Garrett Borns has received quite a few hefty shows of support from the world of pop in 2015. After the frankly unmatchable backing of one Taylor Swift, BØRNS supported Charli XCX on her US tour, and most recently took a slot at Years & Years’ huge Brixton Academy show. It’s clear he’s in demand.
Sitting in a West London hotel before his biggest headline show in the capital to date at XOYO, Borns seems more concerned with discovering new music himself than the significant backing he himself has received. “We were in Paris for a show recently, and I was completely taken by LA Priest. I’d never heard of him before, and I just wanna find out what’s in that box! You know the box thing he has? Is there just like an iPod shuffle in there? I wanna know!”
2015 has been transitional for the Michigan-raised LA resident, and he can’t overstate how touring his EP ‘Candy’ in the early part of the year affected what he produced for October’s debut full-length ‘Dopamine’. “I’d never toured before this year, and I’d never even been to the UK, so I feel like in 2015 I definitely learned about true life on the road, and I learned a lot about myself musically in this time too. I feel like coming back after touring the EP, you’re always going to have a different outlook on playing and writing music from all the stories you can tell from the road. The LP shows the wiser me.
“Having to balance being on the road and being in the studio definitely influenced the final product. I was touring so much and by the time I got back to LA, I’d only have a few days here and there before I was off again, and so it was a lesson in having to consolidate my time, and knowing it would have to be a fast turnaround for getting the album out. There was also pressure with knowing the band would have to learn this music that I’d written and recorded all myself. I wanted to reign it in a little bit in the studio and think ‘these are the instruments we’ll have on stage, I can’t go too crazy’. I wanted the meat of the songs - the lyrics and the melodies - to be strong so they can translate. With the EP, I didn’t think in the slightest about playing it live as I’d never toured extensively before - ‘it’s a studio album so the possibilities are limitless!’ - but with the album I had to make it translatable when played live, so myself and the band can do these songs justice on tour.”
It hasn’t been a quiet or easy induction into touring life for Borns, who’s been almost constantly on the road since the release of ‘Candy’. It’s gone from nil to all since he visited Los Angeles on a whim in 2013 with the intention of staying for a month or so, and maybe writing some songs. “I ended up lodging up in the hills at this B&B that looked really removed from anything that I would have thought was ‘LA’. LA to me was a kind of dirty Hollywood, which is somewhere I didn’t want to live. I found this place up in the hills, lived there, started writing music and meeting people, and it really felt like it was the right place to be in that moment. I was waiting for that to happen. I bummed around New York for a bit before that, went to Nashville for some sessions, and I just wanted something to feel right. The songs started to come out really naturally when I got to LA, and I felt like until then I was forcing things that weren’t there.”
Despite the clear inspiration he gained from moving to LA, Borns maintains some of his small town upbringing in Michigan, and understands how it affects his music now he’s left. “[It’s] a little harbour town just on Lake Michigan. It’s really beautiful, and a pretty serene place to grow up. I think I always liked the open space of growing up there. It’s really vast, and the water looks like it goes on for so long people think it’s the ocean when they first see it, and there’s this freedom from that wide open space that’s now innately in me.
“When I moved to this place in the hills [in LA], I was renting this old diesel Mercedes and just driving around. It was spring time, so the air was really perfumey, and I’d hit these really intense clouds of jasmine when I was driving along with the windows down and would think ‘where on earth am I? Is this real?’”
“There’s so many writers on songs now, especially in pop music, and I absolutely love just having two cooks in the kitchen.”
Checking back in with reality is something Borns has had to do regularly across his revelatory breakout year, while still letting himself soak up as much of this new world as he can while touring. “Yesterday when we drove from Glasgow to Nottingham, the scenery was unbelievable. I have been reading the autobiography of Salvatore Dali on the road, and it made the whole experience of driving through a new place even more compelling. I’m trying to fit other things around basically spending what feels like the rest of my life on tour. I want to travel more, record music in different places, in London and Stockholm.”
Borns was writing and recording music in LA with sole co-writer Tommy English, and stresses the impact the environment they created with just two had on both of his releases so far. “Some people tell me in interviews that ‘you need to give your band more credit for recording the album!’, and won’t understand that a ‘solo artist’ could have the ideas and ambition to create an album that sounds like a band on their own”, he explains. “There’s so many writers on songs now, especially in pop music, and I absolutely love just having two cooks in the kitchen. Tommy and I really understand each other, and there’s never any weird ego trips. We keep it very simple.”
Any new writing and recording sessions for BØRNS are going to come in four of five day snippets amongst a host of touring, not the dreamlike LA retreats that spawned ‘Candy’ and ‘Dopamine’, but it’s not stopping him from bursting with new ideas and re-analysing his recorded material thus far before going forward. “The songs were always being trimmed down. I’d think ‘this is extraneous, it doesn’t need to be here, it’s gone’, and cutting them down to this really concise pop song structure.” Borns constantly talks about his influences frankly, with no shame involved in laying out his inspirations and picking and choosing how to incorporate some of those elements into his own material. “Now I almost want to do the opposite and expand from that and incorporate different moods and changing between them rapidly. I think a really great example of that is Tame Impala’s ‘Let It Happen’. It puts you in a world to such an extent that you never really lose it, and you’re ‘there’ the whole time. I’m now trying to combine the idea of creating normal-length pop songs but also managing to take you on a trip within that. I think there’s a lot of room for being a pop star and still letting yourself get weird.”
BØRNS’ debut album ‘Dopamine’ is out now via Interscope.