Jon McLaughlin is not new to the music scene by any means. Just a few years ago, he had all the girls screaming as he toured with Kelly Clarkson and he has since toured with other big names like Sara Bareilles and Adele. Jon just released his most recent album Promising, Promises, to critical and fan acclaim, and wows his fans at every concert with his amazing prowess on the keys.
Now as Jon wraps up his most recent solo tour, OK! sat down with Jon for a chat about his new music, his love of piano, if he thinks he could win American Idol and how much he just adores watching Ellen DeGeneres.
Congrats on the new album, Promising Promises! You had released it when you were unsigned. What made you decide to release it now with a new label?
I made it independently after I left my last label. It’s my favorite record because I was completely independent for the first time ever. I did it on my own with my band. We used third party distributors. There is a company called Tune Core and I hired an independent publicist. Lots of people do that. It really wasn’t all that different.
Do you think it’s important to have that backing of a label?
I think it just depends. If you want to be Justin Bieber, huge, you probably need a label. You would definitely need a label. If you want to just do your thing, you can definitely do your thing without a label.
Is it hard to see people like Justin sell so many albums and then it’s much harder for smaller artists to just get your name out there?
When you are getting up at 4:30 in the morning, it crosses your mind that I am sure Justin Bieber can probably say, “Oh, let’s do this at Noon.” I love the work, I love the whole game. It’s tiring, but it’s a good tired. I love it.
So why aren’t you playing guitar on tour?
This tour has been the first one in like four years where I haven’t played guitar. I think it’s fun to play guitar, but you put together the best show you can and each tour has its own vibe. I just felt it wasn’t necessary. I am not a great guitar player, so it’s not like I need to play guitar.
Why more piano than guitar?
I have played piano since I was four years old. I only only started playing guitar a couple years ago. Mainly for writing. I think it helps to write on an instrument that you are not familiar with. With piano, I have been playing for 25 years now, so when I sit at the piano to write a song, I still write half my songs on the piano, but I have been sitting there for a quarter of a century, so a lot of that newness is hard to find. When I pick up a guitar, everything is kind of unknown. Even if it is something different like writing on a pump organ, I always try to find new territory. I think that helps the process.
You wrote for Demi Lovato. Do you want to do more of that?
I have done that a little bit and I really loved writing with Demi. I have written a couple other times with other artists without it having the label that this is going to be my song and I love that. I think after this tour I think I will start to get more into that side of things.
How did your duet with Sara Bareilles come about?
It’s kind of a boring story. Sara and I have been friends for a long time. We toured together back in 2007. We’ve been friends ever since. When I had this song come about and I was putting the finisihing touches on the record, and I was like this should be a duet, I should call Sara. That was pretty much it.
What do you think of shows like American Idol?
I have nothing against them. Quite honestly, I think it would be really tough to win. I think a lot of those artists have a little bit of an undue stigma attached to them. I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons. But there is that stigma attach to them. But if you win American Idol, there is this already layed ahead of you infrastructure for a little bit. It’s not like they are all Kelly Clarksons. At the end of the day, the public is going to decide. It’s just an avenue for them to get in. I don’t know if I could win that, that would be tough. It’s not like it’s nothing to win American Idol. I think it would be really tough. I think you have to be really versatile and kill yourself out there every night.
You did play a show with winner Kris Allen recently? Did you talk about Idol?
We didn’t talk about American Idol or anything like that. We both have singles out now. It’s kind of a small little world anytime you put a single out. You have a small group of other artists that you see at events every couple weeks. We have been at the same things a couple times. I don’t think either of us knew that our albums came out the same day until the last time we saw each other. Our records came out and we were like, “Oh this is out, too!”
Do you follow the music of any of the Idols?
I am familiar with Kris’ music and obviously I know Kelly’s stuff. But I haven’t watched Idol in a long time.
You also did a duet with Xenia from The Voice?
That was a random thing sort of through Kelly. Kelly is the mutual friend between Blake Shelton and I. Blake reached out via her and got my number. Xenia was just a fan of some of my records. I was floored by her voice and just wanted her to sing.
What is the hardest song to learn to play? What is the easiest? Especially if someone is just learning piano.
That is a good question. I have never gotten that question before. The one that is hardest for me to play is “What I Want.” It’s just a beast. There is this eight-note octave thing going throughout the song. It’s weird. There are just little things that are difficult for me. You have these tricks that you do and some of these songs, they call for different tricks. That’s one song that every night I have to concentrate. After a while, every song becomes muscle memory but that song is tough.
Do you ever have the fear of forgetting the words? Have you ever forgotten the words?
Yeah, oh yeah! You don’t really worry about it. Most of the time, you remember all the words. There are some times that you just blank on the words. Sometimes you jibbering through a word or two until it comes to you. Or sometimes you just flat out stop and are like, I have no idea, until someone from the front row yells the line.
Is it an amazing feeling hearing the audience sing all the words to your songs?
Absolutely. Being on stage, having a crowd sing along with you is the epitomy of music to me.
Is it hard to be away from your wife when you are on the road?
She normally comes with us. She is with us now. She wasn’t with us the first half of the tour, which sucked. It is hard to be away. I know a lot of musicians who do that and they tour like crazy. You just make it work.
Chris Daughtry has said he never goes two weeks without seeing his wife. Do you think that helps?
That’s a good rule. Amy and I… since she has been able to come out on the road pretty much all the time, we recognize how special that is and we really want to maintain it. That’s a good rule, good for him.
You have covered Billy Joel’s "Piano Man." Any other new covers in the works?
I get overwhelmed with great covers. The covers I love the most are like Ray LaMontagne covering Gnarls Barkley. Stuff like that, I am always trying to think about what would be that song. But I have such a freaking love for the Beatles, Elton John and Billy Joel that I can’t help myself that I just cover them.
Who would you like to cover that is different from you?
There are some Muse songs that I really like. I think a great song is a great song. You can take Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and how many times that it was covered. It’s just a great song. You can have a guy a tobaggon hat on and an acoustic guitar covering that song and it’s just a great song.
You sang a song for Enchanted. Would you like to write for movies?
They asked if I would record it, so I recorded it and had a great time. I was really honored to be a part of the soundtrack. They were filming it a few week later, and they were like , do you want to come and lip synch the song a couple thousand times. It was the ballroom scene, andit took us a week to do.
What TV show would you love to have a song on?
The one current show that I watch is 30 Rock. So Alec Baldwin singing karaoke to one of my songs on 30 Rock would be amazing.
Would you like to guest star on Glee?
Oh absolutely. Financially, Glee covering one of your songs is the way to go.
True that you love Mountain Dew? Do fans bring you Mountain Dew?
It has happened. I just recently let my love of Mountain Dew out. I’m not the kind of guy who always has a Mountain Dew. I haven’t had one in a few days. So it’s not like I’m craving, I just love Mountain Dew like I’m a 13 year old boy.
Would you say plaid is your attire all the time?
The plaid western shirt is my go-to for sure. It’s pretty much every day. I have about 1,000 of these shirts. It’s all this company Salt Valley. I have some non-plaid shirts though. When I find a piece of clothing that I like, I will buy all of them. I know the difference between all of them. To everyone else, they all look the same.
What is your most guilty pleasure?
I don’t know if this is really a guilty please. I love Ellen DeGeneres. I love watching the TV show.
Have you been on the show?
No, but my mom did write a letter to Ellen to have me play. So if I ever get on Ellen, I am going to bring that up to her. I will bring my mom.
Your fans need to start a movement to get you on!
Absolutely! Doesn’t everybody say that they love Ellen? That’s why I don’t think it’s a guilty pleasure. I have loved her since her original show back in the day.
For more on Jon, check out his official site.