There's a mysterious allure that's hard to pinpoint about BORNS, the vehicle for Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Garrett Borns. Even Prince, a notoriously tough critic, named him a recent favorite last year, telling Entertainment Weekly, "I like that you can't tell what it's inspired by."
For Borns, this is by design.
"I've never been one to spell it out very clear," Borns said last week on the phone from a tour stop in Nashville, Tenn. "I just like the obstacle course of figuring out something."
The 24-year-old Michigan native has found plenty of listeners willing to unpack his soaring takes on pop-rock, as evidenced by the success of "Electric Love" — which Taylor Swift called an "instant classic" — and "10,000 Emerald Pools," two singles from his October debut, "Dopamine."
Touring in support of the album, which reached No. 2 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart, Borns opens for the Lumineers at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday.
He's spent more than a year-and-a-half straight on the road, realizing how songs take on new lives the more time you spend with them. When the initial tour cycle began, Borns had only four days to teach the backing band the material.
"We play them so completely differently than we did when the record first came out," Borns said.
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While the accompaniment has slightly shifted over time, what remains are Borns' strengths as a frontman and songwriter — arena-ready hooks, a sensual delivery and a natural ability to grab an audience's attention. Whether it's the MGMT-meets-disco stomp of the album's title track or the dreamy haze of "American Money," Borns shows why he's quickly become a fixture of the summer festival circuit.
Growing up in Grand Haven, Mich., he knew early on he would not pursue a traditional 9-to-5 job. By age 10 he was a professional magician known as Garrett the Great, and pursued filmmaking as a teenager.
"I always found creative ways to make money since I was pretty young kid," Borns said. "I just wanted to enjoy what I was doing, and also entertain people. That's always been my goal."
His earnest pursuit of music began in the early 2010s, and not long after, he earned a deal with Interscope Records based on the strength of "10,000 Emerald Pools." His first EP, "Candy," came out in November 2014, and his rise culminated in the release of "Dopamine" almost a year later.
The gorgeous, expensive-sounding production and sturdy songwriting are central to Borns' music, but it's his lush voice that makes him stand out most. Borns has a penchant for layering his vocals and allowing falsetto notes room to breathe. He cites the Zombies' Colin Blunstone and T. Rex's Marc Bolan as influences.
His vocals also invite curiosity and questions from listeners, something Borns welcomes.
"I do like how the music can be misunderstood," Borns said. "A lot of people don't know if it's a guy or girl singing. I always get tweets, 'Oh my God! I thought you were a girl this whole time, singing about girls.'"
After the tour with the Lumineers, Borns is looking forward to being "in one place for a little while." When asked what he's most proud of with "Dopamine," he replied, "Surviving the first record cycle." Though touring has taken its toll, Borns also appreciates gaining new fans the old-fashioned way — on the road.
"I'm grateful for everything growing organically," he said. "There's a discovery process with music that's not really shoved down people's throats that I definitely wanted to be conscious of."
A break from touring won't mean a break from music, he said. When he returns to Los Angeles, Borns plans to hit the studio to work on the next record. He didn't offer specifics on where his sound is headed, but he will bring with him lessons learned from tour and how those experiences affected his perspective as a whole.
A main takeaway? Music may live on forever, but the moments it affords him do not.
"Art has to be abandoned. That's what I realized on the road," he said. "There's beautiful things about tour — you're seeing the world, spreading music and I'm able to call that what I do. But it's about living lightly and abandoning things.
"As sad as it sounds, it's a good lesson to learn, I think."
BORNS performs Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. The Lumineers will headline; Rayland Baxter will also perform. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.50-$59.50. Call 410-715-5550 or go to merriweathermusic.com.