Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Brian McKnight: Life Of Brian

Brian McKnight
Brian McKnight Brian McKnight Brian McKnight Brian McKnight

Internationally recognised as one of the premier talents of today’s Adult Urban-Contemporary R&B scene, 25-million-selling US singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Brian McKnight this month delivers his eagerly-anticipated thirteenth studio album “Better”.

Indeed, having already seen the shuffling midtempo groove of its joyously-lilting off-shoot single “Uh Oh Feeling” conquer US urban airwaves, “Better” interestingly boasts musical input from the likes of Hawaiian vocalist Kimie Miner and LA Rapper Glasses Malone in addition to Brian’s longtime bass-player Chris Loftlin plus guitarist Tyrone Chase, with whom he has worked for over 10 years.

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 19, 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 EOne Music where he would in turn release the albums “Evolution Of A Man” (2009), “Just Me” (2011) and “More Than Words” (2013).

Meanwhile, in addition to having earned 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-articulate and fast-talking Mr. McKnight (whose multi-genre musical collaborations over the years have ranged from Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake and Diddy to Quincy Jones, Willie Nelson and Kenny G!) reacquaints himself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis in Central London’s plush Landmark Hotel for an informative chat about his aforementioned new album in addition to his views on the ever-topical indie-versus-majors debate.

PETE: Let’s start by discussing the background to you titling your new album “Better”

BRIAN: “Well, I always try to name every CD album I do after the song on it that best seems to encompass the way I feel as I’m MAKING it. And on the album “Better” was definitely the ONE! In that right now I feel like I really am the best I’ve EVER been - both musically AND otherwise - and when you listen to that song it definitely does tell you where I’m at in my own life AND in my relationship and how that just permeates every OTHER aspect of what I do. You know, I generally just feel better about myself, I’m optimistic about the future - which I’ve never been before - and basically that all stems from the love of the right WOMAN.”

PETE: So what primarily did you want to achieve musically this time round?

BRIAN: “Well, I get tired of trying to follow whatever the trend happens to BE - you know, music in a box where you have pro-tools and Logic and you’re trying to compete with everybody ELSE that’s doing pro-tools and Logic. So for this album I basically just decided ‘You know what? Me and the guys are gonna come off the road and go right in the studio, get a flip track and just GO - just like we did 20 YEARS ago!’... And so what I’ve created is an album that FEELS real because it IS real! Like when people hear it they’re like ‘What IS that? That sounds like an actual DRUMMER, that sounds like an actual BASS-player and a GUITAR-player, and Brian’s playing KEYS!’ - which is basically what you HAVE! I mean, when people talk about my albums they always go back to the FIRST one - and what you have to remember is I made that first album not knowing what I was DOING. You know, I wasn’t trying to be like anything else - and so with “Better” I really wanted to bring that feeling BACK, when I was like ’I’m not gonna hold ANYTHING back - I‘m just gonna be the best Brian McKnight I know how to BE! I’m gonna put every chord-change in there, every melody, every vocal riff, along with trying to write some really, really great SONGS!’.”

You can read more from our exclusive interview with Brian McKnight in our latest issue... including collaborations on new album “Better”, latest single ”Uh Oh Feeling” and since McKnight has decided to release music through his own means, exactly where this artist stands on the indies-versus-majors debate.


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