By Amy Sondova “Beating My Heart” the first single from Jon McLaughlin’s sophomore album OK, Now (Island/Def Jam) has been making waves on the radio (both figuratively and literally) for weeks. Produced by Jon Fields (Switchfoot, Jonas Brothers), the album has a soulful, bluesy pop-rock inspired by the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, and perhaps even John Mayer (though Jon is resistant to compare himself to his peers). Jon was kind enough to “Take 5 + 2” with Backseat Writer on the precipice of his album release, which was this Tuesday, Oct. 7.
You’re a Christian who’s also a musician, but you find the whole division between secular and Christian music a bit nonsensical. Why do you think it’s not always beneficial to listeners to throw music into these categories?
I think the categories prevent people from listening to good music. There’s a lot of good music out there and there’s some bad music, too (I have written my share) – the problem is that when I get put into a category of “Christian” music or “secular” music, or whatever, my music takes on all the stereotypes that that genre brings with it. So whatever a particular person feels about “Christian” music, good or bad, they’re going to put some of that on my music before even hearing it. And there are people out there who won’t listen to “Christian” music simply because it’s in that genre, and there are those who won’t listen to “secular” music for the same reason.
So, you’re that cute singer who belts out “So Close” in the movie Enchanted. Being a fan of Disney ballads, what was it like to perform one written by Academy Award winnining composer Alan Menken, who wrote songs for The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast? (Psst! Tell us a little bit about being on the set with Patrick Dempsey, Amy Adams, and the rest of the cast!)
I can’t even tell you what an honor it is to be associated with names like Disney, Alan Menken, Steven Schwartz… it’s ridiculous! Being on the set of the movie was really fun – I felt a bit out of my league working with Patrick Dempsey, Amy Adams, James Marsden, and Idina Menzel. They were all the nicest people and it was cool to get a glimpse of what their lives are like working late nights on the set and putting in such long hours.
After your appearance in Enchanted, sales of your first album on Island/Def Jam soared, causing many people to cling to your heart-wrenching song, “Beautiful Disaster.” What inspired the writing of this song?
The great thing about “Beautiful Disaster” is that it’s relatable. That’s also the unfortunate thing about the song. Everyone has a weird, warped image of themselves on some level and this song doesn’t really offer a solution to the problem (although I wish it did) but it at least lets people know that everyone’s in the same boat.
Similarly, on your new album (which is amazing) you composed the lyrically-driven song “4 Years” which encourages kids to just be themselves. Why did you write this song?
“4 Years” is a song I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Ever since I graduated from high school. I just wanted to write a song that would remind high school kids that high school is not the rest of your life…and that every decision in high school is NOT life or death. When you’re 15 it’s hard to see past graduation day and part of you feels like the world you’re in while you’re in high school will be for the rest of your life – but it’s not true….it’s just 4 years.
Ok, Now’s first song “Beating My Heart” was actually written “on the spot.” Can you regale me with the story?
Well, it had been over a year since I finished Indiana and I was experiencing a little writer’s block but it was beyond time for me to start writing songs for the new record. So I was wracking my brain but nothing was coming. So one day, the band and I were at a sound check and Chad, my drummer, asked me to play some of the new material I had been working on. I didn’t have anything written but I didn’t want to admit to the band that I was having writer’s block so I said I had this new song, it’s not quite finished, but here it is…and that’s what came out.
I’m gonna make this a “Take 5” +2 because I have to ask a Billy Joel question because you’re such a big admirer of his work. If you were asked to perform a song on a Billy Joel tribute album, what song would you pick and why?
I would do ANY Billy Joel song because they’re all awesome…but if I had to pick one I would probably pick “New York State of Mind” – I just love that song. Everything about it.
Since you’re “the movie song guy,” which song from Ok, Now is predicted to be the next “movie song”? I’m thinking “We All Need Saving,” but what’s your take?
I think you’re right. There’s just something about “We All Need Saving” that feels like film. It just feels like it should be synced up to that one scene in that one movie.