Brian McKnight Interview

By Marsha Gosho Oakes

It’s looking like Brian McKnight may be one of the hardest-working men in soul music today. With CDs selling less than they used to, McKnight has embraced the world of TV, radio and record label independence – hosting a nightly radio show on “42 stations nationwide, all the way down the Eastern seaboard,” featuring on US Celebrity Apprentice, launching The Brian McKnight TV show in September this year along with a new album released for the first time on his own terms – with no major label. He just doesn’t stop, I think to myself as I note he’s doing this interview down the phone to me whilst at the driving range in LA.

“If I sleep about 4 hours a day I can function at 99% efficiency,” laughs the ambidextrous musician. Breaking down an average day in his life, he estimates, “A normal day, I get up, I box, so I’m with my boxing trainer 7-9am, at some point in the day I’ll run two miles too. After I’m done with that I’ll eat or go home and figure out something to do, then normally I’m at the studio around 3.15, I go on the air at 4pm, I’m there ‘til 9pm, then I go home.”

brianmcknight6“After 20 years in this business records alone won’t… records have been the bridge to get everywhere I would like to be. These days it’s about multimedia because people have so many choices, so I never just wanted to be a music artist or just a producer or just a writer, I kind of wanted to do everything and when the opportunity’s arisen I’ve risen to the occasion.”

He adds, “The Brian McKnight TV show airs here in the first weekend in September so I’m going to launch the album at the same time as the TV show; first week of September.”

A little known jazz junky, McKnight can be found listening to Miles Davis, Coltrane and Oscar Peterson in his downtime – or whatever downtime could possibly exist in his life. “I’m really lazy, I don’t wanna do anything,” he adds, confusingly – before clarifying, “My favourite thing in the world is to do absolutely nothing. But it’s what I have to do; I have to be in shape, I have to work.”

He definitely should be in shape with his extra-curricular activities – media exploits not included – featuring: boxing, playing in three basketball leagues (one pro), holding weekly table tennis tournaments with his friends and passionately pursuing golf, of which he says: “It’s the hardest thing to do in the world next to raising children. It is the hardest thing to do. Tiger Woods hasn’t conquered golf and he’s the best one in the world. You’re fighting against yourself – against your bad habits and your bad tendencies.”

The 6“5 car fanatic (he has owned 54 cars) would slap my wrist for describing him as a soul artist at the beginning of this piece. “I don’t really look at myself as being one type of anything. I’m an artist, now whether it’s a soul artist or this artist or that artist…

brian_mcknight1I’ve had number one pop songs, number one R&B songs, I’ve had number one Country songs, I’ve done it all. So when you don’t put yourself into whatever basket they wanna put you in, it allows you the freedom to try just about anything.

“If you look at an artist like Justin Timberlake, who’s white, he can get played on any station. They don’t look at him and say you’re just this, but when it comes to black guys it’s a whole different thing that happens. It kinda sucks that it’s that way. When I was thinking this way as an artist when I came out, I wanted to break all of that down and consequently I had a lot of success on all the charts.

“When you come to my shows abroad and at home, it’s everyone. It’s not just black people, it’s not just this kind of person, it’s not just people who have money; it’s all economically diverse, culturally diverse and I think music has the ability to do that except when people compartmentalise it.”

McKnight names Timberlake as his favourite artist to have worked with to date, having collaborated on “My Kind of Girl” back in 2002. “Working with Justin was the best. People don’t really look at him as being as musically talented as he is, but he is – and until you work with him you may not realise it. It may not show so much on the records he does now because he’s got to stay at the forefront of what pop culture is, but inside there’s a lot of music in there. A lot.”

We return to the subject of his own forthcoming music and his decision to release it completely independently after stints with Mercury, Motown and Warner Bros. “This next record will be on my label, completely independent of all the record company mumbo jumbo.” He explains, “The biggest thing is – and I hate to sound like the capitalistic person we’ve all become – but when I looked at how much money I made the record labels that I’ve been signed to – and how much they gave me – there was a huge disparity between the two. So I could actually sell considerably less records on my own label and make more money.

“There’s nothing I could have done differently because the opportunities weren’t there before because I was signed to a record deal. The record labels know what they do when they sign you to a long-term deal because they lock you in. I had to wait, I had to satisfy the end of those deals until I could finally do things the way I really wanted to.”

Powering on through a super form of multi-tasking heaven or hell, what’s left for Brian McKnight to aspire for in life? “Retirement. At some time in the near future, being retired and living on a golf course; that’s about it.”