BØRNS a millennial Beach Boy, but the style is all Gucci

Chuck Grant


By Isaac Feldberg Globe Correspondent 

Three years since exploding into the mainstream on the platinum-selling strength of glitter-pop anthem “Electric Love,” Garrett Borns isn’t the same starry-eyed innocent he used to be. On “Blue Madonna,” his recently released sophomore album, the Michigan-bred singer-songwriter, 26, strikes a notably melancholy chord, sorting through heartbreak and loss under the same sun-soaked, electro-pop grooves that made his debut disc, “Dopamine,” a critical darling.

The turn into more somber territory, he says by phone from a balcony in New Orleans, was simply a matter of maturing as both a person and a performer. Ahead of a sold-out stop at the House of Blues Sunday, the singer — who performs as BORNS — reflects on the current tour, being influenced by the Beach Boys, and his love affair with Gucci.


Q. How has the tour been so far?

A. Pretty exciting and frightening at the same time. It’s been really nice to play a whole new body of work, so I’ve just been playing the new record down, top to bottom. The shows are pretty cinematic in a way, with the lights and backdrops.

Q. What’s distinct about playing “Blue Madonna” live?

A. Some of the songs are a little more intricate, so me and the band, we’re all playing our asses off. It’s territory we haven’t really gone to as a band, but it feels like the next level. When I was making [the record], I just wanted to make interesting pop that would give you an experience akin to going to a Beach Boys concert in the ’70s. I picture this being a futuristic Beach Boys concert.

Q. You’ve cited the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison as two huge influences on the new album. What was your introduction to those artists?


A. I was pretty young when my folks were playing those kinds of records, ’70s rock and psychedelic stuff. So I just remember those songs being synonymous with my childhood, and I was always trying to imitate them on piano. I feel like I still am, in a way.

Q. There’s also an undercurrent of melancholy across “Blue Madonna” that wasn’t present on “Dopamine.” To what do you attribute that?

A. When I wrote “Dopamine,” I was so enamored by Los Angeles and finally making music I was really excited about. There was a naivete in the music, which was really intriguing, but I think after playing it on the road for a while, and becoming a different person and performer who’s growing, “Blue Madonna” became a way of reflecting on the past and being like, “Wow, those were really good times, and I had no idea what I was doing.”

Q. Performing live is intimidating for most people. Do you still get jitters?

A. Yeah, definitely. And I’ve learned to just accept those jitters. One time, I was playing a show last year and I didn’t feel any kind of nervousness at all, and I was just like, “What’s wrong? Why am I not feeling nervous or that excited energy?” I realized I wasn’t challenging myself enough, so I tried something completely different that night, and it brought the excitement back.

Q. What kind of things do you do differently?


A. Most of the time, it’s pretending I’m somebody else to get into a different head space. A lot of times, it’s just, “Who do I want to be onstage tonight? Is it going to be Marc Bolan, or is it going to be Grace Jones, or Roy Orbison?”

Q. You’re known for your fashion sense. How have you changed your personal style for this tour?

A. I’ve been wearing more suits on stage, and I don’t usually perform in suits, so that’s a change. One of my favorite eras of [David] Bowie is his Serious Moonlight tour, when he was the Thin White Duke and wearing these really cool double-breasted suits.

Q. Even off-stage, you’ve made a big splash in the fashion world.

A. Yeah, I’ve been doing some work with Gucci the past couple years and, somehow, I think when Alessandro [Michele], the creative director there, started bringing these really beautiful pieces to the table with studs, which changed a lot of style everywhere, I think we had similar influences. I feel like his creative influences are taking really old, almost Renaissance paintings and mixing them with today’s streetwear, and in a way that’s how I make music. I take these really old influences and put them into a contemporary context.

Q. In one of his final interviews, Prince name-dropped you as an artist he’d been listening to lately, and you’ve mentioned him as a major influence. What did you think of the tribute to him during Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl halftime show, and specifically of the debate that preceded it when it was rumored Timberlake would implement a Prince hologram?

A. Well, personally, I thought Prince saved the Super Bowl. [Laughs] But you know, virtual reality, projections, and all that stuff are fascinating. We’re always trying to make advancements in the arts and technology, so it’s somewhat inevitable that we’re going to make holograms of people. But it’s all in the name of art, so I guess it depends on how seriously you want to take it. If something can be done tastefully, why not?


With Charlotte Cardin and Mikky Ekko

At the House of Blues, Boston., Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.

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