Discovery: Starchild and the New Romantic

Published January 26, 2016

ABOVE: BRYNDON COOK (AKA STARCHILD AND THE NEW ROMANTIC). PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEXANDRA GAVILLET. 

In P-Funk mythology, Starchild is known as a divine alien who arrives by spacecraft to bring the Holy Funk—a type of energy needed to live—to mortals. So by naming his new project Starchild and the New Romantic, New York-based R&B musician Bryndon Cook has big shoes to fill. But this shouldn’t be a problem, as the 23-year-old has already toured as a guitarist with Chairlift, Solange, Dev Hynes, and Kindness, and is now preparing to release his debut EP Crucial on March 18 via Ghostly International. Here, we’re pleased to premiere “Slammin’ Mannequin,” one of the EP’s eight tracks.

According to Cook, Crucial is a self-confrontational compilation and its recurring theme of romantic heartbreak represents the “bubble of focus that someone has post-heartbreak, where they haven’t broken out of that subjective level.” Consciously drawing inspiration from icons like George Clinton’s collective Parliament-Funkadelic and Prince, Cook says his Starchild moniker also symbolizes the romanticism of the mid-1980s, though more in terms of the spirit than iconography.

This ’80s spirit is especially apparent in “Slammin’ Mannequin,” which is less The Weeknd and more Shamir. Last week, we caught up with the SUNY Purchase graduate (he studied acting) just before he left for Boston, where he was playing a show with Chairlift.NAME: Bryndon Cook

AGE: 23

BASED: Harlem, New York

HOMETOWN: Washington, D.C.

BECOMING STARCHILD AND THE NEW ROMANTIC: There are a couple levels to it. Mainly, I want to build a name for myself to live up to. I never intended to actually release music. I always participated in music, but being a recording artist was not something that I came out of the womb imagining. Once those things kind of came to fruition, I chose this name based on [that]. Secondly, I was raised on a street called Copernicus Drive that was down the road from a NASA center in Maryland. They worked on spaceships and shuttles and things of that nature. I was always magnetized to, hypnotized by, and fascinated with it. Everything around there had an astrological name.

MUSICAL ROOTS: There’s a tradition in the black community of having a relationship with music that’s very natural. Everybody sings, everybody plays an instrument, everybody knows somebody in their family who does X, Y, and Z. That’s actually part of the reason why I never really imagined being myself a recording artist, because it’s like, “Sure, you play this and you play that, you sing this and that.” Some people may adore you doing those things, but by no means does that make you exceptional. This may sound negative, but it’s coming from a place of deference. There are Stevie Wonders in the world and there are Ella Fitzgeralds in the world—those are the folk. So my relationship to music was always that of a fan.  

SELF-TAUGHT: We moved to Atlanta for [my] very formative years, when I was 9 to 13 or 14. I remember watching TV and flipping to VH1 Classic and procrastinating on doing homework and picking up a guitar and teaching myself by ear. Then that evolved into, “Maybe I could play this whole Prince record.”

MUSIC’S SIMILARITIES TO ACTING: You rehearse, you learn your arc, you step onstage, and you perform. That’s trying to make it as simple as possible. There’s a lot of other stuff that goes into it, but there’s enough correlation. In my heart of hearts, I think that goes for a lot of art forms. I’m sure when a painter really feels in their groove, when they’ve been painting for X amount of time and have crafted their own style, it’s a combination of concentration, focus, preparation, and fun.

CHAIRLIFT’S PATRICK WIMBERLY: There was a time when Patrick was really good at Twitter and he asked if anyone had any new music, and I sent him a track. My first two releases before this one, I’m rapping. My first mixtape is called Rad!. I’m rapping over David Axelrod and Washed Out and stuff. From that bunch was a Chairlift song called “Planet Health” that I thought was pretty funky, so I rapped over that and I sent that to Patrick. He was really interested in me and kind of took me on as a mentorship.

ROYAL INFLUENCES: Growing up, I always related to [how Prince] learned instruments by ear, the same as I did, but how that’s also reflected in the music. You can tell he’s really led by his ear, in the same way as this moniker that I’ve adopted. I named the EP Crucial; one of my favorite unreleased projects that Prince made [was called Crucial]. I was listening to that a lot at a certain point during the making of this. There’s no similarities sonically between the two, but something spoke to me. He made it with Miles Davis—if you really think about it, they’re identical kinds of artists in their respective times—and then they met up on this record. It represents these things that I’m talking about: this duality and cross-section of generational stuff and this idea of tradition. Progression and tradition is a well worth wishing in.

CRUCIAL WILL BE RELEASED VIA GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL ON MARCH 18. FOR MORE ON STARCHILD AND THE NEW ROMANTIC, VISIT HIS SOUNDCLOUD.