Grammy-nominated R&B singer Brian McKnight hosted an intimate concert for fans at the Avalon Hollywood this past Tuesday night. The footage from the show will be included in McKnight’s upcoming Just Me album and DVD release, slated to hit stores this April.
More than 1,000 guests filled the venue’s three levels, as McKnight played a variety of hits from his fifteen albums for three hours. With each stroke of the piano key and sound of his sensual voice, he craftily compelled the crowd to quietly sway to his slow jams and to dance to his funky R&B rhythms. With an onstage serenade to one lucky audience member named Melita, soulful performances with his two sons Brian Jr. (BJ) and Niko, a candid audience Question & Answer session, a special request period and an after-concert Meet and Greet, McKnight truly delivered a memorable night.
We had an exclusive opportunity to speak with him afterward to find out his thoughts on everything, from how the concert came to fruition to how he selects his fans to pull onstage and his future endeavors. Read on:
Wilson: The concert was absolutely phenomenal. What prompted you to do a live concert DVD at this point in your career?
McKnight: All the other concerts that I’ve done have been all pretty much what you’d expect–your band and crew and video screens. When last year I decided to do this one-man show, I really didn’t know what to expect from people who were coming to see it because most people have no idea who I really am – they know the songs I write and they get an idea based on that – but that isn’t really who I am. I think that Tuesday night, you got the chance to see the real me in addition to what I do and how I do it. This is something that I’ve never really seen before, and I thought it’d be something great captured on film.
Wilson: What was the selection process behind the songs that you decided to perform for the show?
McKnight: That’s a hard question to answer because there are obviously songs that I have to play. Beyond that, I really chose songs that told my story. I wanted to showcase the way I write and why I write that way. And sometimes, some of the more popular songs don’t necessarily do that. They show me wanting commercial success [laughs], which I had with those songs.
Wilson: Are there any songs of yours that are your favorites to perform?
McKnight: I love them all. See when you write them the way I do – all the songs I did the other night with the exception of “Crazy Love” I wrote – they all have their own unique story behind them, and they all have a different meaning for me. So for me there isn’t one that’s better than the other. I’ll leave that up to the people who listen to them. And like I said at the show, if you have one song of mine that you like, then I’m happy.
Wilson: So what are some songs that audiences go wild for? I remember everyone went crazy for “Anytime.”
McKnight: I put the three biggest hits at the end for that reason: “Anytime,” “Back at One” and “One Last Cry” are the biggest. But it’s always amazing to me the songs that people call out when I do the request period. That’s when I know those songs that may not be the most popular ones on the radio but are the ones that people actually listen to on the CD. Because we’ve become a single buying audience where you don’t know the other songs on people’s records, my fans don’t know all of my songs. But, some of them know the songs better than I do, and I wrote them [laughs].
Wilson: I have to ask about Melita, the one lucky lady whom you pulled onto stage to serenade. How did she get selected?
McKnight: I know that people are always surprised about the woman who comes up. I want to give the woman who no one would expect to get that opportunity her chance. I love that idea that I can do that for someone. And again, you know most people I’ve seen who bring women out of the audience – it’s usually for them [laughs].For me, it’s really about that person, because this is her moment, and it may be her only moment when it comes to certain things, so I want be able to give that to her.
Wilson: During the show you told a lot of stories about how you came from a very musical family – how your mother’s a classically trained pianist and your older brother Claude formed the music group Take 6. Did you always know you wanted to pursue music professionally?
McKnight: Not at all. When I was a kid, it was the furthest thing from my mind because I didn’t think it was possible. People you see on television, they’re from another planet. They’re not like those of us who are just from some small town playing at a local gig. It wasn’t until my brother actually was on the Grammys and they had a record out and were getting all these accolades that I said “Oh wow.” So maybe it is possible. And then I looked at the prize until I got it.
Wilson: And now you’ve been in the industry 20 years. And, it’s apparent that you’re serious about your craft. But I have to admit – at the concert, I was really shocked at how funny you were. You had the crowd laughing every five minutes.
McKnight: [Laughs] I think that’s the thing that people are most surprised about because if you listen to my songs, you’d think that I’m this guy that sits around contemplating love and life all the time, and never smiles. But that’s not me at all. I write about moments in time, and most of the time I’m goofing off. I really wanted people to see that side and I think that they’ve seen it when they come to my concerts because there’s always stories and things like that, but not to this magnitude that I do in this particular show. But here’s the other thing; I sing 90% of slow songs in this show. In order to keep the pace moving and not make you feel like you’re sitting through two hours of love songs, I have to figure out a way to bridge the gap between those songs. For me, that would make sense to be humorous and find the funny side of life.
Wilson: I definitely had tears rolling down my cheeks at some points. Also another part of the show that was really special was when you brought your two sons BJ and Niko onstage and performed with them. What’s that like when you’re with them?
McKnight: There’s not a whole lot that can beat that. The three of us – we’re so close and we work so well together. They have their own thing – they’re not trying to be me. They’ve figured out a way to create what they create their own way, and I think it’s wonderful. Any opportunity I have to perform with them, I take it. We’ve been doing that together now for three years. Their records are about to start coming out so it’s going to be less and less time that I’ll be able to do that with them. So now I’ll continue to have it as much as I can.
Wilson: After being in the music industry for so long, how do you think an artist like yourself continues to maintain longevity in an industry that’s constantly changing?
McKnight: Well I’m lucky. I came along at a time when people still wanted quote-on-quote “artistry.” I think if I was trying now, it would be very difficult. But I think that I’ve never compromised on trying to do something different than what my audience has expected from me. So I just do that. I don’t worry about, you know, the commercial aspects of it anymore because it’s a dying thing for my side of the business. But I can still sell out 150 shows a year because I’ve never given my audience less than what they’ve expected from me. I think I’ve always given them more.
Wilson: You have an upcoming tour for the summer and also your Just Me album, so could you talk about what we can expect from you in the future?
McKnight: For me it’s always the immediate future. There’s this record – the thing you heard the other night? That’s part of the CD. There are four new songs on that CD as well. And then the DVD component of that will be shortly thereafter. I hope that when people hear that stuff, they want to see how it came about as well. And then on top of that, the tour that goes along with that with my boys and my brother from Take 6 will come over. We’ll have sort of a McKnight family reunion onstage. Beyond that, I don’t know. That’ll take me all the way to September. It’s some other things on the horizon that I’m not really willing to talk about right now.
Wilson: Can you give us a sneak peak, or is it all a secret?
McKnight: Not that it’s a secret. There’s a couple of TV things that are on my plate that I’m vacillating back and forth about. There’s a couple of other things that have nothing to do with music or television or entertainment at all. They are right there at the finish line but we haven’t crossed the line yet, so I don’t want to jinx that. So you know, just preparing for the future in other ways beyond my own career and what I’ve done.
Wilson: Nice. And then just at the end of the day, what is the legacy that you hope to leave behind through your music?
McKnight: You know what, if they write something on my tombstone, hopefully they write that hey, this guy wrote really good songs. That’s all I care about [laughs].