The rise of Laney Jones from hobbyist to full-time professional musician has been something of a marvel. In the astonishing span of only a handful of years – the time most aspirants take to form a solid band – the 24-year-old went from coffeehouse dabbling to Berklee to paid music licensing.
"Everything that Laney has written started in the fall or winter of 2010," says her co-producer Matthew Tonner. "That's the first time that Laney wrote a song! And in just over five years' time, what has been accomplished here ... it's really, truly remarkable." Making the story even more unlikely, Jones arrived at music on a tangent. Her first real brush was studying voice as a child, but only toward the end of pursuing musical theater. There, she was introduced to the jazz and Tin Pan Alley stylings of Broadway. She didn't actually begin writing songs or playing an instrument until she was attending Rollins College for international business.
"I didn't really know how to play," she admits. "And I always felt kind of cheap singing to tapes and stuff like that. I wanted to be able to accompany myself. So I just started writing songs and it was a great motivator to learn how to play an instrument."
She began by teaching herself guitar. Instead of the typical bedroom incubation that young artists do, Jones began playing out as soon as she started writing, spending about a year working her folk-pop material solo before an older, supportive open-mic crowd at Olivia's coffeehouse near her native Mount Dora. "I started to get better a lot faster because I was doing it in front of people, and I was motivated," she says.
At an acoustic ensemble at Rollins, she met Tonner, a music major whose relationship with Jones would prove both lasting and key. What began as simple collaboration and romance has now become a working partnership in the blossoming Laney Jones enterprise. As her manager, co-producer and co-writer, he helps make what she creates happen. As Tonner quips, "I'm the executive song finisher."
While in college, they began playing together with a revolving cast, moving from rural joints to Orlando's indie venues and building a sizable following. By the time she earned her diploma, Jones' focus was officially elsewhere, and the musical urge had taken full hold. She immediately applied for a songwriting scholarship at the prestigious Berklee College of Music with an entire album's worth of fully charted material. She landed a full ride and started there the next semester.
Along the way, she's amassed honors in esteemed competitions like the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and the NewSong Contest, performed on PBS alongside Alison Krauss, received positive press from publications like No Depression and Rolling Stone ("10 New Country Artists You Need to Know," February 2016) and gotten music licensed for clients like Pixar, Dreamworks and Red Bull.
Now, with a new self-titled release, Jones' focus is on her own music and touring band (the Spirits). Though this is her third album, it's the first major shift in her sound and her first clear statement of intent.
"That's kind of why I named it Laney Jones and not some other title, just because it feels more like the direction I'm heading," she says. "The past stuff, it always felt sort of like I was filtering my songwriting and thoughts through a specific genre just to sort of find a place in this world. But now, I'm not really thinking about that."
Though Jones' aesthetic still warms with vintage radiance, her scope is now notably wider and her attitude more current. A huge bound from her early old-time niche, this prismatic new album – awash in colors of indie, folk, pop and soul – is essentially a series of open doors for her rich voice. And it's airborne with the wingspan of strong pop craft, a skill she's been honing with diligence.
But longtime fans shouldn't freak – Jones remains herself. "My licensing agent up there [in Nashville] just wants me to go straight, like, Top 40," she laughs. "I mean, I'm glad that's an option. But at the same time, too, it just doesn't feel true to me."
While this recent experience among the commercial pop mainstream is something Jones and Tonner respect, he reaffirms, "Those people aren't our heroes. Our heroes are, like, Dan Auerbach and the Arcade Fire and Jeff Tweedy."
Paraphrasing Miles Davis, Jones says, "It takes a long time to actually sound like yourself." That self, it seems, is a peacock that's only beginning to show the kaleidoscope of her colors. And for this new, auspicious chapter, she says, "It felt better to be more true to myself, honor the songwriting process and sort of just be able to dream a little."