The magic of BØRNS is his ability to make dreams come true, as he embraces romance and beauty, youth and love on his magical sophomore album, ‘Blue Madonna’
A passionate dreamer, Garrett Borns is the kind of artistic visionary we need more of in this “modern” age. Better known by his stage name BØRNS, the 25-year-old musician sees “different” as good, embracing change, sonic exploration and musical experimentation to make art that can have special meaning for him, as well as a larger audience – for while he may be in the business of making music for popular consumption, BØRNS’ ear is tuned to a very different station.
On his 2015 debut album, BØRNS gave us bright anthems that married classic rock with soaring synths and sugary melodies. Dopamine gave us the rush it promised, and opened doors for the young artist to develop his talents and see more of the world.
What’s come out of that is something wondrous: Released in early 2018, Blue Madonna (Interscope Records) finds BØRNS immersed in a world of his own creation – “a liberating euphoria of sound, color, texture and timbre” that finds the emboldened artist “basking in dreams of youthful revelry and nostalgic reverie,” as we wrote in our album review:
Fantasy and reality combine as BØRNS soars like he’s never done before. Very rarely does a musical project so cohesively and all-encompassingly communicate intangible ideas and physical human emotions. Through audacious sonic diversity, a plurality of song styles, and vivid lyrical imagery, Blue Madonna becomes far more than the sum of its parts: The cathartic 42-minute listening experience takes us on a dramatic journey that touches upon feelings of invincibility, eternal warmth, starry-eyed youth, and the fragility surrounding those ethereal, fleeting sensations. (Atwood Magazine, 2018)
BØRNS is a helpless romantic, using his love of the past to fuel the fantasies he then brings to life through song. He cites The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison and Elton John as some of his influences; their music inspired him to make “songs that are experiences,” an ambitious objective but one that was certainly achieved in Blue Madonna.
Yet in addition to his deep appreciation for the past, is BØRNS’ love of romance itself: Blue Madonna reveals a deeply passionate artist, someone who loves love with all his heart, and is constantly seeking out new ways to express himself. Perhaps he’s not so helpless after all; the magic of BØRNS is his ability to make dreams come true.
They’re alive in the music.
BØRNS has begun 2018 with a bang, setting the bar higher than we could have possibly imagined. Blue Madonna is a pop album. Blue Madonna is a rock album. Blue Madonna is a dance album. It’s the blurring of fact and fiction, filled with visions of grandeur and electrifying energies – and it’s going to mean something different to every listener. Dive deeper into BØRNS and Blue Madonna through our exclusive interview.
I always want to make things that I’ve never seen or heard.
A CONVERSATION WITH BØRNS
Atwood Magazine: Thanks for chatting Garrett! How’s everything been on tour so far?
Borns: It’s been really good! It’s so nice to get the new show on the road, and I’m on tour with two really amazing other bands – Mikky Ekko and Charlotte Cardin – so it’s a really musical show, the crowds have been really amazing, and it’s been a dream!
Touring the second album must be a little different than it was the first time around; Blue Madonna hasn’t been out long! How’s that experience been different for you?
Borns: I’m just kind of figuring that out now! (laughs) Yeah, it’s kind of crazy – in some ways, hearing people sing some of the new songs on the album at the shows is kind of mind blowing – it hasn’t been out very long, and I don’t know what people are going to be attracted to, naturally. So it’s really interesting to hear the reception live and in real time. In a way, I’ve never done this kind of touring before: I’ve never gone out with an actual [rig] – my own lights and production – so it can be a little more my universe that I’m bringing people into. It’s been really nice!
Speaking of your “universe” – I like how you said that – Blue Madonna feels like you’re creating a sonic world. How did your sophomore album start?
Borns: It sort of began in my head toward the end of touring on Dopamine, which was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. I learned a lot about performing and keeping things fresh on stage, and kind of what I wanted to do for the next album. I had a few goals in mind and I knew I wanted to push myself with the production, songwriting and everything. I think it’s a reflection of the headspace I’m in now… [I was looking for something] fresh and new… When I first moved to LA, I was just very excited to be in a new environment, and it was definitely a dopamine rush, living out there. And I think just being on the road, Dopamine really sustained a lot.
When it came time to make a new album, I just had a lot more experiences, I guess, and a different way of looking at love and questioning relationships and things.
Can you speak more about how you specifically wanted to push yourself, on the second record?
Borns: I think just making songs that are experiences. Some of my favorite songs by (for example) Elton John or The Beach Boys are songs that are just so rich with melodies and harmonies and changes that you’re not totally expecting. I really like being taken on a journey with music, and having it take me places where I think I know where it’s going, but it’s a pleasing, sort of, departure. That’s always what I’m looking for – sometimes it’s hard to fall into that or find it, but once you do find it, it’s pretty rewarding.
You’ve expressed that Blue Madonna isn’t a concept album, but that it does have this larger story. You enter with “God Save Our Young Blood,” this big lush sonic experience. What was the inspiration behind that?
Borns: That was actually one of the first songs my producer Tommy English and I worked on for this record! With that song, I really wanted to sing something in a way that I’ve never sung a song before. A lot of the songs on the first record had a lot of very high notes and grandiose things, and [here] I wanted to make a song that was almost kind of like I was just speaking and talking. I was really into Grace Jones and her way of speaking on top of melodic backgrounds, and having it be kind of conversational – so that’s where that song came from.
It definitely stands out and makes an entrance. I appreciate your interest in trying new things: One thing I loved about Dopamine was that you really nailed the anthem – you figured out how to take people on this spiritual high! But there are not too many anthems on this second record – you diversified the way you write.
Borns: Yeah I’m not sure [how that happened]. I think I was just experimenting with different songs… I don’t know, maybe these songs have a little bit more of a melancholy, subdued nature.
One of the first real tells for me that this record was so different is the song “We Don’t Care.” It’s so lovely and unconventional!
Borns: I think I was honestly just trying to be Roy Orbison on that song! I was listening to a lot of his music, breaking down his songs… He always starts his songs so mellow, and then by the end, he’s hitting his top note, singing at full voice. I love that progression of song structure – and I was really trying to embody him.
There’s a lot of new instrumentation on Blue Madonna. What spurred that exploration, and what is your relationship to all those instruments?
Borns: A lot of those instruments were just kind of what was in the room, and what we had to work with. Like, there’s an omnichord that’s the basis of one song, and there’s a couple new synths that we use on a lot of stuff. Most of the songs have similar instrumentation, but we just layered it differently. There’s live strings on there too, which is the first time that I’ve had actual strings on a record. That added an element that I really like; we also had live drums, which I love the energy of…
One of my favorite songs is the transformational “Iceberg.”
Borns: That song is kind of this piano progression that goes back and forth between these two notes. It just kind of keeps rolling along, like this figure eight. I wanted to build the intensity of it, and give it the sensation of depth. The song came from a poem I wrote a while back; we had the melodic thing down, and I really wanted to see how far I could take the song without putting drums into it, and just really make you want them.
Well look who showed up in my head
A vision of you crawling in my bed
I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’ve been
Dreaming about you rolling a perfect joint
Like you do
You’re always perfect
It makes me nervous
Feels like I don’t deserve you
I’m living on the surface
That’s fascinating. So how does the concept of the “Blue Madonna” come into all this?
Borns: Well I had Blue Madonna written down for a while; I was looking at a lot of paintings for inspiration for the album art, and I found this painter named Carlo Dulci, who’s an Italian painter who did these very religious portraits… All of the portraits have the subject looking up into the distance, and you can see this glow on their face – they have this kind of fear and wonder in their eyes. I found it so interesting that all of these portraits had the same look; that everyone’s looking off at something, but you don’t know what it is. I thought that was such an interesting story. One of his paintings is actually called “Blue Madonna,” and that’s one of the only paintings that isn’t looking off and up in amazement. She’s looking down, with this kind of somber look, but she looks so innocent. That stuck with me, and I think the whole song and concept of “Blue Madonna” is seeing beauty at a distance, in a way. This innocence, this untouchable beauty… And that felt like the theme, to me.
Another theme I personally feel strongly is youth, and embracing young, starry-eyed emotions.
Borns: I think there’s a few ways to look at that. You could talk about youth as in the fact that we’re just a very naïve species, and everything we know is just everything that we know at this point. It’s interesting, looking back… I was doing research on really old love poetry, and how people talked about love and romance and music and art, and how that’s progressed over time. And then there’s where we are now, with a very unabashed way of talking about it. Not too long ago, it was super scandalous to talk about kissing, you know? So I don’t know; I think it’s interesting, the different perspectives on romance.
I love doing something that might be a little strange, and seeing if it grows on someone.
I’d love to talk about the finale of your album and why you finished with a hidden verse?
And every time I think of you I’m so glad
What we had they’ll never know
Every summer night we stayed up late
Blowing smoke into figure eights
Borns: The hidden ending of “Bye-bye Darling”… I have a really hard time saying goodbye, or ending something – truthfully. So I guess that’s one extra little kiss on the cheek. It reminded me of something that Harry Nilsson would do, so I just kind of wanted to do something like that.
As a whole, I feel like you’ve really progressed your sound. It’s hard to say that borns is a “pop” artist anymore, or to say that Borns makes “dance” or “rock” music. How do you describe your music to your parents or grandparents?
Borns: The progression of my sound and songwriting and everything… I just constantly want to be keeping my thoughts fresh and trying things and writing songs that I’ve never heard before, because that’s what’s interesting to me. I always want to make things that I’ve never seen or heard. So that’s to keep myself entertained, and to see how people react to it: I love doing something that might be a little strange, and seeing if it grows on someone. That’s just my own thing!
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photo © Chuck Grant