Bryndon Cook, a.k.a. Starchild & The New Romantic, recently rolled through Ann Arbor for the first time in his 3 year touring career alongside Chairlift, the synth-pop duo from New York. Cook has come a long way since one of his first touring gigs through Europe with Solange, followed by being Dev Hynes' only back-up singer when Blood Orange went on tour. Now that Cook has hit the road as a solo artist, his intention is to start fresh in order to successfully launch his Starchild & The New Romantic career. His debut album Crucial was released just last month via Ghostly International. Read our conversation to learn more about his musical upbringing, who he'd like to be on the road with and in the studio with, and much more.
What The Sound: How did you become a musician? What were you before Starchild?
Bryndon: I started playing music when I was really young. I learned the tenor saxophone in school from fifth grade until I graduated high school. From a symphonic band into a marching band, and I almost went into a jazz band but that didn't work out because I transferred schools. During those times I also was doing musical theater a lot, singing in choirs. I was in those kid choirs who sing in the big malls, we took field trips to sing Christmas carols and then we would get to shop for an hour. So, I always did music in school and then when I was out of school, when the school bell would ring, I would go home and start to teach myself some stuff like guitar, bass and drums. I would try to learn songs, so school was more formal and at home I could learn what I wanted.
WTS: When you went home to teach yourself music, were there any genres you latched onto?
Bryndon: I think it's all because I had a CD player back then. When you have a CD player, unless you really want to be an adventurous music listener which I think I was, you would have to take a bunch of CDs with you all the time. So, I had a flipbook of CDs, my older brother had a big binder of CDs that he would take in his backpack, I had a smaller one. But I would like to take the cases so I could have the liner notes and all the information because I would like to listen and read at the same time. So that was always my relationship to music. Then the musicianship extended out of that because I was listening to stuff and I was like "Wait! I want to play this song, I want to learn that part" so I would go home and I think the first stuff was Parliament Funkadelic guitar lines and Prince songs, Rick James solos. Things like that I would press play and rewind and try to get it.
WTS: How long did it take you to create Crucial? And did you have a different project before it?
Bryndon: It's hard to say. You know what it's like? No one ever decides they are going to be the person cooking for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving comes around and it's like, "Yo, Miss Sarah, you're cooking the turkey." It's November, and you have a turkey and you have to cook it now. How am I going to cook it? What's it going to be? There came a point where I came to school, I went to SUNY Purchase where I was studying acting - I still am an actor - but I had a group of friends who were into making music and they encouraged me to make and record some of my own music and being the kind of person that I am, you know I grew up playing instruments but I never jammed with people, I didn't have garage bands. The only person I ever played music with other than the people in the bands in school was my brother. Or my brothers. So then, up until this point now, when the Starchild thing happens, it's like if I'm going to do it, I want to do it. I don't want to have a crap name like "Goldfish" or "Fire Extinguisher", you know it's clearly a joke, I wanted to make something that I would set myself up to have to take myself seriously. I was one of those kids in school who did everything. I was the student council president, I was the leads in plays, newspapers, debate teams, forensics, chess club. Whatever. It was basically stuff to keep myself interested. Maryland is a place that's right outside of DC, especially if you're far from Baltimore like we are. There's not a lot of excitement. There are things going on but there's not a lot of excitement. For me, that's part of why I came to New York.
WTS: How did you get signed to Ghostly?
Bryndon: One of those aforementioned friends who encouraged me to make music was Chester (Lord RAJA), the guy who is on Ghostly. He signed two or three years ago. He's my best friend, and he's the guy who told me to start rapping first. We made a couple projects together and to this day he's still a co-producer, artistic friend of mine. He's the guy who got Ghostly to know who I am.
WTS: Can you place a genre on Crucial? My roommates and I were trying to figure it out after listening to it again and came up with "soul-synth" but what would you call it?
Bryndon: That's probably spot on for Crucial. I'd like to think that what I'm personally trying to get at through however many projects that I am fortunate enough to release, I'm trying to document black music. You know? The first thing that happened to come out at that right time is that stuff, Crucial, that is very reminiscent of that mid-late 80s synth stuff, very soulful, R&B type music. The next record has less synthesizers but is still soulful.
My whole family is from Mississippi. I grew up in a very Christian family. My mother was a musical director in her church since she was young with her brother, who was a self-taught piano player. My dad grew up on a church plot. I was raised with this constant gravity of gospel music, soul, blues, funk, R&B, hip-hop, and then being in DC there's go-go, gospel music, R&B, jazz. Duke Ellington is from DC, Marvin Gaye. That was always a surround. Me naturally, I have three brothers, there were four of us. Naturally when you're in a tribe like that, everyone is either forced to do the same things and then therefore by physics, you're going to do something else. There was a time when we moved to Atlanta for like 6 years. Very formative, middle school, elementary years when The Love Below came out and all this great stuff and I started to expand my palette. I was raised with an appreciation for black music and the kind of contribution that my ancestry has made some popular music as being kind of a holy grail. I was curious to see how the tentacles of the black experience has affected and changed music. So, I started getting into David Bowie. David Bowie was always a very outspoken guy about his influences from black music. He had Luther Vandross sing backup in his group. I got into that kind of cycle of music, so that expanded my horizons.
Basically, what the name Starchild & The New Romantic symbolizes is less of me in a band because tonight it's just me but it's still Starchild & The New Romantic. It's an experience of the coupling of these two things. Starchild is the name of George Clinton's alter-ego from the Parliament Funkadelic era and The New Romantic is a very British, 80s type of thing that is multi-cultural.
WTS: Do you ever have a backing band?
Bryndon: Yes I do! In New York, it's fire.
WTS: Have those been your best shows in New York?
Bryndon: I've played some solo piano shows in New York that were really good. We opened for Blood Orange at Baby's All Right, he did a secret show once which was very good for us. I was really good in Salt Lake City on this tour. Everybody was like "You killed Salt Lake City!" I'm going to run with that. I'm going to say "I killed Salt Lake City", and Minneapolis was kind of good!
WTS: So, how did you get on that Blood Orange show?
Bryndon: Dev is super chill about stuff which is great. He very much likes, like Patrick and Caroline (Chairlift), Adam Bainbridge (Kindness), all these guys, Solange, have been very supportive. We've kept a correspondence since I was like 17 years old, about music. I would send Dev something I made like "check this out! What do you think?! What do you think?!" and weeks later I would get an e-mail saying something like "siiiiiiiick!" It would make my life! I would be like "Yes!!". I was into him before Blood Orange with his last project. Basically what happened long story short was, I got the Solange gig because Patrick [Wimberly] introduced me to her the week before she went on tour, summer of 2013. He introduced me to her, I went on tour with them for the whole summer and so I replaced Dev in Solange's band. So Dev taught me all the choreography, and the guitar parts in the apartment that burned down (not too long after it burned down). Eventually Solange and Blood Orange started playing some festivals at the same time in 2013 and I was already designated as the first and only male back-up singer for Blood Orange. Now he sings with two girls but it was an inside joke, we were the only band with one back-up singer and it was a dude. So, we did a show for ALIFE and we did 2013 Pitchfork Fest. But yeah, Dev and I are close. He's been kind of like a big brother.
WTS: Are there any collaboration dreams of yours in terms of being in the studio or on the road with?
Bryndon: I want to open for HAIM! I want to open for HAIM with the band. I want to work with either Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis or Babyface in the studio. Just me and them.
WTS: Who do you think the next president of the United States of America will be?
Bryndon: I'm a serious Bernie Sanders supporter, very, very, very Bernie Sanders.
WTS: Well you're lucky to be in Bernie-strong college town.
Bryndon: Yes! I feel the Bern.
WTS: Curious if there is anything else you would like to share with What The Sound's readers?
Bryndon: It's been really great to go on the road solo with Chairlift specifically because they've known me and I've known them since the inception of any of the project professionally. So they've really taken care of me and I'm really grateful for that. It's been nice to relearn how to do it by yourself. I've had to kind of work backwards now with this tour because the first time I ever went out was with Solange playing Glastonbury, I was 18. I've moved back now, I have a band, I'm in New York. A tour calls, you have to do it. Make it work. I had to go about it in a different way than most people do. Suffice to say, it's been really enriching that the same skills and the same things that I hold dear, like the passion, at least for Starchild that I'm trying to give off to some folk is being received in these places I've gone to. Having folk our age come up to me and be like "Yo, that's it, I feel it." Means everything. In Chicago I met a couple, these two dudes who are 23 and they were like "Yo, I felt you, it was amazing". They bought my record and I couldn't ask for anything more.