EIGHTY-NINE: So you just finished up a huge tour. What are you going to do to unwind? Do you have a little downtime now?
BØRNS: A little bit. I’ve just been doing all good domestic things that I haven’t been able to do for the past two years of my life. I just invested in some really nice appliances, which I’m very excited about, and cleaning, cooking—I’ve done a lot of that.
EIGHTY-NINE: What do you like to cook?
BØRNS: Vegetarian things. My mother is a vegetarian chef and like a raw-food nutritionist, so she is just on another level. It’s crazy. So all my inspiration comes from her. But yeah, just cooking for myself—I missed that so much.
EIGHTY-NINE: What’s your specialty?
BØRNS: Recently I made this taco salad with fried plantains and spicy guacamole with salsa.
EIGHTY-NINE: Sounds awesome. So this past year has been insane for you; you’ve really skyrocketed into a huge artist. Does it feel like it happened quickly, like all of a sudden you hit success?
BØRNS: I don’t know. I can’t tell if the past year has felt like the longest year in my life or the quickest. It’s crazy to try to even think of everywhere that I’ve been because it was in such a short amount of time. But I think everything has been a very natural progression and I feel like the amount of shows that I played, how I grew with my band that I tour with and all the music was good, and that to me is the success that I want to feel.
As long as I can give a show in a live format that people are going to be inspired by, that’s what means the most to me. This past year has been a great opportunity to learn how to do that, like I’ve just learned things about being a front man that I’ve never had to do.
EIGHTY-NINE: It’s interesting that you mostly just sing when you perform when you actually play so many instruments. Why is that?
BØRNS: Well, me and Tommy English, who is an amazing producer, we write and record everything together. Both of us play all the instruments on the record. He’s a good dude, also from the Midwest, Chicago boy, so we’re cut from the same cloth in a way. But yeah, I don’t know, it’s fun to just focus on singing when I perform, I guess. And with traveling, I can’t really lug around everything that I want to perform with, you know? So everyone has their instrument. At this point, I’m keeping it pretty simple.
EIGHTY-NINE: It’s incredible that you write and record everything. How did you get started in music?
BØRNS: Youthful solitude, I guess. I spent a lot of time on my own figuring out my artistic endeavors because that’s where I kind of lost time and space. It’s like you’re always looking for that thing where suddenly you’re like, “How long have I been reading this book?” or “How long have I been painting in one sitting?” That’s always what I’m trying to go for—kind of getting into this hypnotic state when you’re learning something or you’re making something.
EIGHTY-NINE: Your music definitely sounds hypnotic. What did you first learn how to play? Were you forced into learning the recorder in fourth grade or something? That was my first …
BØRNS: You were forced to learn the recorder? That’s the hardest thing to learn.
EIGHTY-NINE: I was like, “Can I learn the piano? Something cool? I’m never going to be in a band with the recorder.”
BØRNS: Well, if you were that would be pretty tight. Or horrible. Can you imagine just like a whole band of people playing those? Those are really hard to play. Can you play it?
EIGHTY-NINE: No, definitely not.
BØRNS: Well, I never played that. My grandmother had a good amount of instruments laying around because she would always go to flea markets and just buy stuff, and she could pretty much play everything. She had a few harmonicas, an accordion, which is fun, some guitars, and I would just kind of mess around with those. My folks had a baby grand piano that I played a lot.
EIGHTY-NINE: Did your grandmother teach you how to play?
BØRNS: No, she just had the instruments and I just messed around, but she would always play like old Elvis recordings, Roy Orbison, that kind of stuff, so she kind of introduced those crooners to me. I’ve always been drawn to that kind of music.
EIGHTY-NINE: When you were messing around with all of the instruments, was there one you really fell in love with?
BØRNS: I think piano was my main instrument. Playing it was something that I liked to do, but I don’t know if I really pictured myself doing what I do now. I mean, it was a fantasy, and I was pretty set on visual arts and painting. My dad’s a really talented artist, so we would just paint with oils and stuff. We did that a lot. I was planning on going to art school, so this whole vagabond music life kind of came out of nowhere.
EIGHTY-NINE: What would you paint?
BØRNS: Portraiture mostly. I did some landscape stuff, took some art classes for that. There’s this type of painting called planar, odds and ends.
EIGHTY-NINE: And you also had an interest in magic going on at the same time, is that right?
BØRNS: Well, there is a magic convention in Michigan every year a couple hours from my house, where magicians from around the world go to this tiny little town to show their new magic tricks that they’ve created, and it’s like a magicians-only conference. It’s like you can’t just go there; you have to be invited or have a membership or something. I befriended some local magicians who took me with them and that got me interested. There’s some magicians in my area that have restaurant gigs, and eventually I started to perform at this little smoothie bar, doing magic tricks for people just for tips.
EIGHTY-NINE: What kind of tricks were you doing?
BØRNS: Sleight-of-hand stuff, and then birthday parties were just like a little bit larger illusions. I ended up getting almost too many gigs; people would call my home phone and leave voicemails like, “Can we confirm Garrett for a birthday party?” Eventually, I was like “I can’t do it anymore, I need a business manager!” I had my moment; it was fun.
EIGHTY-NINE: That’s so funny. It seems like you were just playing with all sorts of creative mediums and you didn’t necessarily have a preference for music.
BØRNS: I just went through phases; I was just trying to find something to lose myself into.
EIGHTY-NINE: So when you were playing music as a kid, were you creating songs?
BØRNS: I was just imitating a lot, like trying to sound like Roy Orbison or Billy Joel, figuring out how they wrote songs, how they approached instruments. But that just transitioned over time. When I was in high school one of my friends was doing a lot of producing with music, and at that time I was focusing on making my own short films, so I would write some of the scores and record with him because he knew how to run Pro Tools.
EIGHTY-NINE: It’s interesting that you were making music and learning how to play by ear—how did you know it sounded good?
BØRNS: It probably didn’t. Before there were laptops to record on, my friends and I were recording on cassette tapes. We’d just go to Best Buy and get all these tapes and in just one take record with the built-in microphone on the cassette player—just the idea of being able to record yourself and hear it back was such an intriguing thing. It’s so crazy; it really wasn’t that long ago.
EIGHTY-NINE: Did growing up in Grand Haven, Michigan, help foster you as an artist? What’s it like there?
BØRNS: Well, it’s right on the lake, a little harbor town, with really beautiful beaches, sand dunes. It’s a very serene environment, so I guess just growing up in an environment like that just gives you an inner peace. I had a lot of time and space to think and revel in stuff, you know?
EIGHTY-NINE: Being from a small town, what made you think you could make it as a musician?
BØRNS: It was more of like I’m just going to make this work somehow. I really knew nothing about the music business or the music scene, and I knew I had to do it on my own because it’s the same mentality of just a light load—rolling with a suitcase and a guitar and only being dependent on yourself. I guess it was just kind of a small idea that turned into me living out here somehow.
EIGHTY-NINE: You have such a specific sound and look. How did you come to discover your aesthetic?
BØRNS: A good amount of influences from the past. I’ve always been drawn to this musical era in the late ’60s and ’70s, where people were wearing a lot of colorful things and guys were wearing women’s clothing, and the music was very alive and it was stuff that you’ve never heard before. Like, imagine hearing “Staying Alive” for the first time. You’re like, “Oh, I got this new Bee Gees record!” Those people had to have been like, “What the fuck is this?” you know? And you can see in their style, the aesthetic of what they’re wearing, everything was just wrapped up in the music.
I’ve always wanted the music to be synonymous with how it looks, because I think that’s a big thing when you’re hearing something and seeing something—you’re hearing it the way you see it, or you’re seeing it the way you hear it. So yeah, I was influenced by that era, but also I wanted to do something new but nostalgic in a way that it’s like, “Have I heard this?”
EIGHTY-NINE: Very cool. So what do you want people to take away from listening to your music?
BØRNS: I don’t know—a feel-good, sort of like playful romanticism. Yeah, that …dreamy. It’s all pretty scatterbrained and daydreamy.