Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Brian McKnight: The Life Of Brian

Brain McKnight
Brain McKnight Brain McKnight

Widely acknowledged for his strong falsetto range and internationally recognised as one the premier talents of today’s Adult Urban-Contemporary R&B scene, 20-million-selling singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Brian McKnight this month delivers his eagerly-anticipated twelfth studio album “More Than Words” through independent label eOne Music.

Indeed, boasting musical input from Californian female pop singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat plus Brian’s own two sons (Brian, Jr. and Niko), “More Than Words” is already being pioneered strongly across US urban airwaves thanks to its lead-off American single, the yearning slow-jam “Sweeter”. Whose undulating groove is accompanied on the album by cuts ranging from the haunting ballad opener “4th Of July” and heartfelt, lilting “Live Without You”; to the pushing uptempo funk of “Let Somebody Love U” and the joyous bounce of the punchy “Made For Love”.

Born in June, 1969 in Buffalo, New York, Brian would begin his childhood music career by becoming both a member of his local church choir and leader of his High School band. However, it was not until seeing his older brother (Claude McKnight III) and his vocal group Take 6 sign a record-deal with Warner Brothers that he would feel sufficiently driven to take up a recording career of his own. Which in turn found him, at the age of l9, signing as a solo artist with Mercury Records. For whom he would go on to release three successful albums - 1992’s “Brian McKnight” (which spawned his US Top 20 breakthrough ballad “One More Cry”); 1995’s “I Remember You”; and, most significantly, 1997’s two-million-selling, Grammy-nominated “Anytime.”

1998 meanwhile would find McKnight (who impressively plays no less than nine instruments - piano, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, trombone, tuba, flugelhorn and trumpet) signing with the iconic Motown label, kicking off his career there later the same year with the Christmas LP “Bethlehem” before in 1999 releasing his most successful album to date, the three-million-selling, twice-Grammy-nominated “Back At One”. Nevertheless, despite releasing three more hit albums for Motown (2001’s “Superhero”; 2003’s “U Turn”; 2005’s “Gemini”), 2006 would find Brian signing to seasoned major Warner Bros. For whom he would deliver just one album (2006’s “Ten”) before opting to go the independent route via what is still his current label-home - eOne Music - and releasing the albums “Evolution Of A Man” (2009) and “Just Me” (2011).

Meanwhile, in addition to having earning a record-breaking 16 Grammy nominations over the course of his enduring and award-winning musical career, the multi-tasking McKnight has also ventured successfully into presenting numerous radio programmes; hosting his own television talk show; enjoying a successful run on Broadway as Billy Flynn in the musical “Chicago”; touring nationwide alongside Vivica A. Fox in the JeCaryous Johnson play “Cheaper To Keep Her”; and even appearing as a contestant on the Donald Trump hit reality-TV show “Celebrity Apprentice”!

… All of which pretty much brings us back to today. As an ever-personable Mr. McKnight (whose multi-genre musical collaborations over the years have ranged from Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake and Diddy to Vanessa Williams, Willie Nelson and Kenny G!) reacquaints himself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a bright’n’breezy chat about such pressing topics as his new album; his past experiences with major labels; plus his numerous career ventures outside of just the music.

PETE: Let’s start by discussing what was behind you titling your new album “More Than Words”…

BRIAN: “Well, if you listen to that particular song, it’s basically touching on how as men we tend to go through these stages in our life where we say things we don’t necessarily MEAN. Whereas with me, at this point in my life I wanna BELIEVE the things that I say, I wanna live UP to the things that I say, and I wanna be MORE than just the words I say. Which is why I thought “More Than Words” would also make a good title for the album as a WHOLE.”

PETE: How do you now look back on your first experiences in the music industry with Mercury Records and your 1992 debut LP “Brian McKnight”?

BRIAN: “Well, getting signed was the EASY part! It was more what came straight AFTER that got me a little disillusioned for a minute - you know, my first record didn’t actually come out for three YEARS! And, because I was a little naive and because I basically just had to sit and watch all these OTHER records come out after I’d got signed, at the time it just seemed like it was gonna take FOREVER! Whereas looking back now, I’m really glad that the people who believed in me back then wanted me to actually DEVELOP. Because that first record was very much MY BABY! You know, I wrote all the songs - and for a major-label at that time to give a new artist that kind of autonomy was pretty much UNHEARD of… So yeah, I am really thankful for that. Plus I’m also grateful for the TIMING of it all. Because I did come out at a time when people still loved GREAT MUSIC, and when technology wasn’t so great that anyone could BE in the industry! Because I still do believe that, if talent is allowed to shine through, then that talent will last a LONG TIME. Whereas today, as I say, unfortunately technology allows for ANYONE to be in this business - and I’m just not sure that everyone SHOULD be in this business!”

PETE: Your most successful album - 1999’s three-million-selling “Back At One” - actually happened during your seven-year tenure (1998-2005) as a Motown artist. How do you now look back on being signed to such a historically-significant record-label?

BRIAN: “I think from a historical standpoint it’s pretty AMAZING - though unfortunately of course my time at Motown was long after the days of Berry Gordy, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye… You know, while the rest of the WORLD still revered the name ‘Motown’, here in The States at that time it was almost DENIGRATING to be there. Because they just didn’t hold it in the same ESTEEM. Which, considering the legacy that Motown had, was kinda sad… I mean, looking back now, I actually think the time I got to Motown did actually coincide with the demise of the major labels that we’re seeing the fall-out from NOW. Because the CORPORATISATION was taking over - to where it wasn’t so much about the MUSIC any more, it was about FINANCES. Which I think is the biggest problem in the music industry TODAY. In that, whereas when I started out all those companies were private and so they could take time to nurture their artists, today it’s all very beholden to stockholders and become all about turning over a profit every quarter.”

The album “More Than Words” is out now through eOne Music


You can read more from this fascinating interview with Brian McKnight in our spring 2013 print issue, available at all good retailers now or from the B&S shop - just click the link below.

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