Bryndon Cook on Finding His Place in R&B's 'Huge Tapestry'

"My whole goal when I perform is that I'm keeping my inner child alive," says songwriter and Solange collaborator behind Starchild & the New Romantic

Singer-songwriter Bryndon Cook discusses touring with Solange, and the diverse influences that inform his solo project Starchild & the New Romantic. Credit: Amy Lombard for Rolling Stone

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As an avid, knowledgeable music fan, Bryndon Cook thought long and hard before he began recording his own songs. "There's a lineage and a language to it," the 24-year-old says. When he founded the solo act Starchild & the New Romantic, "I asked myself, 'What part do I want to play in this huge tapestry that's been woven from the people before me and the people who are going to come after?'"

What the Maryland native landed on is his own brand of funky R&B that takes its name from a George Clinton alter ego. As displayed on his breakout album, last year's Crucial, the musician is aiming to bring the genre into the future – his slinky and sexy music, he says, is as much a toast to his childhood heroes like Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie as to his contemporaries (and now-collaborators) including Solange Knowles and Dev Hynes.

Cook calls R&B "the bedrock of pop music," and he was first drawn to the genre's storied history when lying awake in the middle of the night on family road trips to Mississippi. Sitting in the backseat with liner notes in hand, he'd listen to his dad's favorite albums playing on shuffle, and "I'd be piecing it all together," he recalls. "It created this whole other world for me that was happening concurrently to our lives and making them so much better." In 2012, while a theater major at New York's Purchase College, Cook blindly reached out to Hynes, who performs as Blood Orange, and ended up rapping on his song "Neptune." A year later he joined Knowles' touring band. He's still a member, and while he occasionally finds it challenging to balance her rigorous schedule with his own career, "it adds up for me," he says. Being in Solange's band, he admits, does require precise attention: "We run the band like James Brown or Prince and the Revolution," he says with a laugh. "We rehearse a lot. We keep it really tight."

Over the past few years, while on the road with as Solange, Hynes and indie band Chairlift, Cook wrote the music for Language, a new Starchild album set for release later this year. The musician admits to being frustrated by today's divisive political climate ("Things have been perpetually moving in a direction that we have not foreseen to be as critical as it is") but says he's forever striving to retain a childlike approach to his craft. "I had to push through a threshold to claim whatever kind of greatness that I know I was given," he says. "And now I have to reciprocate into the world. My whole goal when I perform is that I'm keeping my inner child alive. I want people to hear and see that."