In 2012, then-aspiring singer-songwriter Roy English was ready to give up on his dream of becoming a professional musician to live the simple life of working at a Pizza Hut in Idaho.
“The night before the move, I said a prayer and was like, ‘God, if you want me to make music, open that door, and if not, it’s all good. I’ll be content and happy with whatever,’” the 28-year-old recalls. The next day, five-time Grammy-winning producer Jeff Bhasker gave English a call after hearing him freestyle-singing over a movie soundtrack. Familiar with Bhasker’s work on Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak album, English jumped at the chance to meet the man behind the beats. “He told me I have something special and shouldn’t throw it away. He offered to mentor me, and if that’s not a sign, then I don’t know what a sign is. He was that little spark that I needed to keep going.”
Now, with his recently wrapped EP I’m Not Here Pt. 2, English is opening up for 5 Seconds of Summer’s Sounds Live Feels Live tour and has a charitable clothing line called I’m Not Here. Billboard spoke with the Los Angeles native about once being homeless, his philanthropic fashion initiative, and why “you are here.”
You produced your new EP in Haiti. What brought you to the country?
While working on some music, [Haitian-DJ/producer] Michael Brun jokingly invited me to join him on his trip to Haiti and I agreed. Making the EP in that kind of environment was really interesting, ’cause for me it was like, “Why am I in this situation?” Being there put everything into perspective, especially when we’re working in this incredible studio on top of the mountain and looking down, it’s sh–ty below. It definitely affected the sound and the overall vibe. Recently, I went back to Haiti again when Michael did the “Wherever I Go” beach party to raise money for an audio institute.
What are you looking forward to the most about opening for 5 Seconds of Summer? [English joined the 5SOS tour last week.]
It’s like my first tour ever, so it should be pretty interesting. My first show was a house party like a couple weeks ago, so I’m going from a house party to an arena and it’s gonna be kinda crazy, but a blast. I love the boys; they’re like my best friends.
How did you meet them?
I met the boys a few years ago; they kinda just showed up at my house honestly. I didn’t know that they were in a band or anything at the time. We just started hanging and then obviously I heard their music and I’m like, “This is sick.” We’ve been friends ever since. Every time they’re in town we hang, and a few months back they called me and were like, “You wanna go on tour with us?” And I was like, “Yeah man, Let’s do it!”
Tell us about your new clothing line.
I was hand-painting, cutting out and constructing T-shirts that I found at Goodwill, and then my friends started buying them off of me. A portion of the proceeds go to a homeless shelter in L.A. We started off with shirts, but now we’re adding more designs to make it an actual line. It’s exciting when things just happen organically and you don’t have to think about it too much.
You paint, cut and distress each piece yourself. Why is that important to you?
Starting out, I wanted it to be a part of me. I would put on some music and vibe out, so each shirt is slightly different. It’s like an art piece; not mass-produced. I like to think it’s something people get as an extension of myself. Moving forward there will be some that I design, but they’ll be mass-produced so it’s more available.
Why are you using fashion as a medium to bring awareness and funding to homelessness?
I think fashion is the first thing most people look at. You look at people’s clothes real quick and a lot of times clothes are an extension of yourself. It’s a way to present yourself. I honestly believe that fashion drives music more than anything else and think that a lot of things culturally start with fashion and trickle down to other forms of art.
Why did you name your line “I’m Not Here”?
Five years ago, I was in this place where I didn’t have any money, a car or a place to stay and everything I had was in a backpack. During that period of my life, I just wasn’t there. Unless you’re someone, people in L.A don’t look at you or give you the time of day. A lot of times when you’re in a party, the first questions people ask are, “What do you do? Who are you?” and I didn’t have an answer to that.