When he was 10 and growing up alongside the dunes of the east Lake Michigan coastline, in Grand Haven, Michigan, Garrett Borns already had his sights on the arts and the life of a showman. But music hadn’t yet become his primary obsession. That belonged to magic. The city of Colon, to the south and near the state line with Indiana, is known as the magic capital of the world and hosts conventions. Borns had his parents take him there annually. With the dream of becoming a restaurant magician, he began to build up his repertoire.

“Nothing involving live animals, per se, but I did perform numerous children’s birthday parties. It was my niche,” said Borns, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, better known as BØRNS, with several hit songs and growing credentials. “I had gigs at a few different restaurants, so that was my first experience as a frontman and as a performing artist.”

After high school, Borns took some music theory classes in nearby Grand Rapids before growing stir-crazy with small-town life and moving to Brooklyn, where he wrote and recorded with friends. In 2013, he made an impromptu trip to L.A., for one month, to write in a sunnier locale.

“Before I knew it, I was out there for half a year; then a year went by, then I had new management, and I signed with a publishing company,” he said. “I didn’t even realize it, but I was there building my team.”

Several weeks after the then-temporary trip, he co-wrote “10,000 Emerald Pools,” the first of several songs that would go on to 2014 debut EP Candy. The song also kicks off his first full-length album, Dopamine, which was released last month on Interscope Records.

But the song most widely heard everywhere from grocery stores to TV spots is “Electric Love,” which Taylor Swift pegged as an “instant classic” to her millions of online followers, further strengthening Hurricane BØRNS. The song, about a fantasy lover, was co-written by producer friend Tommy English. English was involved in most of the songs on the album.

“Tommy and I met in L.A., but we come from a similar upbringing in the Midwest,” he said. “We…come from similar creative influences.”

With his early BØRNS songs, the 23-year-old had identified the sound that inspired him: Dreamy, ethereal, danceable synth-pop with glam pop flourishes, highlighted by Borns’ falsetto and delayed guitars.

He began posting what he and English were writing online, which drew the attention of managers and various labels. “There was something that was resonating with people,” he said.

A year later, the two had an album’s worth of material. The 11-track collection includes “Past Lives,” a synthefied take on the Beach Boys telling a story about meeting the love of your life in various incarnations; “American Money,” with a meaning that Borns has said roughly translates as “You look like a million bucks,” and “The Emotion,” which includes a distorted recording of coyotes howling near the ramshackle hillside house he rented while writing.

Borns didn’t concern himself with a day job during this time. While he took on various music side gigs, including writing commercial jingles, he decided the time was right to invest in himself as a singer-songwriter and performer.

“My whole end goal was to make an album of music that I really felt was true to me,” he said. “The music was really coming out naturally in California.”

Location is one of Garrett Borns’ main musical inspirations, and Los Angeles inspired much of Dopamine. He and English recorded all but one song in Southern California. But album closer “Fool” came about north of San Francisco, at a private studio near Stinson Beach.

BØRNS’ entire band recorded the song, which is about the emotional and physical influence a lover gains over a person. “We rented this really beautiful house, almost castle-like with exposed rock on the outside, looking out over the ocean,” he said.

With the live band recording, the song is a cross between Motown and disco.

Like many of the songs on the record, “Fool” calls out the carnal urges one gets while in love. The album is named for the organic chemical compound released during reward-motivated behavior, after all.

“All the songs are definitely love songs, on the album,” he said. “That’s the all-encompassing theme – this connection, chemically, to someone.”

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BØRNS, Avid Dancer
The Independent
November 20, 2015
8 p.m., Sold out