Black Music Month Interview Series: A Conversation With The Legendary Will Downing
Just one note… and you instantly know “That Voice“. A voice that melts like warm chocolate syrup over his growing legion of adoring female fans, who will tell you that “no one sounds like Will Downing“. Uniquely gifted with an unmatched arsenal of velvet lows and silky falsetto highs, few can challenge the growing belief that this versatile crooner is the rightful heir to the Smooth R&B throne.
Blurring the line between jazz and classic soul in a musical era that often pushes style over substance, Will Downing has amassed a timeless body of work that has never forced his listeners to make that compromise. The consistent choice of classy style over flashy trends, have fueled the success of a 15 album-two decade long career, with millions of albums sold in countries all over the world. Most of today’s performers would be fortunate to accomplish a track record only half as long. As one of the lone surviving mature male vocalists in a youth driven market, this Brooklyn native emerges at the top of his game and continues to expand his fan base with each new musical chapter.
Recognized by the Grammy’s and the NAACP Image Awards for his excellence on the stage and in the studio, Will Downing is starting to become equally well known for his talents outside of that realm. Unbeknownst to many of his listeners, Will Downing is a noted and equally skilled photographer. His subjects of choice are his musical contemporaries whom he captures live on-stage or in candid moments behind the curtain.
Recently Mr. Will Downing spoke to Aries of UrbanBridgez.com for our Black Music Month Interview Series. We spoke to him about his three EP projects, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, his lessons learned from the music business, creating his classic album Pleasures of the Night with Gerald Albright, what current artists are on his radar and much more!
UrbanBridgez.com: Let’s start with Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, tell fans about these projects?
Will Downing: Yesterday is a 4 song EP. Full of remakes, four classic songs that you all know and love. Like This Time I’ll Be Sweeter and another one is Symphony which was originally done by Atlantic Starr. So I just took those classic songs and gave it a Will Downing kind of thing. The Today project which was released in February, is four original songs by me. Done in very traditional Will Downing style. A style that I’ve pretty much been known for; for the last twenty something years. Tomorrow will be what I normally do, with a little twist to it. So I’m working on that as we speak and hopefully I will have it by the end of June.
UrbanBridgez.com: What would you say is the best part about being an independent artist now?
Will Downing: You know it’s interesting, what it does is put you back in contact with the public at large and for those who really make the industry work. As an artist when you’re signed to a big label, basically things just happen. You get phone calls that say appear here or you get calls and emails saying you sold this. But you never know where it went or who bought what, you don’t know anything. The great thing about being independent is the fact that you’re really hands on. There’s nothing wrong with knowing how things work from the inside/out. It’s a great feeling, you’re certainly more hands on and you’re building relationships for the future. It’s very exciting!
UrbanBridgez.com: Really good because these labels today are just getting all the money and with these 360 now deals, it’s kind of crazy.
Will Downing: You know when you’re independent I don’t know if it’s this major financial thing that people look at. Alot of people think you’re breaking in a whole lot of money. The real fact of the matter is for everything that you do, there are expenses. So you’re sending out money and with a major label you’re spending money you never see spent. It just sort of happens, like hey I heard my record on the radio today. You think someone just played it because they really like the record, that’s really not the way it works. So when you become independent you realize oh, it’s all about favors okay. I’m going to show up at your station, your radio event, I’m going to do this and that, in order to get the record played. And you have to get there, so it’s not like you’re making all this dough. What you’re making, hopefully you’re reinvesting in yourself.
UrbanBridgez.com: What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in this business?
Will Downing: I think the biggest one I’ve learned is, the music business isn’t necessarily about music. That’s probably the biggest lesson that anybody that decides they want to do this is something that you’ll learn over a course of time. When you first get into this thing you’re so naive and excited about wanting to be in the business, like I said in the last response…that you really think someone likes your music and that’s what made the difference. There are alot of politics in the music industry, so that was probably the biggest wake up call that I ever had.
UrbanBridgez.com: Pleasures of the Night with Gerald Albright is such a classic album. Take us back to that time and tell me what you best remember about recording it?
Will Downing: I would say that was the most fun that I’ve ever had recording a record. I’ve made like 16 albums and it’s always been like the same process, you know by yourself or with a producer and an arranger. It was good to be able to have someone to bounce these things off of. Working with Gerald, I mean he’s a class act, really good friend of mine and I’d go to his house or he would come to the studio I was at out in L.A. We work together and make magic and it was just good to have someone to bounce things off of and we’ve been friends forever, so it was a really easy project to do and we had alot of fun!
UrbanBridgez.com: You can tell it’s an amazing album!
Will Downing: Aww man, thank you so much.
UrbanBridgez.com: Speaking of amazing, your catalog of music and features you’ve been apart of, off the top of your head what are your top favorite songs you’ve recorded?
Will Downing: That’s a tough one. I would say probably the duet I did with Rachelle Ferrell (Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This), that’s a biggie. The whole A Dream Fulfilled project, it was good to see that project as a success because I remember fighting with the record company about doing that project. We had a straight up, straight up fight you know just calling each other all types of unpleasentries and all. You know somewhat questioning artistic values. Someone telling you they know who you are, better than you do! So it was good doing that project and having it be a success. When someone tells me I can’t do something and it works out, I’m like see I’m not as crazy as I look. It’s like leave me alone, mind your freaking business and let me do what I do!
UrbanBridgez.com: I can understand that! Do you plan to record anymore audio novels like Lust, Love and Lies?
Will Downing: I would never say never, but probably not. I really enjoyed doing that project. It was alot of work and I think it went under appreciated to be honest with you. I don’t think that the masses really understood it. It was fun to record and alot of work to do. I mean the ladies got it, but the men didn’t get it at all (laughs).
UrbanBridgez.com: I listened to the Wind Down Radio Show the other day, great job. Tell people about that for those that are not aware.
Will Downing: Thanks! It’s just something that I do. It’s a radio show to introduce new music, new artists, music in general. I’m not a big fan of radio these days, so I listen to it a bit but I’m just disappointed. So instead of just talking about it, I thought it would be best if we did something about it. Don’t complain about it and not try to make a difference and try to change it. So that was kind of like my goal to introduce the artists that don’t necessarily get a chance to be heard on mainstream radio.
UrbanBridgez.com: Who are some current artists you enjoy and would like to work with if given the opportunity?
Will Downing: You know who I really really love, I love this girl Jazmine Sullivan’s voice! She really kind of renewed my faith in music again. You’re sort of looking at all these artists and you’re like ahhh, that sucks. Then someone like that comes along and you go okay! This is someone who has a very special voice, she’s got one of those voices. I’m excited, I would love to have the opportunity to work with someone like that. I would love to hear our voices together on something.
UrbanBridgez.com: Now that would be hot! You’re a spokesperson for The American Heart association and you were honored as a Celebrity Ambassador by them. What made you originally want to join that association?
Will Downing: We sort of met in the middle to be honest with you, I was just called in to do a voice-over for a commercial. Like a celebrity voice-over for the American Heart Association. So when I was doing the commercial they were schooling me on what the whole thing was about and I started getting into it. Then I was like maybe I can help out in some sort of way, from there I just joined in and tried to make some sense out of it all. I’m not the kind of person that just enjoys just the speech aspect of being apart of anything. What I try to do is make it alot more fun, I ended up doing a couple of events across the country. These bowling events and I call them Strike Against Stroke, we invite the public out and the American Heart Association is there and people can learn steps to take to prevent and raise their awareness at the same time. I just thought it was something great to do.
UrbanBridgez.com: What advice would you give to up-coming recording artists & musicians, who not only want to get in the business, but stay relevant as long as you have throughout your career?
Will Downing: I always tell people to be themselves, don’t try to follow the trend. Just be yourself and sing about things that you’re passionate about, because sincerity will come through as you’re singing. If you’re not feeling it, ain’t nobody going to believe you. That’s what vocalizing is, that’s all singing is, is being a story teller. If you can’t be a good story teller then don’t. Don’t make yourself into something you’re not, because that will be the one thing that hits and then you’ll be stuck with it forever. That’s the bad thing about not being yourself, you’ll be like I’ll do this thing just because and that will be the one that semi hits and then you’ll be labeled forever. Forever you’ll be that dude, so enjoy yourself and enjoy the ride! When you don’t enjoy it anymore, get out. Being in the music industry is like being an over grown kid. You have to enjoy it, it’s not real work per say. Have fun with it while it last because the industry doesn’t last long.
UrbanBridgez.com: Anything else you want to share with your fans before we wrap up?
Will Downing: Go get the latest Today project and pick up some of the past stuff. I look forward to releasing the Tomorrow project very soon,so stay tuned!
For Will Downing Tour Dates: Visit His [Official Website]