Brian McKnight. The name conjures up poetic adjectives, resonates with our romantic parts, speaks to our egos and hearts. The Brian that millions have sought out on matters of love when it has worn thin, is back with his latest album U-Turn. But it is not Brian of old, rather, call it Brian with a new twist.
I’m checking out his latest CD prior to our conversation to glean some insights into the life of Brian. The album kicks off with a hot party jam, “All Night Long” featuring Nelly. Sure he has done hip hop tracks with artists such as Mace previously but is this a new direction?
“You really don’t know when you wake up in the morning what gear you’re going to shift into as the day goes,” says the 33 year old Gemini, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles. “I try to speak with my albums what someone’s day would be and if it starts kinda upbeat; you wanna get up and get ready. It may slow down at some point, it may speed back up. That’s the way I look at life, the way I look at a day in life and that’s the way I approach my album.”
McKnight acknowledges that being known as a ballad singer is very difficult. But that’s life and he has grown used to that reality.
U-Turn twists and turns from “Shoulda Woulda, Coulda” whose video features the sultry vixen Vivica Fox, to “If It Was Cool.” Asked whether this is a concept album, he replies: “It’s not really a concept necessarily but when I finish writing I look at which songs make the best group of songs. There were songs I wrote that were great that just didn’t make this album cuz it would have changed the makeup of it.”
The album features a slew of jams that are introspective and speak once again to those in desperate need of fantasy to soothe their upsetting realities.
If McKnight sounds introspective on his 8th go-round, and especially ending off the album with his friend Kirk Franklin on “One of the Ones Who Did,” it is because it’s more a sign of the times - a rebirth.
Personal changes including the recent divorce from his college sweetheart, Julie, helped to alter the lyrical fabric of this album. McKnight is candid and speaks from the heart about their parting of ways.
“When you start that young,” he explains, “you may not know who you are yet and I think we just decided one day as friends that it’s probably best for us not to do it this way. It is a very amicable split.” He adds, “I think that at times people should do this as opposed to trying to make something work that isn’t.
I think that regardless of where you’re from, what your economics are, whether you’re black or white, we’ve all been through these situations. My life is not that much different from everyone else’s. Emotionally we’re all the same. The “public” me is an ideal perfect man that knows everything about relationships and understands everything that everyone’s going through and can seamlessly write everyone’s lives because he knows everything. The real Brian has no clue just like everybody else.”
It is easy to see why the private Brian is just as appealing. He manages to stay grounded in spite of his fame, fortune and now a significant change in direction in his personal life. McKnight leads a multifaceted life away from music, enjoying scuba and skydiving. He’s also very passionate about a semi-pro basketball team he owns.
“I just can’t seem to let it go,” he says laughing. I went to China last year and played some pro ball. I’ve got a big Pro-Am tournament next month in Vegas. It’s maybe a notch or two down from the NBA. And my 13 year old son is now the number one, eighth-grade basketball player in California.”
Our conversation returns to his latest album. The singer/songwriter refuses to admit having any favourite songs. Still he reveals that each one brings back to mind where he was when the words came to him. And he’s always ready to harness inspiration when it comes. Brian has a guitar in every room of his house, ensuring his favourite instrument is just steps away. He says he never writes down his lyrics. As the melodies dance through his head and the words fall from his lips in the recording studio, his assistant captures it on paper.
“’All Night Long’ was very simple, says McKnight. I heard the track that Nakid Holliwood did. Immediately I thought I’d give him the idea that you know, you’re sort of in the club and you’re doing your thing. That was really simple, that was easy to do. “’Someday, Someway, Somehow’” was really about seeing someone that I used to deal with a long time ago, for the first time in a long time. And umm, the only person that I was ever in love with. And I think that when you’re really in love with somebody that you can never really let go even if it never happens again and that’s what ‘Someday…’ is about.”
Brian McKnight is clear about the directions he has chosen on U-turn. He’s returning to his jazzy roots, has embraced hip hop and has once again set the mood to help us shift our gears too.