I first met Royal Young while smoking a cigarette outside the Hotel Rivington in the Lower East Side while attending a mutual friend’s birthday party.
The friend was Cathrine Westergaard, and Cathrine, a photographer and fashion film director, had formed a coterie in New York of video artists, painters, musicians, authors and models that Winter. Royal and I were a part of that group but had failed to meet one another until that night.
He immediately struck me as mysterious but friendly, sharp in ruffled way and after an hour or so of chatting, we had already vowed to “get a fifth of something cheap and get creatively weird” at a later date.
Royal is unapologetically devoted to his art, underground yet bougie as fuck at times, damn handsome and is aging finer than a bottle of champagne in a dive bar.
Children of the Beautiful Underground I give you our first “LOVER” in our “Lovers & Fighters” series of interviews: Royal Young.
Where are you from?: I would say Lower East Side, Downtown Manhattan, New York City born and bred.
Lover or Fighter?: (Laughs) For me I initially chose Fighter because for me I feel I grew up with a lot of grit, and I grew up admiring grit in people, you know, coming from Jewish immigrants and growing up in Downtown Manhattan when it was rough around the edges and really creatively vibrant, so initially I was attracted to the tenacity and verb the of the word “Fighter”, but thinking about it, I thought all of those qualities can be part of “Loving” too and I think ultimately, you know maybe 5 years ago, I would have been a solid “Fighter” (laughs) you know, and just working in Journalism for ten years, and being a caretaker for my aging Jewish Grandparents who drink cocktails at five everyday and get drunk a little, it’s just changed my perspective on a lot and “Lover” seemed more appropriate like especially in this moment in masculinity … it just felt more right.
What do you do?: Wow. So much. Thats a big question. I would say first and foremost, I am a Writer, my book (Fame Shark) came out in 2013 and was a “Cult-y” underground success, as I mentioned Party Monster Michael Alig, said I could have had been a Club Kid in the 1990s, Kristen Johnston who is an Emmy award winning actress third Rock from the Sun who I grew up having this massive crush on, she’s like this 6’2” tall blonde alien chick, read the book and said it was “hilarious”, Jerry Stahl blurbed it as well, so that was all huge for me.
Since then, and before that I had been a Journalist for ten years for Interview Magazine, New York Post, New York Times, mostly interviewing Author and Icons, Marky Ramone, Chuck Palahniuk, Big Ang, Susan Orlean, Anne Rice, Kirk Douglas among many many others, and that Journalism has kept me alive, like, that is my life blood.
And then, I Paint. I had my first solo gallery show at Figureworks in Williamsburg, I wanna say two years ago and have paintings in private collections all over the country, and I’m a Poet, that’s something that I have done all my life, but I never, I guess, felt the freedom to really express, and I think we are taught that creativity is not financially viable, especially poetry, that’s like you know you are going to die alone in the gutter and now that’s something that I kind of said “Fuck it”, and I started exploring and it just took off like totally organically, which is how I told you I wrote a piece for my friend Jack Novak who is a huge musician signed to Interscope for her debut music video called “The Greatest Night of my Fucked Up Life”, (laughs) yeah, that was super fun, it’s got like 300K views on YouTube
I worked with Tableaux Vivant, which is a couture luxe latex line in Brooklyn who dressed Beyonce for the SuperBowl, Madonna, and Kylie Jenner. I wrote poetry for their Spring Summer 2018 look book.
That’s all of what I do and it all feeds off of each other.
Why do you do it?: Because I don’t have any other choice. One more thing though, one more thing though … I always tell people, if you can do anything else … Do it. You know?
Because there is less pain? Yeah? Yeah … But I don’t have that option. So (laughs).
Who are you listening to right now?: I’m going to embarrass myself so hard right now … So, lately I’ve been (laughs), I’ve been obsessed, obsessed with this Enigma Pandora Station and yeah obsessed, they are spinning Enya, I’m like fucking into it, Yani at the Acropolis, I’m about it.
I don’t know what is going on with me … but for me it takes me back to this kind of early 90s when “New Age” was such a “Pop” thing, it had this kind of “Pop” moment, like now there is literally an Enya song that The Fugees sampled.
I think like there is some bad ass-ery there and I think there are roots in British Underground Trip Hop, even some Dub, so I’m New Age (laughs) I’m fucking burning nag champa, Gregorian Chanting stoned in my Grandparents attic writing poetry.
(laughs and starts singing) “sail away, sail away, sail away”. I’m like flicking lit cigarettes butts out every window. I’m like drunk and “braaggghhh Enya, that’s my jam”. (laughs) but seriously, that’s what I have been listening to a lot.
The best underground Hang spot?: To be honest a lot of those places have been torn down in New York, and I just can’t even think of any that are still open …
So here’s what I will say: personally, from my experience it is People’s Homes. I think that the coolest places you can hang out and be are getting to know artists and writers and musicians and creative types and going into their personal spaces and hanging out with them there and seeing how they live. And some of the most transformative nights I have had in New York … Cathrine and I actually went to a piano recital given by Christopher O’Reily who is an NPR host and had also put out an album of classical piano covers of RadioHead and he did one of the Velvet Underground, he was a Warhol protege, and he gave a private performance in this Upper East Side home of old Warhol Collectors, and that was a mind blowing experience. So, for me, instead of seeking out a club or a bar or a gallery, what have you, it is about finding those personal experiences and like finding those private hidden looks into the creative world and that is how you connect with that Underground Spirit
Any advice for the Beautiful Underground?: Yeah, I say, I always repeat this advice that I got when I was really young, like 21 or 22, that I got from a long time Editor at New York Times, he came to speak to a journalism class I was taking at the New School and someone asked him:
“You know, in your career at the Times has it been the most talented writers that succeed?”
and he was like, “HAH! Are you fucking kidding? No way!” he was like, “It was the ones that were the most obsessed.”
And I thought at the time, “Do I got talent? … Debatable. But obsession? I can do.”
You know, so I think my advice is like tenacity and just holding on no matter what and pushing through no matter what, but also with humility and understanding that it is a journey. I think in America we are very focused on results, and goals, and winning, and the finish line and whatever that even means but, sorry, you not done till ya dead.
I think that has been a process for me to. Learning how to enjoy the creative process and the journey and not being distracted by the noise of success.
What are you currently working on?: I am currently working on a novel. It is a twisted modern love story, it’s about growing up with a missing parent, family secrets, sex, art, social media … It’s kind of like Great Expectations in 1990s downtown Manhattan, meets the age of innocence for the MySpace Generation … Arthur Starring Dudley Moore, but poor as fuck.
It’s a novel and its called “Post”. I am really excited about it. I think it is gritty, emotional and exciting. I’m stoked.
Where can we find your work?: Oh man, you can order Fame Shark online or from your local book store, you can read my articles with countless celebrities and authors in Interview, and The Post and The Times, in Bomb Magazine, in The Forward, in The Rumpus and other publications.
And then you know of course my Instagram for the poetry and to get a sneak peek, I have been posting some of the look book images, I have been posting some film, some of the music video I did with Jack, and some of my visual art. So, I think Instagram @theroyalyoung is kind of where I am at if you want that more constant update.