Garrett Clark Borns moved to Los Angeles from Grand Haven, Michigan to pursue his dream and ended up in a tree. Literally. It’s true that Borns, who professionally goes by Børns, did live in a tree house during the recording process of his 2015 album Dopamine, but the narrative around him—built by his ambitious synth pop and androgynous falsetto—was driven by the promise of 1970s glam revival. Perhaps then, it was fate that the singer/songwriter recently recruited Lana Del Rey—herself no stranger to public perception overshadowing her work—for the vocal assist. Together, the two sang the auto-tuned hook on “God Save Our Young Blood,” the anthemic opening track of BØRNS’ new album, Blue Madonna.
“I definitely believe in that sort of thing,” Børns tells CR, acknowledging the fateful nature of their duet, which sprung from an introduction via FaceTime. “And being open to the flow of life…Also the internet helps.”
At 26, Børns is well acquainted with both pragmatism and wide-eyed optimism. He’s still a fan of his adopted hometown. (“There’s a mystique and a majesticness,” he notes. “It’s never really worn off.”) But after touring extensively behind Dopamine, including a slate of international television and festival appearances, and a handful of commercial placements, returning home was difficult. As he describes it, the comedown forced him to dramatically reconsider.
“Once I was out of this constant flow of performing and traveling, I had this wake-up call,” he recalls. “It was a little bit of an existential moment: What am I doing? Did I really perform for two years? Did that even happen? Did that even matter? Am I going to be able to do that again?”
Pushing past his quarter-life crisis helped inform much of Blue Madonna. Named after a painting by Italian renaissance painter Carlo Dolci, an image that also inspired the beatific cover art, the album takes a wide-eyed look at life. Although originally inspired by the Biblical figure, the Madonna’s aspirational openness became an unexpected theme across the album.
“I just wrote a song based on this loss of innocence,” Børns says of the titular track “Almost innocence at a distance. This pure beauty. Untouched.”While the object of his affection on the slinky song remains out of reach (“Someone must have sent me to heaven / blue Madonna down by the pool / just wanna make her feel like a virgin, a version of herself that she once knew”), the artist also explores more interactive relationship. There’s the teen angst-reminiscent “Second Night of Summer” where against production that suggests ‘90s top hits he moans “She’s heading to the west in an airplane / careless with my heart in a carry on.” He convinces himself and he’s over a breakup across the Beach Boys-worthy harmonies of the breakup anthem “We Don’t Care.” And with the help of the Theremin on “Supernatural,” he pontificates how outwardly influences have affected his relationships.
But all these romantic connections and disconnections are set in a larger context, sprinkled with celestial sounds and references. Børns attributes the otherworldly undercurrent to an unexpected antique shop discovery, where he came across a large stash vintage magazines
“The stories inside were the first of their kind,” he says. “Crazy sci-fi stories about love and technological advancements. Almost looking at the future now.” The idea is taken to an extreme on “Faded Heart,” where—slung between a pinch of sugar and pound of guitars—Børns ponders nothing less than the “mysterious universe.” In the accompanying video, he’s joined by fleet of dancing skeleton puppets, his personal avatars for death.
“I really fell in love with the artistry of marionettes and these almost lifeless puppets who are animated with life by someone else’s influence,” he says. “I found it very beautiful and humorous. Especially these skeletons. Then I incorporated them into the video because they represent mortality always over your shoulder. I thought it would be funny if these seemingly lifeless things were chasing me.”
Confronting personal demons has become somewhat of a second nature for Børns, so much that when the idea of the “tormented artist” is brought up, he’s temporarily confused. Why would he want to do music, or anything in life, if it didn’t bring him joy?
“I think I always like to enjoy the process of things,” he says. “I think that’s always finding a fun spin on things or a hopeful way of looking at things. Whenever I’m making music or singing or dancing or anything, it’s always to feel good. I always want to find a way to feel good.”END
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