Currently reading : SB6 Archive (2012): Roy Anthony Brown
Arriving at Borough station, exchanging that unsure stare shared when having only spoken on the phone, I meet ex-model and musician Roy Anthony Brown for a chat in a quiet spot of his choice: a bustling restaurant brimming with people, a telling tale of what to expect of this vibrant character.
Moving to London initially to pursue graphic design, finding himself unexpectedly in advertising, it wasn’t long before he was whisked away by London’s exciting nightlife; meeting Michael and Gerlinde Kostiff, organisers of infamous London clubnight Kinky Gerlinky, who he credits with introducing him to ‘all the right people.’ As he reminisces, names fire out in such quick succession I barely have time to write them down, statements so big almost willing me not to believe him. “They introduced me to so many people... Andy Warhol, I literally stood there with my mouth wide open” he states, with such nonchalance as if it were any post-weekend anecdote; “he leant against the bar, [all] I remember is he had a blue blazer, the paleness of his face and that wig.” These stories roll off the tongue within minutes of us meeting and I know immediately the kind of exchange this is going to be; “I saw Madonna do one of her first gigs, she was just screeching on the stage and we didn’t know who she was...a lot of people just walked away.”
However, it wasn’t until meeting design duo David Holah and Stevie Steward of Bodymap that clubbing lead to something more than afterhours fun; “I knew them through other people, through friends, for years,” he says, in that vague manner, through a long list of even bigger names, who asked to him walk in their final show. Immediately after the show Roy was approached by designer Pam Hogg and thus began his meteoric rise to becoming one of the world’s first and biggest male supermodels, gracing the cover of innumerable iconic magazines and shot by some of the biggest names in the industry including Nick Knight and Juergen Teller. Roy sees this as a natural progression from his art and design background, evolving to include himself in his new art: “everything I do is performance—I didn’t want to be perceived as a model, I wanted to be perceived as someone who could be in that industry and sort of change [it] into visual art.”
His introduction into music came much later, whilst on a campaign shoot with London-based photographer Sheila Rock he was overheard singing; “this sounds like a real ‘how were you discovered’ story,” Roy laughs. Asked to audition for the latest act, Roy was told, “friends of mine are in a rock band and they’re looking for a singer.” He was quickly selected to front the band: “they asked ‘can you learn 14 songs in 6 weeks?’” he laughs again, his infectious hoot booming across the room. “God, I didn’t think I would,” but throwing himself in at the deep end, before he knew it had gone from a small support act to headlining some of London’s greatest venues.
"…everything I do is performance—I didn’t want to be perceived as a model, I wanted to be perceived as someone who could be in that industry and sort of change [it]…"
Juggling his newfound venture through some of the world’s biggest agencies (including Storm in London, Ford in New York and PH1 in Paris) for, astonishingly, 5 years, interest dwindled and it became clear, as with many models, Roy’s interest lay elsewhere. Having worked with various acts since, in 2008 Roy returned to school to study a music degree, tired of relying on others to get his opinion across, musically, and to take command over all creative aspects of his music; no longer just the front man, his new act Roy Inc. exists as the embodiment of his creativity, a continuation of his performance and the next stage in his creative portfolio; “to empower myself and understand what I really want to do.”
“I don’t actually want to tell you what part of my body I got tattooed first, it’s quite private” he jokes, cheekily, as we finally get around to discussing his tattoos; solid, black stripes adorn his left arm and up his right a series of stars, representing “family and friends, with us and no longer with us,” by Alex Binnie. Influenced by “old American ‘40s and ‘50s stuff”, imagery typical of that era covers his shoulders and back—a pin-up style girl on his ‘gun,’ two eagles on his back; there appears a great deal of military reference, “as human beings we’re always in a war, always on the front line.” A skull with a crown at the top of his back, a collaboration with Binnie and the design of stylist, designer and friend of Roy’s, Judy Blame, which he speaks of as an homage, a revealing story of Roy’s socialite club-kid status.
I ask about the freshly worked-on hand that sits swollen on the table, the pain for which he describes in detail. Having wanted to get something done early on, he was held back by modelling—for which tattoos were strictly prohibited. Release from those restraints has meant he’s made up for it in a short space. Having started just over 2 years ago, he is now considerably covered; as soon as one area is healed, moving straight onto the next with a remarkably clear and explicit vision. How far does he continue to go? “To my mum and dad’s disdain I want to get my neck done.”
“She said to me over the breakfast table ‘do they come off?’” he laughs, “her eyes rolled to the back of her head, but she said ‘you know what, you do what you do’, there’s always support there from the both of them.”
With four different producers, “I don’t want any [songs] sounding exactly the same,” the album promises to be an eclectic “almost abstract, surreal” mix of genre-bending sound, a balance that’s hard to find, to get such different elements to sit together well, “it’s all down to the mixing and mastering,” an exciting, but scary time. As we part, after hours of tall tales and mesmerizing conversation, I ask if there’s any final thing he’d like to add about the album—a dedication «for family and friends, with us and no longer with us.»