Imagine a punk rapping over beats ranging from hip-hop to ska to gabba techno. Now imagine subject matter that ranges from the joys of chain smoking to venereal disease to pimping out teenagers. OK, now add a thick Belfast accent and you’ve got the vaguest of ideas about what my buddy Lee James, or rather his alter ego Roysta, is all about.
His lyrics are simultaneously repulsive and hilarious, while his music artfully straddles "extremely difficult to listen to" and "insanely catchy". It’s pointless for me to even try to describe his sound, just pause whatever shitty bro-step you're listening to and go here to be enlightened. This isn’t just Motely Crue singing about coke and hookers though, this is an alcoholic rapping about going on four-day Bucky and mephedrone binges in Belfast shitholes. Really.
So I wanted to find out how much of Roysta was a character and what effect he'd had on Lee James’s brain and body wellbeing
Noisey: Hey! So...describe your music
Roysta: Yeah it’s punk hip-Hop with influences of electro, hardcore, gabba and everything else I like about music. I use the hip-hop aspect to get across what I want to say rather than scream it down a microphone, I rap. But all the topics for songs come from the punk side of things. It used to be all straight up hip-hop beats, but I got sick of doing gigs where people were just standing there nodding their heads. I like things a little more chaotic so I wanted to get people dancing.
I’ve been to your gigs… I’d say you’ve definitely succeeded.
They’re too chaotic now, everyone’s jumping up on the stage and shit.
Do you have rituals before you go on stage? How do you prepare?
I’m usually out in the crowd drinking. When I’m doing a gig half the time I don’t even know if there is a backstage. I used to drink a bottle of Bucky before going on, but I couldn’t do that now. I’ve also given up fucking smoking so I can’t even do that...
You’ve given up smoking?!
Yeah, fucking right. I did this video, "Walking Heart Attack". It’s all about how much I love smoking and how I’m never going to stop, but now I'm wheezing and coughing like I need to be in an iron lung.
I saw the video; it’s pretty pro smoking.
I fucking never wanted to smoke after that video again. I have the odd one but that video put me off them forever. They weren’t even proper cigs; they were from abroad so they had fucking wood and shit in them. I had to walk around in my pants constantly smoking. Now I need an inhaler.
A lot of your songs revolve around drink and drugs, specifically how they’ve ruined your life. Have you ever considered going clean?
Ha, fuck, as the older I get I’m definitely not drinking as much, but there’s been a few periods of my life where I’ve been a functioning alcoholic. But I wrote my best lyrics in those times though so I’m not complaining. I’ve got a real love hate thing with drinking. It’s such a part of the Roysta character, I can’t get away from it.
So how much of Roysta is a character?
I’d say about 80% is a character; just small bits of my personality creep in. I’m always quite worried when people meet me and they’re shocked that I’m not like Roysta. I’m saying, “well, you can’t actually think I’m fucking like him; I’d be in prison for fuck sake.”
So is it fair to say that the character of Roysta hates everything?
He’s soaked in nihilism. He’s offensive for the sake of being offensive. It doesn’t really work anymore though. Everyone just thinks it’s funny now.
So you actively set out to be offensive?
Yes. When I first started recording I just wanted to be pissing people off. At the very start it was really fucking pornographic as well. It used to be I’d make music for certain pockets of people who I knew would like it, and pockets of people who I knew would be offended by it. But I don’t really do that anymore, now I’m just making music that I want to hear.
Are there any topics you won’t touch?
I’ve actively cut out all the misogynistic shit, I didn’t want people to think I actually hated women. I used to do really homophobic stuff as well, but then I realized I was a faggot so I can’t do that anymore either hahaha!
So you’ve been doing the character of Roysta for nearly ten years, what’s the worst thing to come out of "being Roysta"?
The worst thing is definitely my health. I’ve got asthma from smoking too much, stomach ulcer, gallstones and a fucking air bubble in my brain at one point.
An air bubble?!
Yeah, I’d been partying, doing loads of coke and stuff, then the next few days I couldn’t sleep and my eyes were fixed. When I turned my head, my eyes would stay in the same place. So I had to go for a CAT-scan and they found a bubble. But it hasn’t left me with any side effects really, my brains all right… at least I hope it is.
Shit. You actually quit Roysta for a while back in 2006, was that motivated by health concerns?
I was trying to rein in the partying and all that in so I gave up Roysta. I ended up going to Glasgow for a gig as a favor to a friend. We all ended up taking acid and Es and running around naked with some girls, climbing over cars and pulling wipers off like fucking feral monkeys. It was a three-day cocktail of drugs and nakedness, something changed in me.
And this inspired you to turn back to Roysta?
It wasn’t so much it inspired me, it was more , I thought "this needs documented", there was enough material for the whole of the next Roysta album.
It’s clear that a lot of your lyrics are inspired by your lifestyle. Like, your song "Eat The Evidence" was about mephedrone right?
That song dated faster than the drug. As soon as I released it, everyone realized how shit it was and stopped doing it. It’s essentially become a historical comment on a drug.
Ha. OK, what’s your favorite drug?
Late 90s Es, back when you could take one and you’d be set for the night and you loved everyone.
And the worst?
Heroin. It was fucking horrible. I only did it the once. I was in Glasgow and I thought to myself “when in Rome.”
So what do you do when you’re not making music or partying. Is it true you only watch Colombo?
I don’t have a TV anymore but when I did I fucking loved Colombo! Bargain Hunt too, Tim Wonnacaught is fucking legend.
If you were a TV detective, what would your gimmick be?
I’d have some sort of extravagant facial hair, some fucking Victorian style facial hair. Probably wouldn’t wear anything under my mac either. I’d be the flashing detective.