“The song itself is about being in this weightlessness,” Garrett Borns, better known as BØRNS says regarding his single “10,000 Emerald Pools.” “You can feel weightlessness underwater, or in space, or in this case, it is in love. It’s equating being underwater and everything kind of being in slow motion – being in love with someone and diving deeper into love with this person.” With the explosion of dreamy synth-pop sounds in “10,000,” it’s hard not to fall in love with BØRNS and his music.
Born and raised in the lower peninsula of Michigan, BØRNS lived in New York briefly before he found himself in Los Angeles, where he currently resides. He wrote his EP, Candy while living in a treehouse in the Los Angeles canyons, which provided him a magical inspiration. Candy was recorded in Los Angeles at Kennedy Space Station & Studio America and was released on November 10th via Interscope Records. The four-track EP boasts a dazzling blend of folk and electro-pop, with hints of funk underneath the singer’s lyrical vocals. After making his CMJ debut this past October, BØRNS sat down with The Untitled Magazine to discuss music, how he once ended up in Elton John’s apartment, and his plans for the future. Check out the exclusive interview with BØRNS below.
Indira Cesarine: I’ve been reading some really interesting stuff about you. You’ve got a very interesting, unique story.
Garrett Borns: Yeah, it is interesting. I mean, just the things that I’ve been reading (laughs). Since I put out the single there’s been a lot of blogs picking it up. Everyone has their own take on it, and it’s cool to hear all these different perspectives that I never thought of with my music. It kind of actually helps because I always have such a hard time explaining the sound of my music. It’s inspired by a lot of different genres and musicians, so this kind of helps.
IC: I would love to start with the beginning. I understand you’re from Michigan?
GB: I am.
IC: You have a visual arts background and studied filmmaking. How did that transition into music?
GB: I grew up in a pretty artistic family with a lot of music always playing. My folks had this baby grand piano in the front room that we were always playing on and singing songs. Whenever they had friends over I would always be the entertainment, just making up songs for everyone. I guess it’s always been present; music. And my dad’s a really amazing artist; he’s always had me thinking creatively. He’s also a graphic designer and does a lot of branding, so just having that background has instilled this branding and consistency in my brain. It’s been a really good lesson to grow up with that, because it’s helped me with music, and advertising myself. I was studying film for a little while all throughout high school. I went to this school called Interlochen, and studied film and screenwriting there. That was what I was expecting to go to college for. Then I started interning at this filmmaker’s business. We started making music videos for me, and traveling around, and then pretty soon I was just doing music. I wasn’t doing film anymore, I was just kind of overseeing film. And before you know it… I was just on the road, writing music and performing.
IC: Amazing! I understand you were self-taught with instruments, and then you started picking up piano a little later on?
GB: This was back when I was probably 10, 11 or 13. I was taking lessons with this very eccentric cat woman, and she was always covered in cat hair! (Laughs) But that was totally her aesthetic. She lived in this rickety house on Lake Michigan, and she was such a character. She was really into challenging me with really hard piano pieces, and I think that’s what got me further into writing more complex melodies and stuff like that. I studied classical piano in college for a little bit. And jazz, just to learn some more theory to see what it would do for writing music. It’s good to have those tools in your toolbox, but I like a nice mix of knowing and not knowing when writing music. There’s something really cool about knowing why or where these melodies fit in, and the counterpoint, harmonies and everything, but there’s also something really beautiful about just doing it because it feels good, rather than notating everything. It’s definitely good to know theory, but I just write from feeling.
IC: How would you describe in your own words your sound? You mentioned earlier that you find it hard to describe?
GB: This EP [Candy] definitely has that old southern California vibe to it, with the lush harmonies and stuff. Very kind of Beach Boys-esque, kind of Bee Gees–inspired harmonies. The songs themselves come from a lot of different inspirations. I listen to a lot of 70s disco, 60s psychedelic rock, and also a lot of pop music.
IC: Any musicians in particular that you like?
GB: I love Michael Jackson and Prince – the classic, iconic funk and soul musicians. I grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, and a lot of the Bee Gees. Billy Joel was also always playing when I was growing up, so that’s a big inspiration.
IC: And so, do you feel that growing up in Michigan influenced your sound? Or was it living in a tree house that resonates with you more? Or it’s a combination of both?
GB: I think it’s kind of a combination of both.
IC: Did you live in a big town in Michigan?
GB: No, it was a pretty small town. I grew up on Lake Michigan with very lush forests, so I spent a lot of time making tree houses, and spending time in the woods. California is completely opposite of Michigan, because it’s perpetual summer and you can get caught up in the hustle and bustle out there. So I found this really secluded area, off in the trees that almost brought me back to my childhood. It was exciting to write music in that environment. I feel like it was really effortless, and it was just really calm. I was living in New York for a while and writing songs in a New York apartment, as opposed to writing songs in the trees in the Canyons, you get totally different songs. I couldn’t imagine writing this album in New York. It just comes from my environment. It was really inspiring.
IC: And the tree house, how did that happen? Did you build the tree house – or was it existing?
GB: I built it with my bare hands. No, I didn’t. It was an AirBnB. You know the website AirBnB?
IC: Yeah. They have a tree house on there?
GB: They have a tree house section. (laughs) No they don’t! It was just a weekend rental, and I saw pictures of it. It looked like this heavenly – very rustic – but amazing place with an outdoor kitchen – basically living off the grid. There’s no plumbing. There’s running water up there, but it all filters underneath. It was just the perfect little sanctuary, and I was like “This really exists? I want to live here for at least a weekend.” And so, I stayed there. I was only supposed to be in LA for a few weeks. I stayed at this place, met the landlords, who are amazing, beautiful people, that are really into music and obscure art collecting. They have these three little kids that all play music, and their names are Ziggy, Zane, and Zara. A very, very eccentric family. It turned out to be this really cool environment to live in, because they were really into me being a musician, and bringing creativity around the kids. The kids were also always coming up to the tree house being like “Garret, let’s jam, let’s rock out.”
GB: They have a bunch of instruments – very much like how I grew up – for the kids, so we were always just jammin’ and singing around the campfire. It was such a cool place to live. Before I knew it I was living there for four months, and then it kept extending. They were like “Don’t leave, just stay here”. They became kind of like my California family.
IC: Oh well that’s cool. I hope they gave you a good rate! Did you have to keep booking it through Airbnb?
GB: No, they ended up doing a long-term rental. But something really crazy is that Sarah, my landlady, vacationed in Michigan since she was a little girl. Up in northern Michigan in a little town called Leland where I have a cottage – my family has a cottage – and we’ve had it for years, so we’ve always gone up there in the summertime. Sarah and her side of the family have been literally ten minutes away from us for all these years in Michigan. Then I go to California and I’m living in their tree house. It’s kind of crazy.
IC: Oh that’s so interesting. It is not the most common vacation spot!
GB: No, not at all. And they just stayed in this super cool, old cabin on Lake Michigan. This year we had a whole family reunion up there – both sides of our family came together. It was cool.
IC: That’s great. And you guys are all still very good friends?
GB: I still reside in the treetop!
IC: And how do you feel that inspires your work? Do you find that living in a tree house adds the magical element to your music?
GB: Yeah, I think it does.
IC: It brings out the mystical forces?
GB: Totally. That’s a good way to put it. Just listening to the EP, I visualize being in the treetops, because it sounds like it’s echoing in the canyons, with the harmonies and everything. It’s really inspiring. All you hear at night are crickets and coyotes.
IC: I love your song “10,000 Emerald Pools,” what was the inspiration behind that?
GB: That song was one of the first songs I wrote in California with a really good friend of mine and a really talented producer named Kennedy. We hit it off and just started writing a lot of music together. That was one of the first songs we did, and the song just – it sort of wrote itself. We were talking about the visuals more than the song itself. We were like “Oh yeah, we need to do a music video for this in some tropical location, jumping into these emerald pools”, or whatever. “10,000 Emerald Pools” is actually an address in Las Vegas. It’s Kennedy’s (the producer’s) mother’s address. He was like “Dude that’s the best title ever. You know, I’ve been wanting to use this in a song.” I was like, “Yeah, let’s use it.” It fits perfectly in the song. The song itself is about being in this weightlessness. You can feel weightlessness underwater, or in space, or in this case, it is in love. It’s equating being underwater and everything kind of being in slow motion – being in love with someone and diving deeper into love with this person. It’s just an intimate song of longing (laughs). But it’s also a feel good song; it just felt good to sing. All those vocals are the first take. As we were writing it, we were just like “Alright, let’s get it down.” It happened pretty quickly.
IC: Which other tracks do you plan to release next?
GB: The EP starts out with this song called “Electric Love” and it’s in the same house as “Emerald Pools” but with live drums and a little more umph, a little more glam edge, I suppose. The EP is jam-packed with pop-melodic-ness that’s just fun to listen to.
IC: How do you translate your sound when you’re performing on stage?
GB: It’s been fun. All these songs were written in the studio; they weren’t written with a live band. All the instruments are played either by me or the producers. I did all the harmonies and everything. It’s cool to recreate it in a live setting because you’re having other people do harmonies and other people play the instruments. They’re obviously interpreting it in their way, but still really bringing it to the live version, or the recorded version rather. It’s been fun to find a way to bring the songs to life, because they’ve only lived in a computer.
IC: Do you do anything in particular for your stage performances?
GB: Just wear obnoxious coats to get people’s attention (laughs).
IC: How did your performances in New York for CMJ go?
GB: I did four performances, Theatre Port, and then one in Brooklyn. I’ve had a blast.
IC: Have you performed in New York before?
GB: No, this is my first time. It seems like some people are almost familiar with the music, when they haven’t heard it yet. There was one guy in the front row last night, and I was playing one of my songs – my original songs that I’ve never put out before – and he was just mouthing the words (laughs). But he did it, and it was very convincing. It was just like he knew it. I was like, “Yeah totally dude.” I guess it kind of has some throwback elements in it. You’re like, “Wait, do I know this?” I like doing that.
IC: That must be a very interesting experience, particularly as you’ve never played that song before!
GB: Yeah, I’m like “Oh, did I totally rip something off?” I’m totally going to get sued on this album (laughing)!
IC: You mentioned Prince and various other musicians that have inspired your work. Did you collaborate with other musicians on your EP?
GB: I love collaborations. It’s always cool finding that other person that just brings a whole other perspective to your writing and everything complements each other. I’ve had sessions with people where I’ve really respect their work, and I’m like “God I can’t wait to write with them.’ And then we’ll get together, and it doesn’t come out exactly how I thought it would. Then there’s people that in the beginning you just feel like “Oh this is awkward,” but then you end up writing an amazing song. I love collaborations, because it gets you thinking differently, and the two guys that I collaborated with on this EP are really great friends of mine.
IC: Were they writing with you? Or what was their role?
GB: Yeah, we wrote a lot of these songs together.They just brought really interesting elements that I wouldn’t have thought of. A lot of really cool guitar parts. Because I’m definitely not a virtuoso on guitar. The producer, Tommy English, is an amazing guitar player. He came up with really cool riffs, and we were just working on that together. I think melodically, on the piano. I think collaboration is a really beautiful thing.
IC: What would be your dream collaboration if you were to work with another artist?
GB: Oh man, that’s a good question! I feel like Elton John in his heyday would be a pretty crazy collaborator. Actually I walked into his living room once, accidentally.
IC: How did that happen?
GB: It was my first experience in LA. I went out there to go meet Britney Spears’ manager, because I did this Britney Spears cover. She heard it, really liked it, so I went out to meet Larry Rudolph. I went to this condo – like this high-rise thing – and I went to the lobby and they were like “Go up to the 11th floor, and go all the way to the end of the hallway. That’s his place.” So I go up, I go to the end of the hallway and knock on the door. A maid lets me in, I’m looking around, and I’m like, man this doesn’t seem like Larry’s style. It was super flamboyant artwork, fur rugs, and just crazy stuff everywhere. I just felt like it was not right. This guy walks out in a bathrobe and is like “Hey are you here to fix the sound system?” I’m like “Uh, no I have a meeting with Larry Rudolph.” He’s like “Oh he’s across the hall, you’re in the wrong apartment” and I was like “Oh my god, I’m so sorry” (laughing). So I go across the hall and Larry’s like, “Oh you know whose apartment that is? That’s Elton John’s.”
IC: That’s kind of funny.
GB: And his boyfriend came out in a bathrobe. I feel like since we have that connection now we should probably do a song together!
IC: Yeah, well there you go, “Candle In The Wind” number two!
GB: God, he has some amazing songs!
IC: Yeah, he does, he’s an incredible, legendary artist. With your visual arts background, I imagine you also get inspired by other visual artists in some respect. Are there any in particular that inspire your work at all?
GB: A friend of mine just got me into this book called The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. That dude’s got a pretty interesting outlook on life. I’ve been reading that recently, and I mean, I don’t know. I think a lot of my favorite artists right now are just my friends. It’s cool how, with all the outlets – Instagram, Tumblr and stuff like that – everyone’s art is so available these days. I’ll just go on my phone and see all the photography and paintings and stuff that my friends are doing, and it’s super inspiring. It’s cool because we can collaborate on stuff. I really think that a lot of my friends are the most inspiring to me right now. It’s cool to have a really creative circle in LA.
IC: And since you were studying filmmaking, I imagine that you’ve been quite involved with the making of your videos? Can you tell me a little bit about any of the creative for your forthcoming videos? You mentioned you just wrapped the video for “10,000 Emerald Pools.”
GB: The video is going to be really, really interesting. It’s taking the whole concept of the song and making it a little more abstract. It’s all about memories – memories of love from adolescence to adulthood. Kind of what love was when you were a little kid, you know? That was kind of just like… throwing dirt at a girl. You know, super cute adolescent things like, when you like someone, you push them, and like… (laughs). As you’re growing older, there are all these memories that you have in your head. You know the animated gifs that are pretty popular right now? They’re just like this constant loop, and that’s kind of how your memory works. You always have these little moments in your mind that just kind of keep looping. We’re taking that concept and putting it into a video of all of these looping memories in your head.
IC: A stop motion feel?
GB: Yeah, totally. Very rhythmic and repetitive, which kind of is the nature of the song.
IC: And where did you film it?
GB: We filmed some of it in Calabasas, and then just around LA.
IC: So what’re your plans moving forward? Once the EP comes out, I imagine you’re going to be doing a lot of performance supporting the new work. Can you elaborate a little bit on your plans moving forward?
GB: Just playing shows and… I’m excited about just finally playing LA and doing a show at The Echo. We’ve been playing outside of LA, just to get the band tight and everything. The band is still fairly new, but they’re all really amazing musicians, so it hasn’t been too much of a chore. We’ve spent a lot of time rehearsing and getting all the arrangements right, so I’m really excited to start playing LA. We’re going to be doing some cool acoustic performances with this really talented director – a friend of mine that goes by Titanic Sinclair. We’re going to be shooting a bunch of cool acoustic versions of the EP. That’ll be coming out soon as well. So yeah, just making fun content!
IC: Where do you see yourself going with all this? Like, in ten years time what would be your dream?
GB: Gosh, I feel like the way that everything has happened so far has been really organic. I’m really fortunate to be here right now because I was just living here like a year and a half ago. I moved to LA with no idea really of where I was going to be. I feel really lucky to have met the people that I have met, and made such a great community in LA in just a year. I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen in ten years. But I’m just not slowing down; this is just the beginning… Music is such an amazing way to travel the world. I went over to Paris when I was like 19 with the filmmaker that I originally started interning with. It was a really amazing experience. That was my first time overseas and performing for people that couldn’t speak English. It was cool because they really liked the music, but couldn’t communicate, so they were just like, “How do we find your music?” in broken English. It was cool to connect purely on music.
See BØRNS live while on his forthcoming tour with Misterwives in 2015 – click here for dates. Also, he will be making his television debut on Conan on January 6th.