If honesty is the mark of a great artist, Jon McLaughlin is without question on the right track. Indiana, his major-label debut album is as honest as it gets. Named for the young pianist/singer/songwriter's home state, the disc is essentially his diary cracked wide open for all the world to see.
Raised in Anderson, some 40 miles northeast of Indianapolis, McLaughlin grew up the son of a bass player in a home surrounded by music. His siblings played piano, and he began taking classical lessons at age 4. But it wasn't until he was 18 before he realized he could start blending his skills with his love for pop music, especially piano-pop icons such as Billy Joel and Elton John.
When he reached high school, he occasionally sat in with friends' rock bands. He was also growing tired of the work that came with lessons. On a weekly basis he fought his parents over continuing. "It was like a ritual. Every week, I would come home and talk my mom into letting me quit, and then my dad convinced me to keep going." At the same time, he fell in love with Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen.
Attending college at Anderson University School of Music, a tiny liberal arts college in his hometown, he hunkered down in a tiny practice room, constantly practicing, writing and singing. When he was a sophomore, the school created its own label, Orangehaus, and held a competition to find its first release. McLaughlin won the contest, which birthed his self-titled debut, which he calls a "grab bag of moments within a year of being out of the house and experiencing real relationships and questions of faith." (Re-recorded versions of two of the songs from that disc, "Industry" and "Already In," appear on Indiana.)
In June 2005, having just graduated from Anderson and with a slew of new songs under his belt, McLaughlin went into the studio for a couple of hours and banged out the piano-vocal EP Songs I Wrote and Later Recorded, which revealed a more intimate side. "It wasn't really done with much of an artistic purpose," he laughs. "I had a bunch of songs that I was sick of people not being able to listen to."
That month, McLaughlin made a long-awaited trek to New York to showcase in front of three major labels, including Island, whose talent scout had discovered McLaughlin on the Internet. A few days after a brief performance for the A&R staff and label chief L.A. Reid, McLaughlin inked a deal with Island.
Over the past two years, McLaughlin has been quietly building a strong grass-roots following. The four Indiana tracks on his MySpace page have collected some 350,000 plays (averaging 2,000 plays per day), and he's criss-crossed the states opening for the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Sara Bareilles, Paolo Nutini, Marc Broussard, O.A.R., Live, Sister Hazel and Cowboy Mouth.
Just as he finished recording Indiana, McLaughlin also scored a role in the Disney animated/live action comedy Enchanted, starring Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams. In the film, McLaughlin is seen performing on a ballroom stage. The song earned him an Oscar nomination and a spot on center stage for the 80th Annual Academy Awards.
In August 2007, Jon was asked to perform his hit single "Beautiful Disaster" on the soap opera The Bold & The Beautiful, which was seen by an estimated 450 million viewers. The year was rounded out by opening for Kelly Clarkson's My December Tour.
"I just want to keep writing songs about my life and my beliefs and just be honest," McLaughlin says, looking forward. "I want to keep writing songs about how I feel. I want to do that and stay true to that, and hopefully people will relate to how I'm feeling, and learn things about themselves from what they hearand, hopefully, some good, positive experiences will come out of that."