With a take on pop that is both sultry and psychedelic, BØRNS first entranced listeners with his EP, Candy, in 2014. It’s poetic lyricism and sonically immersive qualities quickly garnered the attention of Interscope Records and turned BØRNS into an overnight sensation before he had even planned his debut album.
After just over year packed with touring and television appearances, he released his equally addictive, full-length followup, Dopamine, in October 2015. “It was the all-encompassing theme of the album. All the songs are about this chemical connection to someone even if they’re not in your life. They’re still kind of swimming around in your head. So the album was written with dopamine in mind…so to speak.” Garrett Borns, better known by his stage moniker BØRNS, quips when asked about the meaning behind the album title.
Q: How would you say your music and writing style has evolved between Candy and Dopamine?
B: I recorded both of them with Tommy English. Candy, I didn’t have a record deal. I signed with a management company. I found new management out there and they were kind of like, “We love your artistic vision. Take all the time you need to record an EP.” So Tommy and I had full artistic reins for that. We put together the EP with no label influence or anything like that because we wanted it to be indie rock. The true form of indie rock. We just wanted it to be two cooks in the kitchen. A very honest record of what we want to make, and what I want to make put out as BØRNS.
“We wanted it to be indie rock. The true form of indie rock.”
Then Dopamine came out later. I was pretty much touring all of this year. We recorded it in the in-between moments when I wasn’t on the road. I feel like there is a lot of influence with the live show. I was thinking, “Alright, how am I going to translate this live?” Before it was a studio project. Then we had to build the band around it. I didn’t really think about, “Oh we are going to be performing these songs live.” So there was nothing holding us back. Then when it came down to learning for live shows I was like, “Oh, I’m singing in my highest range in all of these songs.” So I feel like the new stuff has more dynamics and a live show in mind. Even the energy of it. It’s more spontaneous vocally. More live energy.
Citing many influences, BØRNS draws from an artistic amalgam ranging from poetry and literature to cranky, quirky instruments to the unexpected for writing inspiration. “I like having random reading material hanging out to flip through to notice a word or phrase,” BØRNS explained as he offered insight into his writing process. “I’ll already have something written but try to challenge myself to put that word in there and see the reaction of how it changes. There were a bunch of old, ‘70s Playboys laying around the studio and they had great advertisements. All of the headings were so tongue-in-cheek, and sexy, and funny. There is one song called ‘Overnight Sensation’ on the album. There was this ad for a cassette player that said, ‘overnight sensation’ and it had this girl laying on a love seat. The whole image was striking, so that song came out of that.”
Q: A lot of your lyrics are very poetic. Do you like poetry, or is it more just a writing style?
B: Yeah, I like poetry.
Q: …any particular poets?
B: *laughs* A poet that is pretty influential to the style of lyricism that I use is a guy named Walter Benton. I bought these used Walter Benton books and they were really kind of sensual poetry. His imagery is really cool. He compares his lovers to landscapes. Super metaphorical. So him and this guy named Rod McKuen. I think he was influenced by Walter Benton. He wrote a lot of songs. His poems are very lyrical. He writes in a similar style.
Q: Music then lyrics, or vice versa?
B: Sometimes the title exists and then the music comes out of that. Or just one phrase or a verse idea. Tommy and I mostly write a lot of instrumentals first, very rhythmic. Tommy is really great at chopping up drum samples, like old Zeppelin samples. It’s almost a very hip-hop way of doing drums, even though they’re not hip-hop songs, just sampling stuff. Some of the songs started from an iPhone sample of some folly from LA. This one song has these coyotes that are parking in the canyons and I just put that on the track, put a bunch of delay on it, it sounds so crazy. Then we put arpeggiated guitar over it and it has this atmosphere that’s like, “Woah, what world is this?” So I would say that we are definitely inspired by the sonics first and the lyrics come from that.
It depends. You can have a lyric in mind, but it can change.
To see BØRNS perform live is to experience the truly immersive sound quality of his music. “I like to have a lot of space in the songs, or have it put you in a bigger environment,” the 23-year-old, LA-transplant explained when speaking of the evocative intentions of his music. He captures the vibe of his new home in his debut album. “LA just seems more my vibe right now. Just a lot more space and room to let your mind wander. I’m always in this kind of daydream state. It’s a good place to daydream.”
Q: And where did the concepts for your music videos come from? Were they yours? Did you work with someone?
B: Electric Love, that video was a concept by these guys Ben and Ross from the UK. Super cool dudes. Their concept was to do an enchanted forest kind of thing. They had these celestial cheerleaders dancing around, and then I had this sparkly, glam-rock presence. I liked it because the whole idea of the song is this fantasy of this girl when you’re lying in bed at night and you fall asleep. Your mind wakes up. The enchanted forest in your head. It went along perfectly with the concept of the song. An electric-forest type of thing.
Q: Any unique recording locations?
B: Everything was pretty much recorded between me and Tommy on the album except a song called “Fool.” We recorded that with the full band. At that point, I had been playing with the band for about a year. We all got each other’s energy and were really tight. We rented this really beautiful, castle-like spot up in Stinson Beach. It overlooked the ocean. It was in the middle of nowhere up these winding roads through the Red Woods. It jetted out on this cliff, it was all misty, just a house and the ocean. We recorded “Fool” there. It has a live feel, a Motown sort of vibe to it.