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INTERVIEW: Brian McKnight Talks Auto-Tune Criticism, Porn Stars, The N-Word & More!

Crooner chats to us...

By Samson Pharaoh on Monday 19th December 2011 Photo by Owen Beiny/WENN.com

Brian McKnight was cool, calm and collected before going on stage for the first of his four dates at London’s Jazz Café on his ‘Just Me’ World Tour.

Before the 42-year-old singer was due to start his sound check, TaleTela was thrilled to chat to the crooner about his sons BJ and Niko’s band ‘BRKN RBTZ’ (Broken Robots), what he thinks about being attacked for using auto-tune on track ‘Fall 5.0’ and fighting porn star Alana Evans on Twitter…

It really is this cold in London pretty much all the time, how are you finding your time the city?

I love this place, I didn’t like it the first time that I came.

Why?

London can be very cliquey in the sense that if you don’t know people, if you don’t have any connections…but I guess any place is like that. Each subsequent time that I have come back, it’s become more popular – it can be real fun here, I’ll just leave it like that (laughs)

Tell me about the album Just Me, any favourite tracks, highlights?

The greatest thing about that CD is that there are forty live songs on there, so basically the one-man show that I am doing tonight at the Jazz Café is on there. There are ten new songs and I like them too but it’s great to revisit songs the way I wrote them as opposed to the way that I produced them. Most of the time it’s just me and a guitar at the piano playing and that’s what that live CD is about.

Is your focus on live music your answer to a modern culture that relies on computers to make records, that effectively says ‘we don’t need instruments to make music anymore?’

I don’t think people are saying ‘we don’t need live instruments to sing or make music’, I think they are saying we don’t need any of that to be famous. I think you still need something musical to have a career, I think you need something that sets you apart. You need some talent, if you have talent and charisma and all those things together than you have a great recipe for a great career but if you only have one or two of those pieces then you can be very famous, you can make a lot of money…then sometime down the line people will forget about you.

What is the difference between fame and talent for you?

These days they very rarely go hand in hand at the same time, these days talent may not be enough to get you off the ground, so an artist has to figure out another way. Hopefully that changes, hopefully there will be some rock band that comes along…maybe by the name of ‘BRKN RBTZ’ that comes along and changes all of that! (Laughs)

But I think that is the number one factor that is making this music industry obsolete because they forgot about some of those other things that artists have to have, that people can actually grab a hold of.

Speaking of BRKN RBTZ, was there always the feeling that your sons BJ and Niko would go into music, or were you horrified upon catching them with a guitar one day?

I was neither horrified nor did I think it was just the norm, because I think that the biggest thing that has held them back is the fact that they are my children. I think people automatically assume that they do what I do, and they don’t but they can.

I’m sure you can’t help but give advice to your sons about the industry, what do you always tell them?

I always tell them ‘if you can make it doing anything on your own terms, then the reward will be so much greater.’ I don’t play stadiums, but I still have my thing, that is mine and nobody else and take that away from me – I managed to have some success along the way as well – but they live in a different time and I know they feel like they have to give up something, and they may have to, but hopefully they will be able to do exactly what they want to do and do it their way, and that’s a much bigger reward than all the other things.

Keeping in mind your own inspirations, music and sound – are there any particular artists that you see out today as genuinely fit to carry on that legacy?

(Pauses) That’s a tough question, I hear songs occasionally that are really good – I can’t think of their names - but the problem is that I don’t know who that artist is and that’s the biggest disconnect. When we were kids we heard a song and knew who the artist was, even if we didn’t know they had a new album out or whatever, nowadays this artist sounds like this artist – you just don’t know which artist is which, mostly because they’re just all talking (laughs) because anyone can talk and that makes it very easy to…don’t get me started on that (laughs) What I hope happens is music can get back into the hands of the artists themselves.

I was scanning iTunes and read comments from life-long Brian McKnight fans enraged by your use of auto-tune on ‘Fall 5.0.’ What do you say to them?

I say…first of all I would never want to talk down to anyone…

They used the words ‘sellout’ and ‘gimmicky’…

That’s because they weren't listening… the problem is everybody has an opinion and usually they have an opinion without actually taking a step back and saying 'let me just listen to this without being prejudice.' Auto-tune is an effect, no different from reverb, chorus or whatever else you may use. The problem is that it is called auto-tune – if it were called Cadillac it would just be an effect.

People know that everybody else can use it to make them sing in tune, if somebody who actually sings uses it they say that it’s because they want to sell out – for me it’s a just a cool effect, if you use it properly (laughs) I don’t need auto-tune, I know that everybody knows that but the tracks sound futuristic for Brian McKnight and so I wanted to add a little something and start the controversy. If I hadn’t done it nobody would be talking about it… so they can think what they want, just spell my name right… (laughs)

Both fans of yours and Mariah Carey’s cite your 1997 collaboration ‘Whenever You Call’ as one of their favourites; do you have any particular memories working with her? Will you be working with her again?

I’m not sure if I will be working with her again, that’s up to her, but we didn’t really work together that’s the thing. We’re cool, love her to death and maybe it was because she trusted me enough to go in the studio on a track on which she had sung all of her parts but I just matched what she did, she wasn’t even really there. (Laughs) I would like to work that way more, when I worked with R. Kelly he never came to that studio, he just sent me the tracks, I did it in my studio and I sent them back – I think that’s the kind of trust people have with me. Mariah is an amazing talent, an incredible songwriter always has been – always been one of my favourites – a little crazy but you can’t fault anybody for that! (Laughs)

What do you think of the N-word being used in music?

It’s not a word that I have ever liked, because most people don’t know what it means (Laughs) it is the most derogatory word in the English language, that’s why it was used on us. I always felt like if you are smart there are thousands of adjectives that you could use, but they have chosen this one. The other side of it is, the use of the word has desensitised it to a new generation. I know what it’s like to be called that and not have it be a cool thing (laughs) maybe in the future there won’t be that kind of racism anymore and so that word will become like the work 'Gay' except in reverse, which used to mean happy.

I don’t use the N-word I tell my kids it’s probably not the best idea to use it. It’s just weird to use white people using it – or even weirder seeing my Arabic friends and how they use it. I don’t know, I’ve never been asked that before, it can’t be a good thing but hopefully they can spin it into something good.

You’ve dipped you hands into many pies over the years, is anything particularly interesting coming up next year – I know you have your new venture M247.com…?

We are going to put cameras in our house 24/7. Not doing what Big Brother did but doing things more like The Truman Show (laughs)

So no breaks and constant cameras?

Well what you will be able to do is look at a floor plan of our house online, so if you want to see what is happening in the kitchen, you can click on it – there will be a radio station where you can hear our new music 24/7. We will have our own radio shows and run our own TV studio too. I will have my ‘Chord Progression of the Week’ on there because people are always asking me how I play certain bits on my tracks…we will do our ‘Guitar Lick of the Week’, we will have all these wacky shows.

We have a fat friend named Chubz and we are going to do a ‘Biggest Loser’ thing with him, trying to get him to lose weight but we will all be working out because my girlfriend is a trainer – all these wacky things which everyone will be able to tune into…

All via this website?

Oh yeah.

For the whole year - or for longer than that?

Well we will see what happens, but the whole thing is to bring the fans to us so they can purchase our music from us.

You don’t fear you’re going to go nuts being on cameras all day, all week, all year?

We may go nuts (laughs) but there are all kinds of crazy things going on in that house that we should have caught on camera, and now we will (laughs)

Wow, so it will launch on January 1st 2012?

Yeah, well thereabouts…

How are you finding Twitter, how long have you been on it?

It’s the most intrusive, ridiculous thing that they have ever invented and it is completely and utterly addictive because you can talk to your people anytime of the day. It’s weird to me how I can say something and there is always some one replying to anything that I say, it’s kinda scary. Even though I follow people I don’t spend any time on their timelines looking at everything that they’ve got to say. If I went through other people’s and commented on theirs it would be mayhem.

What have been the most interesting tweets you have received?

There was a whole thing a few years ago where this girl Alana Evans, who is a porn star had been hanging out at my house with my kids and their friends and there were accusations that she was raped at my house, whilst I was out of town.

So I saw her at an electronics store and she was apologizing to me and then went on Twitter and was saying that I was trying to apologize to her for the whole thing, completely changing the story so I had this whole back and forth thing with her online.

My brother then called me and said: ‘hey, this probably isn’t the forum for this conversation because everybody is looking at you and what you’re saying.’ You think you're having a conversation with one person but you don’t realise that everybody is tuning in…if you can get past all the crazy people on Twitter then you’ll be all right.

But that Twitter is out of control (laughs) She and her husband were trying to get to me that day and I wasn’t having it because she’s a liar. She slept with my son’s fat friend, Chubz and then tried to tell everyone that he raped her – and I was like why are you hanging out with teenagers at my house? She’s 32…is she not having enough fun? But anyway hey, what are you gonna do?

Follow Brian on Twitter @ItsBMcKnight

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