Perhaps no one single name has skyrocketed to the top of festival lineups and headliner positions as quickly as BØRNS, the artist formerly known as Grand Haven Michigan’s Garrett Borns. After the release of 2015’s Dopamine and the subsequent popularity of single “Electric Love,” BØRNS has quickly become the one to watch as an up and coming face of modern glam rock. We sat down with him before his show at the 9:30 Club to talk Bowie, French pop and heartbreak.
In your album Dopamine, a lot of the content is very romantic, centered around love and relationships. Do you find yourself more inspired to write when you’re going through heartbreak, or is it easier when you’re happy and in love?
BØRNS: Oh, I’m always heartbroken. (laughs) I guess it’s easier to write when your heart’s a little torn open or exposed because you get different, more emotional things out of that. That’s not to say that heartbreak is a bad thing really, I think it’s a really human thing and it’s very inspiring in a way.
A lot of your writing is really poetic, and I know that you’ve noted that Walter Benton is a poet that you like. What other mediums besides poetry do you draw inspiration from?
B: Just reading books. I’m reading a book by Murakami right now. I also really like this author named Italo Calvino. He writes very lyrically in a way. I think he’s Italian, so everything is translated, but it’s very poetic. He writes novels and short stories and stuff. I just love how he uses words. So yeah, I read a lot on the road and I…listen to music. (laughs) I like to check out museums in the town that we’re in or even just walking around the street. Just taking in a new city and the culture and food, because a lot of the time we’re in a place for one night and then we’re out so I try to really take it in.
You’ve noted that David Bowie has been a big influence for you. We lost him this year, which I think the whole world took really hard. Everyone has their own message they took from him and his body of work. What’s the biggest one for you?
B: I feel like it’s inspiring going through Bowie’s discography and seeing how drastically he transforms himself on these albums. You could always tell where he was living and what he was experiencing – you could feel those influences in his music. I get really bored easily so I’m always trying to think of new ways to write a song or say a certain message and he’s done that time and time again. So I think it’s pretty inspiring that in all of his music, not one song or one album sounds the same. It shows how endless the possibilities are with music and art and everything.
Listening to Dopamine kind of makes you feel like you’re in your own ethereal world. Was that your goal?
B: I recorded the album with Tommy English-he produced the album- and he’s a really amazing songwriter. We’re always turning ideas and melodies. We both lean towards Beach Boys style harmonies and really ethereal sounding things, I guess. I always want a feeling of weightlessness in the music. I’m always thinking of the place that I’m going to be performing, like large, cavernous rooms where everything is going to echo. I think that’s why I do that.
Is there an album that brings you the same feeling?
B: A lot of French pop that I really like, like the bands Air and M83, they both do it extremely well. Sort of a feeling of ascension in the music and just like you’re losing your body. And it’s French, and I love that sound.
You’ve already achieved pretty notable success for being a relatively new name in music. What’s your plan for establishing staying power and longevity in your career, assuming that’s what you want?
B: Yeah, I mean, I could not have told you a year ago that I would be still on the road and touring and performing on Late Night and all that stuff. I’m really grateful that it’s all happened so quickly and people have been enjoying the music because it’s such an early point in my career. Really I just made an album of music that I enjoyed making and playing and I’m glad it came across that way. So what am I going to do next to sustain my career? (laughs) Let’s see…probably lay by the pool. I’m in Vegas right now.
Ugh, I’m so jealous. I’m on a roof in DC and it’s overcast and horrible.
B: Oh yeah, We’ve been in that for a while. We just got to warmth and have time to lay down so that’s nice. Aside from that, I’ll probably do everything completely different than I did the first time. (laughs)
B: I mean yeah, there’s a lot that I’ve learned on the road, about music and people and entertainment and I feel like I’m in a completely different headspace than when I first started touring with this project. So I think the next album is going to be completely different.
Speaking of being on the road, I know you wrote Dopamine while you were touring. Do you still find yourself in a constant state of writing, or do you ever take time off to just immerse yourself in what you’ve already written?
B: Well I’ve definitely immersed myself in it because we play it almost every night. But I’m always writing song ideas down so that when it comes time to get into the studio, I have a bunch of puzzle pieces that we can keep rearranging until something comes out. But I’m starting to record some of my own demos and do some weird laptop jams. To be honest, I’m always either traveling or playing a show and there’s not a lot of time to really record. But that’s just the life.
So you’ve toured with a few different artists, played several festivals, including Coachella, ACL, Lollapalooza. What’s one moment you’ve had while performing live that felt like a pivotal moment for you?
B: We did a tour in Europe with Halsey and we were playing a bunch of new places that we’ve never been before. There were a few places where it just really latched in and people really enjoyed the music and it just kind of felt like the show had this current running through it. I like shows where everything sort of happens for you, and all you have to do is perform and be in the moment. Also, we played “Electric Love” at Coachella and there was just an insane amount of people singing along so that was cool.
You’re playing a show at 9:30 Club coming up which should be great. We’re looking forward to having you. Thanks so much for taking the time.
B: Yeah, thanks. It was really nice talking with you. Take it easy.