Singer-songwriter BØRNS (Garrett Borns), who grew up in Grand Haven, Mich., where his parents exposed him to “a lot of music,” says he had “a pretty broad knowledge of old ’50s, ’60s and ’70s music” by the time he became a teenager.
“At a young age I knew all the songs and those are some of my favorite songs,” says Borns via phone from Los Angeles where he was doing his laundry. His new album, Dopamine
, features a vibrant mix of organic and electronic music that simultaneously sounds old-fashioned and contemporary.
Two years ago, Borns released his debut EP, Candy
, an album he recorded with producer and friend Tommy English.
“I recorded the EP on my own before there was any record label involved or anything,” he says. “I didn’t want their influence being on a record. And I just wanted to really love it for what it was because it was fun to make and not because I was trying to get a record deal. And, of course, I wanted to be able to play this music and tour, but I didn’t know exactly where it was going to go. It was just kind of a studio project. Then some labels showed some interest in it.”
When he started writing the songs for Dopamine
, he drew upon very distinct influences.
“I definitely wanted to write songs in an older way of writing songs with song structure and crafting melodies,” he says. “Things that you saw a lot in the ’60s and ’70s like Electric Light Orchestra and the Bee Gees. I take a lot of inspiration from their song structure. So, I wanted to write songs that felt like they had kind of a classic, almost throwback element, but done in a contemporary way. I wanted them to sound like, ‘Oh wait I should know this’ or ‘How do I know this?’ But it sounds new. We want things to sound new. We definitely don’t want them to sound like we’re trying to make throwback things, but we have a lot of influences from older eras of music.”
Album opener “10,000 Emerald Pools” features androgynous vocals and chug-a-lug guitars as Borns sings, “all I need is you.” For the Beach Boys-like tune “Overnight Sensation,” he took inspiration from a stack of old Playboy
“I had a stack of reading material chillin’ in the studio just for any weird word association type things that happen with recording,” he says. “I love how those old magazines are laid out. They’re very clever and they’re all done very deliberately. All of the advertisements and articles are very well thought out, and I just love the words that they use.”
Showing the strength of his voice, he starts “Past Lives” without any musical accompaniment. Eventually, synths and percolating percussion kick in, making the tune sound like something the Pet Shop Boys might have recorded back in the ‘80s.
“That intro started out as kind of an idea for the chorus of that song when we were writing it,” he says. “It was just an idea that we recorded really quick with the vocoder and then we just kind of forgot about it. Then once we were finishing the song we found that original idea and we were like, ‘What if this was kind of like an intro to the song, just to kind of throw people off?’ You don’t really know where it’s going and then have the beat come in. And it just kind of fit perfectly.”
Another album highlight, “American Money,” features cooing vocals and a soaring chorus.
“That song started out as just a little acoustic idea that I had,” says Borns. “And it was a lot more carefree sounding when I was playing it. It almost sounded like a James Taylor song or something. And I brought it in the studio and [producer] Tommy [English] had this down tempo minimal beat going on and then I sang it with that beat and gave it a different vibe, just a little bit darker. And we kind of liked that.”
While critics have described Borns’ music as “heartfelt electronic music,” he says that description isn’t quite apt.
“There are electric instruments in it,” he says. “I wouldn’t really call it electronic music. There’s a good amount of acoustic instruments in it too. Some of the stuff is programmed, but a lot of it’s actually played on instruments. There are a lot of keyboards and guitars, bongos, tambourines, background vocals. The majority of it is played by humans. So, it’s not really electronic, but there are electronic elements.”
Borns says he’s already started thinking about the songs for his next album, but he’s not going to reveal what the new tracks might sound like.
“A lot of ideas that I’ve vaulted are away coming out now,” he says. “I would love to [provide more details], but it’s all top secret at this point. It’s a little too early. I have too many weird ideas right now, so if I say one thing it’ll be like, ‘Oh! You’re gonna make a record of jump rope songs?’ I don't want people to think that.”
BØRNS, Lewis Del Mar, 7 p.m. Monday, June 13, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $20 ADV, $23 DOS, houseofblues.com.