Brian Kent is no stranger to the pop dance music scene. From reaching the Top 40 Billboard Club chart to being named one of Logo’s Top Artists of the Year, Brian has continued to churn out hit after hit throughout his sparkling music career.
After spending years in New York, Brian moved to San Francisco to continue making music and also exercise his business savvy, becoming owner of Beatbox, one of the city’s go-to dance clubs.
Brian recently collaborated with world-renowned DJ Wayne G on his latest track, a cover of U2′s “With or Without You.” Brian and Wayne bring a new, fresh, updated feel to this track, avoiding the karaoke pitfalls that so many other artists fall in to when approaching covers. The video, released today, honors Bono’s original vision while incorporating and featuring intimate aspects of Brian’s life, including his beloved friends that make up his San Framily and the club that he pour his blood, sweat and tears in to.
I had the chance to sit down with Brian to talk about the nascent stages of his career, his love for Cyndi Lauper and where we can catch him next.
DP: How did you start in the music business and how did you get to where you are today?
BK: I started off in theater shows as a little kid. Music and performing has always been a part of my life. But my real break was when I moved to Las Vegas and met one of Kristine W.’s dancers. She told me to come to Kristine’s show and I was completely amazed by her raw, natural energy. My friend brought me backstage to meet Kristine in her in her dressing room. I immediately said: “When am I going to sing with you?” She said: “Sing ‘Father Figure’ for me right now!” When I finished, she thanked me for my performance and said: “I want you to do a live number with me on stage.” I decided to do “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, as Kristine’s guitarist said that he knew how to play this song on the keyboard. Unfortunately, when the time came for me to perform the following night, the guitarist totally messed up the song, switching the bridge and the chorus, so I just had to make up lyrics. When I looked up to the balcony, Kristine was gone. I thought I had blown my chance and went home really upset. The next morning, Kristine called me and said: “I don’t know what you were singing last night, but anyone who can keep his composure and make up words on the spot like that can work for me anytime.” I worked with her for many years after that night, and ended up moving to New York to release my first single, a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
DP: So tell me about “With or Without You” – how did this come to fruition?
BK: I first met Wayne G in Sydney, and kept running in to him in San Francisco. We decided to work together and he originally wanted me to record a cover of Seal’s “Killer.” He texted me the morning we were supposed to be in the studio and said: “I was just at the gym and heard ‘With or Without You’, and I think we should go with that song instead.” I trusted his instincts, so we went in to the studio that day and recorded it.
DP: What is the concept behind the video?
BK: This is my first concert-set video, where the viewer is actually watching a live performance. For me, the track speaks to my career – I can’t live with or without my audience and my career. As a performer, sometimes it’s overwhelming to be in the spotlight, but on the other side of this, I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t performing.
DP: And this must have been a special experience since the video was filmed with your own friends at your own club, Beatbox.
BK: Absolutely. I was able to bring friends, local celebs and party-goers to the shoot, which features a live concert and my interpretation of Bono’s video. It’s not quite as dramatic as the original, because it’s a dance version, but it has a similar feel.
DP: What is your favorite moment of your music career to date?
BK: The moment that I won the Out Music Award. It was the first time I had ever won anything, and it was such an unexpected win. I was up against so much great talent, so it turned in to a really special moment, being recognized by my community.
DP: Who are you listening to right now and who is your favorite pop artist of the moment?
BK: I listen to a lot of different artists, but my favorite newer group is called M’Black. They have a dance song out called “Crush” that has a really great meaning. In terms of my favorite current pop artist, I never play favorites in any aspect of my life (food, colors, etc.) so I just try to listen and take everything in. If I’m going to go this direction, it’s going to be someone who is an authentic singer and songwriter. Both Adele and Lana Del Rey resonate deeply with me.
DP: If you could pick anyone to duet with, who would it be?
BK: I would want to duet with Cyndi Lauper. She is a true performer and singer/songwriter. Her energy on stage is so great, and I’d love to collaborate with her on a track.
DP: Did you see the True Colors tour?
BK: I did, and loved it. I’ve seen her perform so many other times, and actually got to meet her when she was on Fire Island.
DP: She did that video “In To The Night” in the bathroom at Splash in NYC. Were you there?
BK: I was there! I was actually in the video – very briefly – and it was a really fun experience getting a taste of working with her. She was also at the Pier Dance last year, and she just brings it every time.
DP: Where can we see you performing next?
BK: I’m going to be performing at one of the official Pride fundraiser events in San Francisco at the Harry Denton Starlight Room with Donna Sachet. I’ll be going back to my Broadway roots, but there will be a mix of pop songs and duets as well. Wilson Cruz and Leanne Borghesi will also be performing. You can get tickets here.
DP: PopOnAndOn readers love Britney Spears – how do you feel about her?
BK: I did a spot for LogoTV in which I actually answered this exact same question. Check it out:
DP: As a club owner in San Francisco, what kind of music is resonating with your crowds right now?
BK: Our audiences are so varied and different, but as a whole, I think we are coming back to music in a way we used to approach it a long time ago. We don’t want it quite as produced, the auto-tune isn’t really there anymore, and we want to get back to that authentic sound. We will still use technology, but we went a little crazy with it for a while. We want a new version of what we used to listen to all the time.
DP: I think Adele helped this transformation as she has ruled the charts for the last 2 years straight. That authenticity is something people are latching on to.
BK: That throat issue made her even more authentic and made us love her harder. People want to experience a true gift that people have been given, and if you don’t have that gift, you won’t be around for too long.
DP: I’m obsessed with music from the UK – why do you think think it is so hard for UK music to translate to American audiences?
BK: I think a lot of US pop music finds success through marketing and marketing alone. Not to put down the American audience, but we are told by labels who to listen to. Look at Kristine W – she has had more #1 singles on the Billboard dance charts than Madonna! How is it possible that she has so many great tracks and is not more popular than she is today? UK music isn’t marketed to us in the same way as US music, so I think it’s a combination of marketing and politics that makes it incredibly difficult for international artists to find success here.
DP: Where do you want to be one year from today?
BK: Being an out artist, I have been really fortunate to have the career that I have. I am really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. I’m not going to sit here and say that I want six #1 hits – I want to be realistic. I just hope I still have the passion and drive that I have today, and that I can inspire young LGBT artists to do what they want to do regardless of what people tell them.
DP: Anything else you’d like to tell us?
BK: I’m working on an original track with Wayne that you will hear soon. And Crystal Waters will be performing at Beatbox during Pride weekend on June 29th – Chris Cox will be DJ’ing. You can get your tickets here.