I am on the phone with Brian McKnight and I can’t believe what I’ve just done. In an effort to impress and engage, I tell McKnight that his nickname should be “The Mood Maker” because he has such a knack for creating just that with a song. And this man —whom I consider to be half human, half musical genius— starts giggling. And he continues to giggle as I share that the lead single off of his latest album More Than Words, “Sweeter”, is my favorite.
Throughout his 20-year career and over the course of 15 albums, he’s given me other favorites as well: “Anytime.” “You Should Be Mine.” “Let Me Love You.” “Back At One.” But back to the giggling. I’m not sure why it takes me off-guard so, but I smile on the inside and press on past my expectations, which were that he would be charming and engaging. The humility and lightheartedness juxtaposed with his confidence, introspectiveness, and insight on the state of the world and the state of music today are all pleasant surprises. It’s all Brian McKnight. And it’s all there, in the music.
VH1 TUNER: Let’s talk about the album cover to start — are you naked? And is that a woman’s foot in the picture?
Brian McKnight: Well, here’s the deal with that picture… the original picture was not as dark. The label felt like even in 2013 that the cover was too risqué, so they darkened it. But yes, I am naked. In the original picture you could see [the woman’s] legs and everything. I was hoping that people would look at it and say, “I wonder what either just happened, or is about to happen. It’s more artsy than it was supposed to be seductive. It’s just a cool picture that I had an idea to do, and we did it.
You have a gift for setting a mood with a song. What’s your secret to creating that music magic?
As far as the creation of the music itself, and the mood, that’s just what goes on in my head. I hear the entire musical form in my head before I even sit down to start playing the stuff. I’m probably the furthest from being romantic that you’ve ever seen, I’m not even close to being romantic in any way until I have to be. But I guess when I need to do that I can go there, but I don’t even really think about it. I let everybody else decide how they feel about what I do. I just do it.
You come from a musical family, and you’re definitely bringing it second-generation McKnight style on this release, which features contributions from your sons Brian Jr. and Niko. And they both can sing!!! What was it like working with your sons on this project?
Well, I’ve been working with them now for years, this isn’t the first time we’ve worked together this way. It’s great to have really super-talented kids, it’s just not that great to have them at this time, because they’re at a time when talent doesn’t matter that much anymore, and actually it can be detrimental to a career. We are living in the age of the “music personalities”—not musical artists. It’s all attitude, and it’s much less about performing and actually being able to sing, and being able to play and being able to write. And consequently it’s not exactly the recipe for sustaining a long career, unfortunately.