Glass Magazine Interview
Seamlessly and apparently effortlessly, Roy Anthony Brown, with his sincere charm, unassuming affability and gentle nature, has been a constant figure throughout one of the most exciting epochs in music and fashion. As a dancer, model, singer and musician, Roy's CV is roster of the most influential, talented and creative forces in fashion, performance and music that have emerged in the last 20 years.
Having trained in graphic design, Roy moved to London from his Birmingham hometown where he grew up with his Jamaican parents and Chinese grandmother. "I got onto the club scene as I used to hang out at Hyper Hyper.” Roy subsequently got a job at the Kensington fashion emporium.
During this time, in the late '80s, Roy encountered leading UK dancer-choreographer Les Child who had just formed his voguing dance troupe House of Child and invited Roy to join. "I went to NY where Les met with RuPaul and Lady Bunny. It was absolutely mental. I was a young boy taking it all in, as well as being part of it."
David Holah of the celebrated fashion-line Bodymap saw Roy perform and asked him to appear in the fashion line's last ever catwalk show: "I was voguing down the runway. Then Pam Hogg, an old friend, asked me to model for her, and that got me thinking.” Endowed with such strikingly alluring looks, Roy's modelling potential was obvious. He was approached by So Dam Tuff agency with an invitation to join their books.
From '91 for over ten years, Roy enjoyed huge success as a model, appearing in some of the most prestigious publications and advertising campaigns throughout the world. Despite this, he never fully identified with the job: "I was the Kate Moss of male models at that particular time. I'm not six feet tall, muscular with a small waist. I never saw myself as a model.”
He was the first black male model to appear in magazines such as L'Uomo Vogue where he was shot by the celebrated photographer Tyen, who Roy had been told "never took pictures of black men". Eventually tiring of the “pretentious” side of fashion, he described his position as “just hideous. It was, for me, being in an industry that doesn't cater solely for a lot of black guys, or black period.”
He continues, "I was doing stuff with Gaultier and had started working for German Vogue, L'Uomo Vogue – both for Tyen in fact – and Vogue International, always being told 'Oh aren't you lucky'. And I thought why? 'You’re the only black guy in the magazine'. Once I turned around on a shoot and said, 'Don't you think it's disgusting and really embarrassing that I am the first black guy?’ I want there to have been a string of other black models but if I am the first then hopefully after me there's going to be a lot of other guys. It shouldn't be just because of their colour. It should be because they are fucking good models.”
Having always harboured ambitions to sing, in '96 joined Roy joined the rock band Recreation. "Singing has always been part of soul, my consciousness. Modelling and dancing are all kinds of performance so it was a natural progression to go into music.”
A year later, having gigged successfully around 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. Platinum "turned into This Is War when we got a different drummer", Roy tells me. In 2001 he gave up modelling completely to concentrate on music.
This Is War recorded EP "This is War" at the Portishead studio. "I was very nervous," Roy recalls. "I have been in big studios before it was very professional and full-on and no messing around”. They headlined the Underworld but decided, "We got as far as we could have gone."
Now making music as a solo artist, ‘Roy INC’, layering a hypnotic, electronic sheen, over Grace Jones references and dubby tinges, Roy's haunting sultry vocals weave in and out of the sound. He has also enrolled at music college in London order "to acquire the language to be able to communicate with musicians in studios not just being a singer-songwriter but to be a composer and arranger". Currently working on an album and collaborating with singer, songwriter and producer George Demure, Roy is planning to perform live very soon.