Our Q&A with Psychedelic Pop Singer BØRNS

Garrett Borns dishes on his love of magic, ancient texts and swimming in Lake Michigan.

“Electric Love,” the massive 2014 single from BØRNS, has become one of those ubiquitous songs that permeates the culture from every angle. Even if you’re not familiar with the group led by singer Garrett Borns, you’ve probably heard this song somewhere – on the radio, in some television commercial, at the grocery store. If you’ve been to Urban Outfitters lately, you definitely know this one.

It’s an inescapable pop hit. His debut album, 2015’s Dopamine, reached for those same dizzying heights with varying levels of success. His latest record, January’s Blue Madonna, settles into a deeper groove and simmers through its 12 tracks. The change in direction suits him well, especially on the two songs with Lana Del Rey (the title track and album opener “God Save Our Young Blood”) since Blue Madonna finds itself steeped in nostalgia (“I’ll show you the way my Thunderbird sings,” he croons on “Faded Heart”).

In advance of his Riverside Theater performance on Friday, Jan. 26, BØRNS chats about how ancient stories shaped the album, how his pre-teen years performing as a magician influenced his stage performance and what he misses most about leaving Michigan behind for Los Angeles.

You grew up in Grand Haven, Mich., which is not that far from the Lake Express Ferry that connects Milwaukee and western Michigan by boat. Have you taken the ferry to Milwaukee?

I have friends that have made the sail over there, but I’ve never taken the ferry.

Do you think growing up in the Midwest has had an effect on your songwriting?

I’m sure it has. I feel like every song that I write is an accumulation of every song that I have ever written. I was figuring out my musical abilities [in Michigan] so I think it had a big influence on me as an artist.

What do you miss about Michigan when you’re in Los Angeles?

The fresh water, for one. I spent a lot of time in Lake Michigan. I was a sea otter as a kid.

I read that you were looking into different translations of the Garden of Eden story when writing this new album. What initially sparked your interest in that story?

I found this book of essays, and one of these essays was about the different translations of the Garden of Eden and how different cultures all have the Garden of Eden story. Different translations have different elements. There were different happenstances. There were different personifications of good and evil. Everyone deals with good and evil the same way, but it’s how they tell that story and what temptation means in different cultures.

Was religion a big part of your childhood?

No, not at all.

I ask because I grew up with religion and once I become older, I tended to shed those things. It’s usually the people who don’t have religion in their life that are more drawn to it later.

I think that’s probably the case. But I got really interested in reading old stories and old translations of poetry on this new album. A lot of biblical stories came up, like King Solomon and texts that I’d never read before, but they’re very poetic and intense.

What draws you to those types of stories?

The imagery. They are written viscerally, in a way that not a lot is written right. It’s such a different way of speaking.

You’ve said that “sometimes on the road you feel almost godlike.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Too much Red Bull [laughs]. I mean you’re performing every night on stage and you have this power. Everyone is looking at you and singing along. It can make you feel invincible in a way.

Do you think being a magician growing up influenced your presence on stage at all?

I think so. That was my early days and figuring how to perform, how talk to people, how put on a show and maintain an element of mystique and mystery. I do a lot of studying on older magicians, like Blackstone, Houdini and Chung Ling Soo, some of these amazing performers in the past.

Do you prefer being on the road or are you more of a homebody?

The road becomes my home in a weird way. I have enjoyed the pace of it and it pushes you into a different headspace. Performing taps into a new energy source. I love touring and I think now that I have a new body of work, it will be more fulfilling.

Go See It: BØRNS at the Riverside Theater; Friday, Jan. 26; 8 p.m.



Kevin is a freelance writer residing in Milwaukee. He’s contributed to The Shepherd Express, Third Coast Daily, Pop Matters and the sadly now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. He looks forward to forging a deeper connection with the city’s impressive music scene during his gig as a Music Notes blogger. His talents include music criticism, riding a bicycle, drinking tasty beers and a crafty croquet swing. His weaknesses comprise Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, professional wrestling and his ever-growing record collection. He’s in desperate need to find more physical (and hard drive) space for the exceptional albums Milwaukee musicians keep churning out.