It’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon when Garrett Borns, known by his stage name, Børns, calls. The Michigan native has just woken up, and he begins by apologizing for his groggy state. His exhaustion is understandable. He’s had quite the year: a debut album titled “Dopamine,” tours with Halsey and Years & Years and sold out shows across North America and Europe, all while garnering more than 100 million plays on Spotify.
For the 24-year-old, everything revolves around feelings and living in the moment, an instinct that translate into his music with full force. “They’re all a kind of cerebral mindtrip I have with love and the feelings that go with it – longing, lust, etc,” he says of his songs.His dreamy vocals with throbbing drum beats and syncopated synths make for catchy pop anthms that aim to explore the depths of human emotions.
Amidst his jam-packed schedule, Børns slows down for a moment to chat about his studio debut and his insights on love, lust and leaving it all on the stage.
Can you talk to me about the inspiration behind “Dopamine”?
It came from an EP I recorded called “Candy,” [from] when I first moved to Los Angeles. It was kind of about me just figuring it out – being lost in the city, but also lost in my own lovesick emotions. “Dopamine” came from being on tour and having to record an album in between tours. It was me getting ideas, thoughts and fantasies, love, poems, those sorts of things, out there.
Dopamine is the chemical hormone responsible for feelings like love, which seems to be the encompassing theme of the album. What interests you about it?
What fascinates me about dopamine is that it’s tied into your addictions to things, your longing for them. Whenever you think about a really good experience you had, that’s when it’s released. Or when you’re thinking about something that’s going to give you pleasure, whether it’s chocolate, music, women or whatever. It’s about these enticing things.
Why did it become the title of your album?
It came from writing a song called “Dopamine.” I just wrote this hook for a song. I kind of forgot about it for a while, then I pulled up that demo again. I was in the studio and showed [producer] Tommy English, and he was like, “Oh, that’s a cool hook. We should do something with that.” We wrote the rest of the song to it, and it became the title track. It sort of fully encapsulated all of the other songs.
Which song on the album is most meaningful to you, and why?
They’re all meaningful to me. They’re all personal. “Clouds” is meaningful. I feel like I wrote that one very sub-consciously. I wrote it literally in a dream state. I was sitting there with a guitar and just writing.
Which musical eras and artists do you cite as influences?
On “Dopamine,” I guess it was the sixties and seventies era of music. Bowie is a big inspiration of mine. Electric Light Orchestra, Michael Jackson and Prince are also big influences.
You’ve done everything from smaller, intimate shows to huge festivals like Coachella. Is there one type of show you prefer over another?
All shows are different. I don’t really prefer one over the other. I’ve been on tour for the past year and a half, and every show is different. It’s kind of nice to have that variety. It definitely keeps you always conscious of the kind of audience you’re performing for, because you kind of have to cater to different sized audiences and clubs. It makes you want to put out a unique show.
So what kind of emotion do you hope to bring out in the audience during your live performances?
I hope the audience forgets about something that might have been bothering them before. You want them to kind of just forget about everything else. You want them to be absorbed in the music.
Along those lines, many of your songs are about an intimate connection between two people. How do you take that feeling of intimacy and channel it into a live performance for crowds of hundreds or thousands?
I think performing is a really intimate thing, even when you’re doing it for an audience. It’s hard to explain. I just try to sing the best I can and perform the best I can; everything else kind of happens naturally. I never want to think. I have shows where I’m thinking too hard, and I don’t think those are very good shows for me. Because then you’re trying to please someone or something, and I don’t think that’s why you should perform. I think you should be performing and doing things that feel right to you.
If you go:
Friday, May 27: Electric Factory at 8:30 PM
421 N. 7th Street, Philadelphia PA
Saturday, May 28: Boston Calling
City Hall Plaza, Boston MA
Tickets starting at $85, eventbrite.com
Friday, June 17 (with Mumford & Sons): Forest Hills Stadium at 6:30 PM
1 Tennis Place, Queens NY
Follow Chloe Tsang on Twitter @itschloet