts from Jon McLaughlin's "Indiana" on our Web site This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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