Born From Magic And Taylor Swift

10 December 2015 | 3:05 pm | Anthony Carew

"It gave me a first-hand perspective on just how much of an impact social media can make. You can see it instantly, in just pure numbers."

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"It was definitely the biggest shout-out I've gotten in the virtual world," says Garrett Borns. The 23-year-old who records as Borns, is understating the matter at hand — a ringing endorsement from the current queen of pop, Taylor Swift. Back in January, her Swiftness took to Instagram to decree Borns' bright and shiny single Electric Love "an instant classic". 719,000 likes and 12,000 comments later, and, at the other end of a break out 2015, Borns is still feeling the effects.

"It gave me a first-hand perspective on just how much of an impact social media can make," says Borns. "You can see it instantly, in just pure numbers. I definitely saw an increase in followers on my social media accounts. Because she has this massive army of followers online, awaiting her every post, ready to follow her lead. So I definitely got a bump and an increase in awareness. But it's hard to tell if it's just a fleeting thing, or if those people have actually gone out and listened to my album."

"She has this massive army of followers online, awaiting her every post, ready to follow her lead."

The album in question, Dopamine, was released in October. It marked a debut that Borns had spent his whole life working towards. Raised in Grand Haven, Michigan ("a tiny town on a giant freshwater lake"), Borns had a "very creative, freeing childhood" growing up in "a very relaxed artistic household" with his dad, a painter and designer. In the lounge-room there was a baby grand, and his parents record collection was populated by '60s pop and Motown — Borns working out how to play the songs as he grew.

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Yet, as a teenager, Borns earnt cash as a performing magician, and dreamed of using that sleight-of-hand in the cinema. But when he interned with a filmmaker in the summer after he finished high-school, things suddenly changed. The director, Jeff Joanisse, started making music videos for Borns, then became his manager, and then they travelled around, trying to crack the music industry. They tried New York, then Nashville; Borns out to write pure pop songs in the mode of '90s boy bands.

"There was a lot of different writing with a lot of different people, with a lot of different producers," admits Borns. "Writing a lot of songs I absolutely hated. A lot of music that I realised just didn't resonate with me, and that I didn't associate myself with. I spent years writing music that I just didn't like. I was trying to find a sound that I enjoyed playing. I wanted to make a body of work that I would be proud of, that I'd want to be playing every night."

Eventually, he relocated to Los Angeles in 2013. The idea was just to stay for a few months, but once he started writing with songwriter Jack Kennedy and producer Tommy English, he stayed put. "I suddenly just felt more relaxed," Borns says. "I wasn't trying to write music in any certain way, wasn't pushing myself. I was just letting what happened naturally come out. And I realised that what I was doing felt more true to my musicality and my voice."

The first fruits of that labour came in the form of 2014's Candy EP, which delivered his first standout single, 10,000 Emerald Pools, and introduced Borns' sinuous, slinky synth-pop sound and sweet falsetto. Borns made the four-song set without a record label or a live band, and revelled in that freedom. But, after signing to Interscope — and getting that Taylor Swift shout-out — there was "far more pressure" and "lots more deadlines" when it came to making Dopamine.

In making the LP, Borns and English sought to create an atmospheric sound around the tracks' luminous melodies. "I really wanted to put the listener into a world," Borns says. "I wanted the listener to put on their headphones, and be immersed into all of these sounds. There's a lot of different sounds on there: drum samples, a lot of old analogue keyboards, and some iPhone samples that we'd recorded around Los Angeles. We wanted it to feel like the songs are playing around you."

And yet, heading out on tour following the LP's release, Borns has found that it's the record's most downbeat, stripped-back song, Clouds — the bones of which were recorded in one take — that has proven the biggest live favourite. "I've been really surprised at the reaction to a lot of the songs live," Borns says, "but especially with that song. That's the one most people sing along to, no matter who they are. It's been great seeing the wide demographics of the audience: really young kids, old people, couples, people grinding together. There's a lot of really 'romantic' instances, it seems, at our shows, but especially with that song."