There aren’t many musicians who concern themselves with subjects like neuroscience or brain chemistry. Yet musician Garrett Borns, better known by his stage name, BORNS, is interested in dopamine, the neurotransmitter in our brain that is responsible for all of our feelings of pleasure, happiness and reward. In fact, he is so intrigued by the chemical that it is the unifying theme on his debut album Dopamine. Drawing inspiration from sunny Los Angeles, as well as 60s and 70s Playboy magazines and Beach Boys-era music, BORNS delves into a dreamy, enigmatic world of longing, love and lust.
When BORNS released his debut EP Candy in 2013 with little warning, the internet immediately buzzed about the song “Electric Love.” With praise from stars like Taylor Swift, who called the song an “instant classic” on her Instagram, and its use in commercials for Hulu and Southwest Airlines, BORNS had everyone hooked on his powerful songwriting and his otherworldly falsetto from the start.
BORNS will be performing in Atlanta to a sold out crowd at Vinyl on Dec. 3. The Wheel spoke with him over the phone to discuss Dopamine, his background and inspirations and even the treehouse he one lived in.
Maya Nair: How did you get into music? Did you grow up around it or did you seek it out yourself?
BORNS: I guess I grew up around it. My folks had a pretty eclectic record collection, so they influenced my early listening days, and I went to a lot of concerts as a kid. It was just part of growing up [for me], I guess.
MN: I read that you were very serious about being a magician as a kid. Do you think that influenced your desire to be a performer?
BORNS: Yeah, I think so. It was my first experience as a frontman, and [at] entertaining and having the challenge of captivating an audience. And it was at a pretty early age, so yeah I’d say so.
MN: As a teenager you attended a summer program at Interlochen Center for the Arts — obviously music isn’t the only form of art that you like. Can you tell me about it?
BORNS: I went to Interlochen to study filmmaking and screenwriting, and that’s what I was doing mostly throughout high school. I was working on films and directing and editing and building up my portfolio because I was planning on going to film school after high school.
But, Interlochen is a school for all different kinds of performing arts; there’s theater, opera, symphonic studies, visual arts, filmmaking and creative writing. So, I was around a bunch of different kids from all over the world that come to this school [who] are so talented in so many different majors. I was actually hanging out with a lot of musicians when I was there and practicing in the piano huts — these little huts everywhere with just an upright piano. I was writing a lot of music there, [so] that was really inspiring musically.
MN: If you weren’t doing music, what other kind of art would you see yourself doing?
BORNS: I still have other artistic outlets, like the making of music videos and graphic design. I don’t really paint that much [anymore], but I used to do a lot of painting. I used to go to the studio with my dad when I was younger at this hole in the wall, where we would stretch out canvases and paint. That’s definitely something I want to do more of. But, yeah I like a lot of different artistic endeavours.
MN: I think your album is very vibrant and picturesque. Do you think nature and your surroundings influence your music?
BØRNS: Yeah, definitely. I recorded the whole thing in Los Angeles and I feel like that environment infiltrated the record. Whether I liked it or not, that was just the headspace I was in, being in those vast, open canyons, palm trees, sunshine and everything.
MN: Speaking of LA, do you think it was hard to avoid the celebrity culture and its shallow side?
BORNS: No, I don’t think so. LA’s pretty huge and if you want to be immersed in that kind of culture, there are some places that you can go to get into that. There’s plenty of spots in Hollywood if you want a super seedy, lame Hollywood experience. So no, I don’t really indulge in that culture. I just hide myself away and make music in a studio with good friends.
MN: Everywhere I look I see something about the treehouse that you lived in. Did living minimalistically affect your music?
BORNS: Yeah, I think so. I didn’t really have that much up there. There was one bedroom, a tiny outdoor kitchen and the water ran from the sprinklers. So yeah, it was very simple living and I just lived out of a suitcase up there for over a year.
MN: You lived in New York before LA. Why do you think New York wasn’t as inspiring for you?
BORNS: It wasn’t that it wasn’t inspiring, it definitely was inspiring. I guess I was looking for a different atmosphere or I wanted to see what the atmosphere in LA would do to my songwriting.
MN: You worked with producer Tommy English on both on the EP and the album.What makes you two such a good pair?
BORNS: I think just because we’re good friends. He’s from Chicago, and I grew up in Michigan, so we’re both Midwestern boys. We have a friend group that’s similar from the Midwest, so we’re just kindred, artistic souls.
MN: Tell me about your creative process when writing and creating music in the studio.
BORNS: It’s never really the same. It always starts differently; a lot of the time, it starts with an iPhone [recording] of something that I got around LA. Like on “The Emotion,” there’s coyotes — I got those in the [Hollywood] Hills. That was in the treehouse, and there were crazy coyotes one night and I got a sample of them and put them on the song and that kind of inspired it. We just put a layered guitar in over that. It’s all just layering and seeing how different sounds fit together. It’s all just experimentation.
MN: You could’ve easily said that love or lust was a unifying theme on your album. Why choose dopamine?
BORNS: ‘Cause I think that’s where those emotions come from. The album isn’t exactly about having someone; it’s about, almost, the fantasy of someone when you don’t have them, but they’re still in your head, and you have this chemical connection to them.
MN: What do you think was the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself while recording or releasing the album?
BORNS: Probably just how fast I can make an album. I’ve been on the road so much [in] 2015 that I [haven’t] been in LA very much at all. We just had a few months blocked out to complete the album, and Tommy and I just had to go marathon style and finish it. I learned that it’s better to go with your first instinct on stuff that’s the most true to yourself.
MN: If somebody who has never listened to your music was going to listen to only one song, which song do you think would sum up who you are as a musician?
BORNS: I would say probably “Holy Ghost.” I don’t know, there’s just something about it that’s scatterbrained in the production sonically, so that’s kinda how I feel most of the time.
MN: Are there any shows or tours you’re particularly excited about?
BORNS: Yeah, this one that I’m on right now! We’ve been touring since October for my album and we just got back from Europe and Canada, and we’re doing the second leg of the US. It’s been fun!
MN: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
BORNS: I’ll be on tour for rest of the year, and then I’ll be in Australia.