Interview | Børns: Under The Influence (Of Los Angeles)

Garrett Borns may have lost the Los Angeles hills treehouse that helped inform last year’s sunny Candy EP to raccoons and termites, but he hasn’t left the influence that came with it.

The four-song EP by the California-via-Michigan musician, who goes by Børns, stirred some serious buzz due to its irresistible pop hooks and its powerful vocal melodies that Borns says were inspired by bellowing into the gorgeous canyon outside his former home. And even though he now lives outside the hills in the hip neighborhood of Silver Lake, that move might be a fitting one as well.

Borns earned major cool points, breaking out in 2014 with a load of well deserved buzz as an early favorite to pop and rock fans. Attention came first thanks to a stellar CMJ debut, amplified by significant attention at South by Southwest and live tours, including a slot recently opening for Bleachers and Charli XCX. Now he’s preparing his debut album, Dopamine, for release via Interscope on Oct. 16.

Crave sat down with Borns in advance of his American Express UNSTAGED: Artists in Residence live show along with Pia Mia, Gavin James and Rae Sremmurd, to talk about his origin and finding his voice in Los Angeles, as well as get some details on that new set. Check out the video and interview highlights below.

What affect did moving to Los Angeles have on your music?

Yeah, moving to Los Angeles definitely influenced my sound. I think every environment that I made music in, that environment made me write, think and sing in a different way, and just living up in the hills in L.A., I was totally writing differently. On my first EP, everything almost sounded like a cry out in the canyons. It had this very echo-y, reverbed-out sound to it, with lots of lush harmonies. I think those are just built into the environment here. You get it from the Beach Boys, this is the environment that they made those records in. It’s hard not to let California not really influence your sound like that.

There are a lot of things to dig into about your music, but live your voice is just so impressive. Who are some of your vocal influences?

My vocal influences are a lot of jazz singers: Billie Holiday, Julie London, they had this tenderness to their voice. I really like Colin Blunstone, the lead singer of the Zombies. And I like a really tender side of singers but I also like Robert Plante and Led Zepplin and those war cry moments. I kind of like the juxtaposition of a really tender jazzy side and also a very primal scream.


What’s this past year held for you?

It’s been a lot of being on the road and making this record, so any time I had back in L.A., I was in the studio trying to get this record done and on the road just building my chops. It’s weird. I feel like those are two completely different sides of me — it’s a very extroverted side and a very introverted side. And normally I’m either in studio mode or in performing mode.

How did touring while writing and recording influence this new album?

I feel like being on the road while making a record makes you feel like writing a record for a live show, which is not what I did for the EP. On the EP, I was like, ‘Oh yeah I can track these vocals, I can cut it up and do it piece by piece, and it doesn’t really… I wasn’t thinking about the live show.

On this record I wrote very catered to the live show and thinking about, ‘Okay I’m going to be playing guitar and singing the song,’ and I try to record singing the songs in one take all the way through so I know I can sing them all the way through.

It’s very easy in the studio to get overzealous with your vocal takes, thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I can do it over and over. I can sing at the top of my range for this whole song.’ But when you’re doing it every night on the road, it’s pretty intense. I’d say I definitely challenge myself in some of these songs, but I like a challenge.

 Watch BØRNS treat the crowd to his hit single, “Electric Love,” at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles for the second cycle of the American Express UNSTAGED: Artists in Residence program.


Photos by Tommaso Boddi (Getty Images/American Express).