Written by FrontPage Detroit
There is no escaping the smooth ballad sounds of R&B crooner Brian McKnight. The "single-by-choice" Grammy Award-winning singer and musician has sold more than two million records and embodies the perfect blend of mega talent and ultra sexy. Set to release his 15th studio album, he talked with FRONTPAGE Detroit about his career, why he's not in a relationship, the industry, and sets the record straight surrounding his recent controversial song.
Mr. McKnight you certainly need no introduction. What have you been up to these days?
BM: I am getting ready to release my 15th album and you know the landscape has changed within the music industry. I don't know if it's because I am older now or if it's actually different but I don't really consider myself to be in the, quote, music business. I'm in the touring business. You know, I tour nine months out of the year every year and I do new records. But these days your CDs are pretty much used as promotional tools to get more people to come out and see you. People ask me if I get tired of singing the same songs and there is no way I could ever do that because people are coming specifically to hear those songs. And because I wrote them, it's always mind-boggling to me that most of these songs are more than a decade old and most people still hold them near and dear to their heart. That is what I got in this business to do – to be the soundtrack of people's lives. And it's one thing to know how many records you've sold but it's actually not until you are in front of your audience and you see the people singing along with you is when you see the effect that these songs have on their lives and what you've been able to do for people. I think that is really why I got into this in the first place.
You said something profound when you spoke about some of your songs being more than a decade old. That's when you know the music is good, when people still get up and dance to it.
BM: Yeah, and I think that's what this next generation is missing. You know it's fine and great to have this great music right now but if does not last until the summer or until the next summer, then what are we doing? And how have we left this thing now that Marvin Gaye, Miles and Duke Ellington are gone? I think they would be appalled by some of the things they see. But the other side of the coin is that there are so many people that would never have the opportunity. So I do see both sides. I just do not know if it is better.
You've experienced tremendous success in the industry? How do you measure it?
BM: Well I do not measure it monetarily although I have had monetary success. The fact that people still want to come and see me is the measure of my success. When people decide that they have seen enough of me, then I will figure out something else to do. But you know as long as I still have that, I am good. People say stupid things to me like don't you get tired of people coming up to you asking for autographs and pictures? And I am, like, no. What would be worse, to have people who want to be around me or to have people who have forgotten me? I think people who have never had that really look at it as a bother. But you cannot have it both ways. Being famous is a byproduct of your success and I think that if you went somewhere and no one recognized you (even though that would be fine with me because I've had it long enough and I don't go out looking for it), it is a reminder that I am still loved and appreciated and I think that is very important.
You are releasing your 15th album. Will you talk to us about that?
BM: Well, the album is not complete yet and I did not collaborate with anyone. At this point, I think I've become very introverted. Well, I kind of always have been. I've been the originator of 99 percent of the music I've ever done. So I produced it, wrote it and I'm playing most of the instruments. And what I decided to do this time was to go back and listen to my first four or five records because those are the records that people tend to come back to. So there is something in those records that made people fall in love with the music in the first place. So I just decided that I am not going to be hindered by rules anymore. Or I'm not worried about if they won't play this or that on the radio. I just decided against that. I think that's one of the things that is missing. Everyone has become so formulated to where everything is a bunch of loops. If you give a good four-bar loop and that just repeats itself. I just wanted to be able to be musical again and that's what this record is all about.
What has kept you moving in the industry all of these years?
BM: Well, the people. The people have spoken where that is concerned. If the people stop wanting to hear the music that I create, then that within itself will pull me in another direction. Every time I think I'm going to slow down the offers continue to come in and that is a great thing. I've gone to every corner of the earth with love songs. I will be in Korea next week and I will be in Japan three weeks after that. It's crazy that you can be all over the world and people will love you and want to support you for that. It's a wonderful, wonderful feeling.
You've recorded with just about every artist within every genre of music. Anyone you're still waiting to record with?
BM: You know what? I don't know if there is someone where I am saying ooh, I just have to work with them. I think when opportunities present themselves, and if you're like-minded and you can come together musically, I would work with anyone as long as we all have the same goal in mind, which is to create something really great. So I can't say that there is one specific person because I work with so many people. That's the one thing about me and maybe it's one of my downfalls because I have never really focused on just one thing. I've done music with Willie Nelson and rappers. I think the term artist gets thrown around too loosely. There are people who record, those who write and those who sing. But what do I know? (laughing)
Speaking of music, do you prefer the vocal or instrumental side?
BM: It's really all just one for me. I can't have one without the other. I use the tools that I have been given and the tools that I have cultivated to create my musical landscape. I write about things that we all deal with. No matter what you've dealt with, I know that no one wants a broken heart and everyone wants to love someone and be loved in return. I do not think that has changed.
Not too long ago, you came out with a song that received a lot of controversy. What was behind that? How did you get through it and was that a difficult time for you?
BM: Not at all because it was never intended to be for real. Most people take themselves way too seriously and I don't. So what ends up happening is people want to compartmentalize and I understand that. And I prefaced that entire situation with saying that I was going to do an adult mix tape and I don't think a lot of people know what adult means. Well, maybe they thought that I was some guy that didn't delve into anything too risqué' (laughing), which I think is absolutely ridiculous. When I started in this business, nobody could be dirty. You could not talk about sex openly on the radio and now you can.
So how did the song come about?
BM: Well, I was in the club performing one night and after one of my shows the song – pardon my French – Beat Your P - - - - Up was playing, And the girl who was standing next to me knew every word and they were acting like they were in a strip club or worse. And I assumed that's what some people wanted to listen to. So what I did was create a social experiment based on what I saw and the feedback that I received was pretty amazing. People are okay with that music as long as it is not coming from someone that they do not want it to. But I still think that it is one of the cleverest songs that I have ever written. And a lot of people may not even listen to words; they hear what they want to hear.
So please tell the ladies what really captures your heart.
BM: I'm not sure if I'm able to actually have that happen, to be honest with you. I was married once and I spent the next ten years after that trying to figure out what I wanted. In the meantime, I shut it all down and focused on other things. And when it happens, it happens. So I can't really say truly what it would be because I really don't know. It's more honesty for me. I can't just lie to someone and tell them that's what I want when it's not. So I just don't know. And I am just waiting for that to be revealed to me (laughing).
How do you balance touring nine months out of the year?
BM: Well, luckily my boys are grown so I do not have to do whole lot with them, and my daughter lives with her mother. So basically for the first time in my life I am single and living my life the way I want to live it and doing things for myself, which for my whole life I have been doing things for others.
It sounds like you're very happy, very sure of things and in a calm place.
BM: I am happy and I have no stress. Relationships are stressful when you are trying to please other people and that's all I've ever tried to do. And I was not very good at it. I know I am not good at relationships so I'd rather just not be in one.
Are there any new non-music projects at this time?
BM: I just completed an independent film a few months ago called Note to Self where I played a psychologist. So there are things on the horizon that I do not like to talk about until they come to fruition. When it happens you will be the first to know.
You'll be in Detroit this Friday Nov. 23. What's your favorite part about the city?
BM: My favorite part is the people. The people always make me feel like I am from Detroit and that makes me want to come back.
Brian McKnight will ignite the stage at Detroit's historic Masonic Temple on Friday, Nov. 23, at 7 p.m. Tickets for the concert, part of his Love Affair Tour, can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com. Fans can stay connected to McKnight on Facebook and Twitter @ItsBMcKnight.