Starchild & The New Romantic Steps Out On His Own

Starchild & The New Romantic Steps Out On His Own

The Solange and Blood Orange collaborator sets his sights on independence with a funk-influenced debut and an actor's approach to music.

The Solange and Blood Orange collaborator sets his sights on independence with a funk-influenced debut and an actor's approach to music.

Text: E.R. PULGAR

Bryndon Cook has been hustling. When he was still steeping himself in Shakespeare as a theater student at SUNY Purchase, he was tapped by Solange to play guitar for her 2013 tour and connected with Dev Hynes after emailing him some demos; he would go on to perform with her at Coachella and collaborate with Hynes on early track "Neptune." As his hired-gun cache grew, he would continue to hone a solo project as inspired by D'Angelo and '80s funk as it was by the galactic talent surrounding him—he would call it Starchild & The New Romantic. Releasing his well-received EP Crucial two years ago, Cook was building up to his debut album Language. The record hones in on Cook's myriad of interests and influences, delivering a spacey, sleek experience that's as danceable as it is dramatically contemplative.

Seeing him perform live is a visceral experience: the large hoop earring Cook dons on one ear, a chic imbalance, flits about his face as he goes in on a baby grand piano, seductive and subtle but born to lead a band. It's intimidating, impressive, and not altogether surprising for someone who made waves as such a powerful support musician when he was still in his early 20s. When we meet at Cafe Reggio in Greenwich Village, Cook is constantly cracking jokes and smiling, eyes bright as he talks about the new material. As starry-eyed as he is, Cook's feet are firmly planted on the ground as he continues shooting for the moon. V spoke to Cook about his solo project, loving D'Angelo, and making the jump from Solange's band leader to being in the spotlight himself.

Could you speak to how your acting education has influenced your career as a musician?

I think often when you hear stories about musicians, they sound like they knew what they wanted to do since they were young; I didn't quite know that. I was seventeen when I came up for acting. For me, it took coming to New York, doing the conservatory in acting, and following that as my first inclination to help give me the personal gravitas to get onstage and do music and become a front-footed recording artist. My relationship to music used to be more insular; I played music in class, sang choir, did musicals. There's a threshold that exists between that relationship with music and what you see onstage. I think I got that from school.

I heard a lot of '80s influence and funk in your sound. Now hearing all this, I’m wondering who specifically inspires you.

I'm inspired by people who are a collage of their own inspirations and references. Prince is someone who has given me an understanding of music and artistry that is beyond myself. Most things in my life have been filtered through a close relationship to Prince's music and legacy, as well as D'Angelo, who is closer to where I grew up. I've always had this tree branch exploration of music through those different kinds of trajectories. I'm into music, I’m into history. I'm into who did what with who and when, and who was in the room with who.

Well, you've definitely been in the room with the right people! What did you take away from those experiences with Solange and Dev Hynes?

They're both of a higher and older generation; Dev is an older brother and Solange is like a aunt to me. When you see a glimpse of what it takes to sustain that kind of influence and that connection to the pulse of culture and the zeitgeist when it’s linked to your organic natural artistry, it's confounding to me sometimes. When I see them do that, it's very impressive and sometimes frightening. For me, I've taken away that your evolution and making art is a never-ending thing. Especially when you're doing it by yourself, you're constantly staying motivated and finding ways to do that, so they've clued me in on how to make that a part of your life.

Moving into your own music, how do you feel you've progressed from Crucial to Language?

I always want to stretch my songwriting, and I want to stretch my musicianship in different ways, sometimes by doing more or doing less. Like I was saying earlier, D'Angelo, I got to see very close up, as a young child, take steps from Brown Sugar to Voodoo to Black Messiah. When you study that kind of thing and the recording process that it took to do that, that kind of education is something that has always influenced me whether that be in the artwork or in literally the amount of chords in a song or something like that. I love that visible, visceral progression, so definitely I think on this record the details are less vague, but still hold an open room for people to have their own experiences and funnel their own scope of life into those things.

What's your favorite song on the record?

Do you have one?

“Ophelia's Room,” for sure! Is it at all inspired by the character of Ophelia from Hamlet?

My third year in acting was all Shakespeare, and that's when I started writing the album. I was looking at plays with a more specific scope and looking at different relationships with the record and in Hamlet. I was exploring Othello and the way he's gone all the time and how when he comes home, people have made conclusions about him because they haven't had a chance to account for the story. Distance and communication were important to me as far as subject matter, so “Ophelia's Room” told itself it needed to be made. I woke up in the middle of the night, went downstairs and just recorded five different parts, and then recorded myself singing in one part. That song is the closest of all the songs to its demo version, and I think it's poignant because it's the shortest song and it ties up, for me and hopefully other people, where the ship of this record is trying to set a course.

Where's the ship going?

[Laughs.] I think it's going to a safe resting place. You have to be able to not take all the burden yourself, and hold others accountable for their own mistakes, the hurt and pain they've caused you. But at the same time, healing is a mano a mano kind of thing you have to do yourself. The record is trying to call to action the things others have done and not letting that affect you but also taking stock in what you can do for yourself and the things you've done wrong that have exacerbated those things.

Since you started as a hired gun on other artist's projects and have now moved to the helm, can you talk about the transition to doing everything yourself and with your band?

It's wild! It's the point I was saying about the record; at some point, you have to take on things to take care of yourself. I think there were a lot of responsibilities as a band leader in Solange's band, things I won't have to account for, like 30 extra horn players or something [Laughs]. When I'm doing my own shows, it gets very real that I don't have a manager, so I'm crunching the numbers and the time. At those times, I'm not just Bryndon the musician, I'm Bryndon the person.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Stream Starchild & The New Romantic's debut album, Language, here.

UP NEXT

VMAN34: Jordan Barrett by Steven Klein