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'It Bathes The Pleasure Centers': BORNS Channels 'Dopamine'

Oct 20, 2015
Originally published on October 21, 2015 2:16 pm

Pop singer Garrett Borns, known more commonly by his stage name BORNS, became an instant sensation when his song "Electric Love" went viral earlier this year. The song, hailed as an "instant classic" by Taylor Swift, catapulted BORNS into the national spotlight before he'd even started to prep his debut album. Now, that album, Dopamine, is out. Much like his breakout hit, it looks to capture pleasure, longing and fantasy.

"Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released to give you, you know — it bathes the pleasure centers, basically," he says. "I feel like Dopamine comes out when you are longing for something or just the fantasy of something, and that's what a lot of the songs on the album are about. It's kind of like the fantasy of what you wish you had, or that you had and you don't have anymore."

BORNS is a born performer. At age 10, he picked up magic, doing restaurant shows for tips in his small hometown on the edge of Lake Michigan. In high school, he was a standout voice in his choir. He says he hopes to continue to achieve new heights as an entertainer.

"I feel like I'm always just trying to write better music and keep tapping myself," he says. "I remember seeing an interview from the Bee Gees and they were like, 'The biggest competition to the Bee Gees is the Bee Gees.' They just kept trying to top themselves and write better songs, and I'm just always trying to do that. It's all about the art, really, at the end of the day."

BORNS' debut album, Dopamine, is out now. Hear more of his conversation with NPR's Ari Shapiro, and snippets from the album, at the audio link.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you're looking for new material to belt at the top of your lungs in the shower or behind the steering wheel of your car, may we humbly suggest music from BORNS.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELECTRIC LOVE")

GARRETT BORNS: (Singing) Baby, you're like lightning in a bottle. I can't let you go now that I got it. And all I need is to be struck by your electric love.

SHAPIRO: BORNS is the stage name for the singer Garrett Borns. This song, "Electric Love," is everywhere. Hulu used it in a popular ad. Pop queen Taylor Swift called the song an instant classic. And this all happened before BORNS ever released a full-length album. Now, his debut record is out. It's called "Dopamine," and BORNS joins us from NPR West to discuss it. Hey there.

BORNS: Hey. How you doing?

SHAPIRO: Can we start by talking about fame and expectations...

BORNS: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...Because...

BORNS: Sure.

SHAPIRO: What does it feel like for millions of people to be playing your music and knowing who you are before you've ever released an entire album?

BORNS: Yeah, it's a really great feeling, especially because I feel like my EP was recorded just very - without too much thought.

SHAPIRO: Your EP was four songs. It was called "Candy." People have compared you to Michael Jackson, which, as complimentary and exciting as that is, must kind of be a little bit intimidating, right?

BORNS: It's a little bit intimidating. I don't know if it's so much - I definitely don't have the moves. I occasionally wear, like, a red Members Only jacket with, like - I totally wore his color scheme one night.

SHAPIRO: Oh, so you tried to get compared to Michael Jackson is what you're saying.

BORNS: No, I totally didn't mean to.

SHAPIRO: Right, sure.

BORNS: I definitely like to wear things that catch light.

SHAPIRO: Shiny - you like shiny things?

BORNS: Yeah, things that reflect or that have a lot of color in them because the songs are kind of explosions of light, in a way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVERNIGHT SENSATION")

BORNS: (Singing) God, you really outdid yourself with this one. She's an overnight sensation.

SHAPIRO: As you talk about your performance style, I cannot help but think you were a magician when you were - what? - like, 10 years old?

BORNS: Yeah. It was, like, 10 through 13. I was pretty serious about it.

SHAPIRO: Does that influence the way you think about performing today?

BORNS: Absolutely. That was - it was my first feeling as, like, a front man.

SHAPIRO: But paint a picture for us. Ten-year-old Garrett Borns, are you walking around in, like, a top hat and tails? What's going on?

BORNS: Yeah. Actually, I had a regular restaurant gig, and I did balloon animals. I grew up in this small town right on Lake Michigan that - there's all kinds of people that come through there. And that's when you get the big tippers too.

SHAPIRO: You actually made money doing this.

BORNS: Oh, yeah, yeah (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Wow.

BORNS: Yeah, and I got so much great experience because, like, not everybody wanted to see magic. A lot of times, like, a kid walking up to a table wearing a flashy shirt, people are like, what is this kid about to do? A lot of people are like, oh, I don't want to buy anything.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BORNS: But they saw me with a bag, and they're like, I don't know if you're trying to sell candy bars or, like - what are you - and then I would just go to the next table. And it was really interesting, the types of people. I'd just come home with stories and tell my parents.

SHAPIRO: But it is not at all hard to draw a stretch from the 10-year-old Garrett Borns in the shiny shirt going from table to table to the 23-year-old BORNS on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans, maybe still in a shiny shirt.

BORNS: You know, it's really not that different.

SHAPIRO: Is it too much of a stretch for me to ask for a song on the album that really catches that?

BORNS: I feel like the title track "Dopamine."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOPAMINE")

BORNS: (Singing) I mixed up so terribly. Your body language talking over me. And it might not be logical, but, Baby, my mind just won't let you leave.

SHAPIRO: Explain what dopamine is.

BORNS: Well, dopamine is a neurotransmitter (laughter) that is released to give you, you know - it bathes the pleasure centers, basically.

SHAPIRO: And you feel it, like, when you fall in love or when you exercise or when you get a - just like a rush of good feeling.

BORNS: Right, exactly. And a lot of times it's - I feel like dopamine comes out when you are longing for something or if when you - just the fantasy of something. And that's what a lot of the songs on the album are about. It's kind of like the fantasy of what you wish you had or that you had but you don't have anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOPAMINE")

BORNS: (Singing) Baby, just want to feel, want to feel that stream of dopamine. I want to feel that stream of dopamine. You sip what the devil's drinking. Hot as hell, and I'm thinking, Baby, Baby, Baby, can you take away my pain? Baby, Baby, Baby...

SHAPIRO: You sang in choirs when you were younger, right?

BORNS: Yeah, I sang in choir in high school.

SHAPIRO: Your singing on this album does not sound like the kind of singing that people do in choir.

BORNS: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: How did you discover the way you use your voice?

BORNS: It was actually kind of a struggle in choir for me. I was probably a nightmare to my choir teacher.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BORNS: She was always like, Garrett, I can hear you. I can hear you over everybody else (laughter).

SHAPIRO: OK, so choir didn't work for you. Was it when you finally got behind a guitar that you were like, oh, yeah, this is how I want to sound?

BORNS: I grew up playing piano and making up a lot of songs just for my folks. And when I had friends over, just, they would give me a subject or I would serenade somebody. And I just always found that just so entertaining.

SHAPIRO: They would just, like, throw a subject at you, and you would come up with a song about it off the top of your head.

BORNS: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: Really?

BORNS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Ok, the subject is clocks. Go.

BORNS: Clocks - can you give me a beat? Can you give me, like, a clock beat?

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

BORNS: OK.

SHAPIRO: (Beat boxing).

BORNS: Oh, there we go.

(Singing) Oh, clocks are ticking, and I'm thinking I need more caffeine to be singing on NPR.

It's hard to be...

SHAPIRO: That's pretty impressive.

BORNS: No, I mean - I don't know. I always try to make it as lounge singer as possible, like...

SHAPIRO: That was really good.

BORNS: ...Hey, how you doing - nice dress. (Singing). Thanks for coming. I don't know.

SHAPIRO: Listen; that's better than most musicians I've interviewed would've been able to do on the spot like that.

BORNS: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: You know, it's interesting. Thinking of you as sort of this lifelong performer, the 10-year-old magician, I realize that the place we started this conversation, that you - like, how does it feel to have these huge expectations and this huge fame before you've ever released an album must be really scary - now, having had this conversation with you, I feel like, no, it's not scary at all. It's what you've been, like, working your whole life to get to. It's like you're there.

BORNS: Yeah. It feels good. I feel like I'm always just trying to just write better music and keep topping myself. I remember seeing an interview from the Bee Gees. And they were like, the biggest competition to, like, the Bee Gees is the Bee Gees. They just kept trying to top themselves and write better songs, better songs, and I'm just always trying to do that. Just - it's all about the art, really, at the end of the day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "10,000 EMERALD POOLS")

BORNS: (Singing) I'll dive in deeper, deeper for you.

SHAPIRO: Garrett Borns, what a pleasure to talk to you. It's been great.

BORNS: Yeah, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: The new album from BORNS is called "Dopamine."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "10,000 EMERALD POOLS")

BORNS: (Singing) Dive down deeper. Still, all I need is you. You're all I need to breathe. All I need is you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.