Jon McLaughlin | Like Us

“I remember opening for Adele in NYC and watching her show after my set. It was a master class in how to put on a show.”

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First, a confession: I didn’t want to see Jon McLaughlin when he opened for Parachute back in April. I didn’t know who he was so I googled his name, “John McLaughlin,” just the way it was spelled on the Gothic Theater’s website. Turns out there is a musician with that spelling, and he’s an old jazz dude. Parachute is a young pop band; I didn’t want to see an old jazz guy. Who came up with this bill?

I didn’t want a crap spot in the audience, though, so I got there early. As the lights went down and the opening band took the stage, I sighed. I shoved my earplugs in as far as they would go and braced myself.

And…wait, what? Who was this young guy? And what was this piano? And this—this voice and this energy and this…Jon McLaughlin. (A reminder, my friends: Always proofread.)

McLaughlin put on one of the most engaging, entertaining, and heartfelt performances I’ve seen. His songs were personal—they’d almost have to be, given they were all delivered on a piano, complete with a backing band—and the stories he told made us get to know this performer even more. By the end of the set, we were all fans, and we were all friends.

And then: another snag. McLaughlin was offering his album, Like Us, for free if we’d sign his mailing list. (There was a line to do so.) So I signed it and went home and waited and waited and…nothing. But I’m a persistent little bear, so I dug around on the internet until I found his publicist. Who’s very gracious and kept me in the loop for McLaughlin’s Denver return.

In advance of my second time seeing McLaughlin—the first as a headliner—I wanted to learn a little bit more about the man. And hey, in the process, I’ll give you a sneak peek, too. (He’s a bit of a mystery, actually—check his website and Facebook page; you won’t learn much about him.) He was on a plane to Australia mid-U.S. tour when he answered my questions.

You’ve got a lot of accolades to your name, but the first one I want to zero in on is Enchanted. After reading your bio, I know three things: You were in the film; you wrote a song for the movie, which was nominated for an Oscar; and you performed said song at the Academy Awards. Let’s address each one.

First: How did the part in the film come about? Who did you play and what did the role entail?

I think my official credited title was “ballroom singer” so I wasn’t exactly the leading man. I think there is a close up of me in the film for about 1.5 seconds. But I’ll take it!

Second: Tell me about the song. Did you write it specifically for the movie? What were you given to work with?

The song was actually written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz who are two legendary writers. I’m a huge fan of those guys and their work, so it was an absolute honor to sing one of their songs in the movie.

Third: The Academy Awards? Holy shit! What was the most amazing moment of the night?

Yeah that whole experience was just unreal. There was a moment toward the end of the song where everything stops and there is total silence and the orchestra doesn’t start back up again until I start singing. That moment was my favorite. I mean, just knowing that the whole show came to a total stop for that split second and didn’t continue until I started singing…the awesomeness of that moment wasn’t lost on me!

You’ve toured with a number of high-profile acts. What lessons did you learn—about music, performing, touring, or life overall—from these artists?

I have been so fortunate to have toured with so many great artists. I’ve learned so many things. I remember opening for Adele in NYC and watching her show after my set. It was a master class in how to put on a show. She singlehandedly changed the way I sang from that night on. I remember just watching how effortlessly she hit the notes and how relaxed she was on stage. At the time, my whole approach to performing was: I’m gonna get up there and bang on the piano as hard as I can and sweat a lot and make it obvious that I’m working it! I think in my mind I felt like I was channeling James Brown [ha ha], but I was really singing the wrong way. So after watching Adele that night, I completely changed the way I sang and (if I can say this about my own singing) it is way better now than it ever was before that show.

A major label took you under its wing and guided your early career, yet you felt drawn toward another path: writing for yourself, singing from the heart, reaching fans on a more personal level. How did this early success influence your current career? Do you ever regret giving up the bigger spotlight?

I signed with Island Def Jam in 2005 and was on that label for six years. They definitely launched my career to a level that I don’t think I could’ve got to on my own, so I have no regrets about signing with them at all. I loved my time at Island. Now, I’m independent and can make the music I want to make, tour when I want to tour, and have a great career on my own terms—but I wouldn’t have what I have today if it weren’t for Island. We didn’t see eye to eye on everything, and if I could go back in time there would be a few things that I would do differently, but that’s always going to be true and, overall, it was a blessing that I’m still really grateful for.

How do you balance having a family with being a touring musician?

Before we had kids, my wife always toured with the band and me, so there really wasn’t a need for balance in that sense because we were always together…so we just toured all the time. Now that we have kids, Amy doesn’t go out with us, so I fly home as much as possible. On this fall tour that I’m on right now I have flown home five or six times. It’s hard when I’m on the road, for sure, but when I’m not on the road, I have the luxury of not having a 9-to-5 that I have to go to, so when I’m home, I’m really home!

This Australian trip divides the early dates of your tour from the later ones (including the one here in Denver). Why the quick cross-continental jump?

I just love Australia! One of the guys in the band lives out there (very inconvenient) so I’ve been down there a lot over the past few years, and I’ve started to play regularly and build up the following down there. It’s just such a great place. I highly recommend visiting!

Finally, let’s talk about your charity work with World Vision. With all the causes out there, why did you choose human trafficking in Bangladesh?

A few years ago I was listening to a podcast that was talking about human trafficking and it blew my mind. I have two little daughters, as well, so my heart just breaks for this issue that affects so many children around the world. We chose Bangladesh because human trafficking is just so rampant there. It was a small contribution, but I’m really proud of the work we’ve done and it was really encouraging to see fans get behind the cause. | Laura Hamlett

Jon McLaughlin plays Denver’s Soiled Dove Underground on Thursday, November 10. Tickets are available here. Visit McLaughlin’s website and Facebook page for more about the artist.

About Laura Hamlett 466 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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