First Look Friday: How Starchild Went From Rapper To R&B's New Romantic [Interview + LP Stream]
Photo by Jon Shugarman
Bryndon Cook is a rare breed. Relentless in his work ethic, dynamic as a performer and musician; the kid is practically plagued by productivity. Which, in itself, is a departure from the bedroom beatsman of our day. His stagename, Starchild, is one that instantly conjures both black excellence and unbridled strangeness; paradigm-shifting badges that Cook deservedly wears. He's paid his dues as a seasoned guitar player with a broad range of acts. Solange, Kindness and Chairlift can all proudly say they've tapped into the voltage Cook wields with each strike of the six-string or caress of the keys. But with such a shockingly deep resume and a freshly-unveiled debut record in the lavender-soaked Crucial (stream below), one can't help but ponder the origins of Starchild. By way of the mothership or some subterranean funk incubator, how exactly did this storm of washed-out synthesizers and pop-perfect leanings come to be?
Well, today we bring you precisely that origin story; the tale of a fledgling rapper-turned-studio-and-stage-rat. Cook did not hold back in sharing his cosmic origins. In person, he's reserved, but never lets mention of Prince's name go without chiming in with a gem anecdote of his own that somehow, even in his early twenties, rivals the most astute of purple patrons. And while we can't rightfully say where r&b as a whole is going in 2016, one things is certain: for Starchild, the ascent's only begun. And we can only hope that he's taking the whole game with him. Stream Starchild's new album Crucial below and flip through the pages to find out how a chance meeting with James Blake transformed this adolescent rapper into r&b's new romantic. Grab a copy of Crucial on iTunes today.
Starchild : Hey, yo.
OKP: Is that your government name? Are you, in fact, from another galaxy, or actually the spawn of one George Clinton? What are your earthly origins?
SC: I was born in Washington DC and raised in Maryland. Government name is Bryndon Cook. The Starchild thing, well...when I was young I was an imaginative, kind of creative kid. Not in terms of the dude doing nuts arts and crafts or anything, but I could always entertain myself and construct these stories, ya know?
OKP: So one day you just looked in the mirror like, Starchild.
SC : It kind of happened like osmosis. I was listening to Parliament and the deeper and deeper I got into it, and the deeper I got into George Clinton's stuff, the more it just felt like I felt at home, ya know. I was like, These people construct a whole mythos behind just one feeling. That's crazy.
OKP: Is that something you try to carry over into your own music?
SC : Not exactly in the same execution, but I think in the same principles?
OKP: As far as the writing itself is concerned, has that always been a solo venture?
SC : It's crazy to talk about this one in the process, because it's not the same anymore. From what I know, this one, the song writing, When I started working on this one, I was still rapping.
OKP: Wait, really?
SC: Yeah, man! I was working on Night Music, and that came out February 2012. I started playing on the piano, the hook of "All My Lovers." The chord progression, and the chords, melody all with my right hand. Then RAJA was just like, "Man, what's that?" It sounds like it could be a Beyoncé song or something like that. This is in 2012, so Beyoncé was very different from "Partition" Beyoncé.
OKP: No, that's a solid year before "Partition" Beyoncé...
SC: For a lot of the songs on Crucial, because I was rapping and singing, I was trying to come up with these dynamic hooks, and then for the verses I was riffing off the old school r&b template of a melody that's derived from the hook. Everything comes back to that.
OKP: Your hook is your rock, and you're working out.
SC : Exactly that. So Crucial definitely has that kind of approach to it, you know? Stephen Sondheim told a story about the dude who wrote "All the Things You Are" (Oscar Hammerstein II) He sat down at the piano just (singing) until he just brought it into existence. The feeling that you're trying to get specifically, or the essence, is trying to match that song's journey.
OKP: What sparked the transition? Was it just your taste developing? Schooling?
SC : I think what really made it happen was meeting James Blake.
Photo by Jon Shugarman
SC: We had a day off. So we drove up to the Planetarium on 81st street. We went to the planet room, like, Whoopi Goldberg's narrating, we're having fun. We leave the Planetarium, sitting in the cafeteria, and Tory's getting a panini press or something. I'm zoning off in the distance and out walks this really tall guy and a shorter woman. And I'm like "That guy looks like James Blake."
OKP: Just might be...
SC: So me and my friend, Chester, we were obsessed with that thing. I was just like, "The prophet." He was like, "I hope you're not talking about me." And I go "No, man. Your keyboard. It's incredible."
OKP: It's not even about you, James.
SC : Then, we got to talking. He was listening, asking all these questions like. So I put together this email where I break it down. I'm like, "I'm rapping. Here's my rap stuff. But then he gets me back. Long email.
SC: Yeah. He said a lot of things, but one of the last things he said was "I really enjoy it when you sing. You should do it more often."
OKP: This is before you linked with Solange or Dev? I wonder what you pull from playing with such a diverse set of artists, all of these crazy inputs like Kindness and even Chairlift...
SC: Surprisingly, they're not all that different. Not in any kind of diminutive way, but it's like I find myself applying the same skills, like the focus, and the listening. of realizing and performing at something like rehearsal and stuff that kind of gets you locked in. I've been to like 12 schools. We moved a lot, interstate, and we moved to Atlanta in 2001 for a stretch. I was done there when the The Love Below came out. When Soulja Boy dropped everything. "Lean With It, Rock With It,"The-Dream. Man, Usher dropped 8701 the summer I moved.
OKP: That's crazy.
SC: There was no better place to be. I think until this day, I'm always going to be grateful for that. But all of that's to say, I'm used to being in a new environment. That's been a constant, but all the experiences have helped me build a template, like, how to do it. How to be in this music game. But in a way, all the different groups scratch and itch, scratch a different itch. I think you get to scratch all those itches, and you see what you like, and it helps inform what I want to do with my own music.
OKP: So what does Starchild want to do?
SC : I think I'm going to dance. Like, philosophically.
OKP: So is there more on the way? Does it just begin with Crucial?
SC: Well, no matter what happens with it, I'm glad that it exists. It's out like that. I've sat with Crucial for a long time, you know? It was like a calling card for the longest, but eventually you're like "Well, what's next?" And I'm really excited about what's next.