Rockin’ the Suburbs
Cockeysville’s John LT gets a second shot at fame as a piano man
Published: November 14, 2012
John LT wrote the title track of his new album, Suburban Superstar, on a dare.
“One of my tennis buddies said, ‘I think it’d be really funny to hear what you could do with a song about a MILF,’” says LT. Soon thereafter, he had come up with a rollicking, Elton John-y piano hook and mildly pervy lyrics, delivered like a more upbeat Jeff Tweedy: “Drop top, she’s so hot/ In her Mercedes.”
Of course, the title could also serve as a nickname for LT himself—well, half of it could. The singer-songwriter, who goes by John McLoughlin at his day job, lives in leafy Cockeysville, where he runs an electrical supply company and lives with his wife and two of his three kids. The third is away at college.
But LT, 42, is no superstar, at least not yet. He grew up idolizing songwriters like Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon, and Elton John. He started learning piano at 8 and played and sang in a series of bands in high school and at Georgetown University, where he teamed up for a time with Matt Scannell of D.C. alt-rock band Vertical Horizon. But after graduation, he opted for the life of playdates and picket fences.
“I had always intended to pursue a career in music, but I met the girl of my dreams and we wound up getting married instead,” says LT, sipping coffee in a York Road Starbucks a couple miles from his house. “We started having a family really fast, so I started paying bills and got off track with the music for a while.”
About 10 years ago, though, his wife convinced the suburban dad to give music another shot.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to be married to you when we’re old and you never did a record,’” he recalls. “So she sorta talked me into it.”
LT self-produced and released his first album and began playing gigs with a crew of local musicians, including drummer Marty Wachter, who had attended Pikesville High School and Boston’s Berklee College of Music with Charles Newman, who had since gone on to found New York label Mother West and produced music for the Magnetic Fields, among others. Wachter hooked the two up and they hit it off: Newman produced LT’s next album, Just What You Wanted, which the singer, again, released himself. For Suburban Superstar, which came out Nov. 6, Newman asked LT to join Mother West.
“Charles thought we were ready to take things a little further, to try to reach more people,” says LT. To record the album, Newman and LT put together a band that included seasoned players that Newman had worked with and members of LT’s Baltimore crew, and in two days, they recorded the bulk of an album that sounds surprisingly polished, full of bouncy piano-driven pop in the vein of Ben Folds, the Beatles of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and, more than anything, Elton John songs like “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man.” “Katie” is a New Orleans-style vamp, while “The Driver’s Song” is a blue-collar lament a la “Piano Man.”
“We tracked bass, drums, piano, and guitar all live together,” says LT. “Charles knew those old Elton John records were recorded that way, so he had that warmth and that vibe in mind.”
It’s not a sound that a lot of aspiring artists are going for, and that worried LT. “I wondered if anyone wanted to listen to it,” he says. “It’s very melodic, the choruses are designed to be catchy, they’re designed to stick in your head.”
LT was relieved to find an ally in Newman, who has embraced the unlikely up-and-comer and given him a prominent spot in the label’s annual holiday show at New York’s Bowery Electric. It’s a nice payoff for LT, who spent many of his weekends and nights over the past year working on the music while running his small business on a more-than-full-time basis. “There hasn’t been a ton of sleep in the past year,” says LT after taking a long gulp from his grande cup.
Another highlight of the project, says LT, was playing with his 17-year-old son, Jack McLoughlin, who sings and plays guitar in his own band, the Alckemists, who have also seen some success, opening up for the Charlie Daniels Band and playing gigs along the East Coast. The younger McLoughlin played guitar on several Suburban Superstar tracks. LT says he’d be more than happy to return the favor and play on the Alckemists’ record. He adds, with a smile, “We’ll see if he lets me.”
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