Brian McKnight has managed to do something unheard of in today’s MTV-obsessed, cookie-cutter music world.
Two weeks ago his eighth album, “Gemini,” debuted at No. 2 on the R&B charts and sold more than 100,000 copies its first week — without the cushion of a music video.
Already producing two silky-smooth hits, “Every Time You Go Away” and the Grammy-nominated “What We Do Here,” McKnight has come back strong — and a little randy — after a two-year hiatus.
“Gemini” is a mix of elegant soul and at times downright nasty lyrics, reconciling the duality between McKnight’s God-fearing and freshly-divorced-bachelor-on-the-rebound selves.
Now 35, with more than 16 million albums sold in his decade-plus career, McKnight spoke with The Associated Press via cell phone from Los Angeles about love, longevity and lust:
AP: From one Gemini to another, I just know there’s a deeper reason for your album title besides the fact that you were born on June 5.
McKnight: That was the first reason. The second reason is because instead of running away from it like most Gemini men do, what I decided to do was embrace it, and to let my evil twin out of the basement to write some of the songs.
AP: Are the songs on this album leaning more toward the heart or the groin?
McKnight: It’s equal parts of both because as a man you try your best not to have your heart be involved because you’re a man, you know, and you’re run by your libido. But as you get older, you start to realize that there has to be more to life than just what happens between your legs.
AP: When you started your solo career back in the day, you were really open about being a family man. But as your albums progress, the playboy in you is in the foreground.
McKnight: What I always wanted to do was have acceptance on a musical level first. If I had given everything in the beginning, nine records later, I’d have nowhere to go. So it wasn’t a conscious decision to be that way, but I think it was the way to be because now there’s still a true story to tell.
AP: What do you attribute your longevity to?
McKnight: The one thing people have come to expect from me is the craftsmanship of a really good song. And at the end of the day, I think that’s all that really matters. If you rely on all of that other stuff, what will happen when the video isn’t that good?
AP: Was Sisqo’s “Thong Song” well-crafted? It was ubiquitous at one point.
McKnight: I think that was a good song because it did what it was supposed to do, it made people get up and want to dance.
AP: So what happened to him?
McKnight: I think with instant gratification, if you don’t have any substance to back it up, you eventually fall by the wayside like so many of these artists do. If you’re only thinking of what’s happening right now, you’re going to miss at some point. I try to write songs that will be able to get play 10 years from now. And if it takes a longer time to get there, then that’s a reward for me instead of having a song that’s number one right now that radio won’t play next summer.
AP: In the two-year span between albums, you spent some time playing professional basketball.
McKnight: I played in Mexico and in China. I’ve always done that but I never publicized it, and when people started finding that out, they wanted to talk to me about it. I don’t bring my musical thing to the basketball court.
AP: You mean you haven’t belted out the Star Spangled Banner, then dunked on somebody?
McKnight: No, I don’t do that. Every summer in L.A., I do still play in the pro leagues.
AP: You also went through a divorce in between albums. How has that impacted your music?
McKnight: I got a divorce three years ago. All you have to do is take a listen to the album, and you’ll hear how it impacted me. My album isn’t only about one thing — it has to deal with all of my emotions. There are the happy times, there are times when I just want to get some (sex), there are times when I met somebody that had some substance, and the ups and downs that I go through in the process.
AP: You named your album after your complex astrological sign. Do you believe in the vibrations of the planets?
McKnight: No, I don’t. I’m a Christian. I have to believe that God guides my path. If I believe that there’s any other force that controls that, then everything I learned growing up is false. It’s either all or nothing.
AP: But didn’t a Higher Being create everything around us, including other planets and even tools that help us understand our universe, such as astrology?
McKnight: Is there anything in the Bible that would suggest to you that there were astrological signs at that point? I can tell you right now that there’s not.
AP: Would you consider yourself more religious or spiritual?
McKnight: I’m a more spiritual person because I realize that all denominations and all religions are man-made.
AP: Many R&B and neo-soul singers are rooted in church, praising God at every chance. And yet they’re all about sex in their music. How do you reconcile that?
McKnight: If you look at the story of David, I think that sometimes people mistake the fact that people are human, and we all have desires and wants whether they’re sinful or not. Even the preacher, at some point, is going to lay down with his wife. I think people get caught up in the fact that if you’re Christian, you can’t have lustful thoughts. Sure you can — for the people you’re supposed to. Then there’s music for that. David wrote songs about it.