Roy Anthony Brown, known here as the musical persona ROYINC, has enjoyed a career which is more an adventure in under and overground culture, one composed of happy accidents, each leading to the other rather than a carefully calculated path. As a dancer, model, singer and now as musician, ROY INC his resumé is a roster of collaboration with some of the most influential, talented, pioneering and creative forces in fashion, performance and music that have emerged over the last 25 years.
Since moving from his West Midlands hometown of Birmingham, where he grew up with his Jamaican parents and Chinese grandmother, to London, his adventures feature club runners Gerlinde and Michael Kostiff, Leigh Bowery and Susanne Bartsch; dancer and choreographer Les Child; fashion designers Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Richmond, Issey Miyake, Gianfranco Ferre, Azzedine Alaia, Rick Owens; to photographers David Bailey, Nick Knight, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Stephane Sednaoui, Juergen Teller, Tyen, James Lebon, Marc Lebon Peter Ashworth, Kate Garner, Andreas H Bitesnich; artists Pierre and Gilles, Andrew Logan and Donald Urquhart; musicians Madonna, Tina Turner, Mick Jones, Neneh Cherry. And this is just the abridged version.
This list could sound like the clatter of a thousand names dropping but Roy is no mere hanger on, nor ancilliary to the talent of others, he is more a mainstay, a linchpin. When Roy first arrived in London, it was the beginning of the club kid era. And Roy was right on it from hanging out at Leigh Bowery's club Taboo, “it got very messy. Here I got to meet more and more people" and Michael and Gerlinde Kostiff's Kinky Gerlinky night which was "awesome. It was a family. I feel like I am in an extended family from the Leigh Bowery club crowd. If you drew a Venn diagram, there are so many connections. It's not six degrees of separation, more like three."
It was during this time, in the late '80s, that Roy encountered the leading UK dancer and choreographer Les Child who had just formed his voguing group House of Child and invited Roy to join. With the House Roy travelled to NY where he met RuPaul, Lady Bunny and Willi Ninja. While Voguing Roy natural aptitude for dance and striking a pose was noticed and David Holah of the Bodymap invited him to appear in the fashion line's last ever catwalk show.
Endowed with such strikingly alluring and prepossessing looks, Roy's potential as a model was obvious and following his catwalk debut he was scouted by So Dam Tuff model agency with an invitation to join their books.
And after that, there was no looking back, and from '91, Roy enjoyed huge success as a model for over a decade, appearing in some of the most prestigious publications as the Sunday Times, The Face, Blitz, L'Uomo Vogue, French Vogue and advertising campaigns throughout the world. Roy was also something of a pioneer, albeit an unintentional one, being the first black male model to appear in magazines, such as L'Uomo Vogue where he was shot by the celebrated photographer Tyen.
He also appeared in films and music videos like Neneh Cherry's Mondino directed Under My Skin. Roy was also the subject of Andrew Logan's "Icarus" sculpture – now in the permanent collection of the American Museum of Visionary Art.
Despite this success, Roy never fully identified with the role of model, being the wearing of other people's creativity, or the canvas upon which it was projected. The drive to express himself directly had always been there under the surface and in 1996 he joined the rock band Recreation. "Singing has always been part of soul, my consciousness – something I always wanted to do. I was always writing poetry and lyrics. I have always wanted to perform. Modelling and dancing are all kinds of performance so it was a natural progression to go into music,” Roy says.
A year later, having gigged successfully and attracting large crowds round the UK, a line-up change took place and Recreation became Platinum trafficking its influence from rock, blues and soul, with a backdrop of heavy drums and huge bass sounds.
In 2001 Roy gave up modelling completely as because he wanted to fully immerse himself in music. Another name change took place and Platinum was ThisIsWar who recorded an eponymous EP at the Portishead studio. However the band split up in 2007 and Roy then returned to study music in at a college in London, where he learnt musicianship and musical notation, “the works” as he puts it.
Roy is now the solo artist ROYINC and this after years of writing and recording, in your hands, is the result – his first album, We Were Here, I'm Just Like You.
This intensely soulful album layers a hypnotic, electronic sheen and driving minimalistic electronic beats over ROYINC's haunting sultry yet slick vocals which weave in and out of the sound. His lyrics reveal a more troubled and conflicted soul than the equanimous persona usually on public display, most strikingly in the song Point Defiance, (chorus: “And I turn away from damaged eyes, and strangle all you say, your words have no more power”) which is overwhelmed by themes of turmoil, rejection and confusion. Roy got the inspiration for this song from Mike Alder, his drummer from his band ThisIsWar who told him “wabout a place in Washington State, Seattle where the kids hung out to be themselves. Some of the best bands hung out there like Nirvana and Alice In Chains. So that sparked an interest in me, to write about individuality. So everyone understands how hard it is being yourself.”
We Were Here, I'm Just Like You displays ROYINC's wide and accomplished musical range and takes the listener on a journey beginning with the dancefloor filler Attention Kills (“never in a million years would I rely on you”), visiting the tangled complexities of FAME: For All My Enemies which pulsates with haunting electronica and a driving ominous energy while White Horses in America is another potential club hit, taking in the intensely soulful vocals on the mournful Shooting Ghosts, to the nouvelle chanson thrum of Libertango and concluding with the emotional plaintive ballad Questions of a Lesser God.
Roy says the album is, “A landscape of emotional wars we fight and live through on a daily basis. But we seem to find ways of coping, even after being torn from limb from limb.”
We Were Here, I'm Just Like You was made with various producers working on each of the tracks.
“Working with all the different producers was very different indeed,” and letting his normally diplomatic and discreet guard drop, Roy adds, “What I will say is that out of all the producers, there was one person who made it hard work after the fact! But I'm a fighter and have so many friends and producers who supported my vision without try to sabotage my hard work and songs. But one producer made me rethink outside of the box and rearrange arrangements and re-sing tracks which make an even better job of the songs I did with him! Bigger and better. But so much fun. Laughter and creativity was had with all the other.”
But he remains very grateful to his amazing producers and very happy with the results and is looking forward to performing and touring it. We Were Here, I'm Just Like You is the work of an artist at the top of his game, mastering his range.