Every story has an arc, and love stories are no different. There’s the initial encounter, the flirtation, the first date, the escalation, the passion…and then the map gets a little fuzzy. What comes next is hard to predict – rock-solid commitment and eternal devotion for some, disillusionment or even betrayal for others. Some stories end happily ever after, some not so much.
Vocalist Will Downing has a tale of love to tell. It may or may not be based on a true story, but it’s one that we’ve all lived through at one time or another. Downing’s version, Lust, Love and Lies (An Audio Novel) – which he fondly calls “an audio soap opera,” complete with intermittent vignettes of intimate conversations that help move the story along – includes elements of comedy, tragedy and all the subtle shades in between.
“This record had actually been coming together in my mind for five years,” says Downing. “I just didn’t know how to go about it at first. Then when I first started writing the songs, it started to make sense as a story. I’d never made a record like this before. I had always sort of erred on the side of caution and safety when making records. This was the first time I said, ‘You know what? Let’s just do something completely different.’”
Aided primarily by co-producers Rex Rideout and Chris “Big Dog” Davis (who also plays keyboards throughout the set), guitarist Randy Bowland and bassist Anthony Jackson – along with a number of guest players and vocalists – Downing settles into a groove that’s more straightahead R&B than any of his recordings to date.
“I think people sometime don’t know how to categorize my music,” says Downing. “It’s soulful, but it’s also slightly jazzy. It’s a blend of so many things. But I think this album solidifies what I’m doing and where I’m going. It locks into a groove and says, ‘Okay, this is an R&B record.’ It’ll be interesting to see how longtime listeners react, and whether any new folks will come on board.”
Downing’s eclecticism can be traced back to his days as a session vocalist in the early ‘80s for artists like Gerald Albright, Jennifer Holiday, Warp 9 and many others. He remembers studio calls in his native New York that assembled groups of vocalists who had no prior experience together – all of which taught him the importance of discipline and flexibility. “You didn’t want to be the one person in the session who made all the other vocalists sound bad,” he says. “When you walked into that room, you had to be on top of your game, because these were some of the finest singers in New York.”
His self-titled debut album in 1988 was the first in what has amounted to an ambitious body of work – 14 albums in 22 years. “The creative process doesn’t just start and stop when you want it too, nor should it,” says Downing. “This may sound a little grim, but I always figure that there may not be a tomorrow. Why not go ahead and do what you want to do today? Even if it doesn’t get released, record it anyway. Leave a legacy. It’s a never-ending process.”
There’s more to Lust, Love and Lies (An Audio Novel), but as with any good tale – be it a love story or otherwise – it’s best not to give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the album tells a timeless story that somehow never gets old, “from being in lust with someone from the moment you see them, to being intrigued by them, to potentially falling in love with them, to whatever comes after that,” says Downing. “Let’s face it, we’ve all been there at one time or another.”