Monqui Presents


BORNS, Charlotte Cardin, Mikky Ekko

Fri, January 19

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Roseland Theater

Portland, Oregon


Sold Out

This event is all ages

The second full-length from BØRNS, Blue Madonna, is proof of the strange magic that can be made from embracing instinct and wonder. In creating the album, singer/songwriter Garrett Borns found his curiosity sparked by sonic phenomena of all kinds: impromptu recordings of nocturnal creatures near his parents’ house in Michigan, early-’60s AM pop, Brian Wilson’s teenage symphonies to God, the mariachi music constantly echoing through his former L.A. neighborhood. As on his debut album Dopamine—a 2015 release featuring the platinum-selling breakthrough single “Electric Love”—BØRNS transforms his kaleidoscopic fascinations into dreamlike pop music that bears a classic sensibility but ultimately feels like some glorious future.

Lavishly textured and stylistically unpredictable, drenched in sublime melody and shimmying grooves, Blue Madonna again reveals BØRNS’s limitless originality (a gift once recognized by Prince, who praised “Electric Love” in one of his final interviews, stating “I like that you can’t tell what it’s inspired by”). In bringing the album to life, BØRNS reunited with Dopamine producer Tommy English (K.Flay, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness) and sculpted a more expansive, ornately arranged sound than he’d ever attempted before.

“For this record I really wanted to push myself with the songwriting and production, and avoid that thing of trying to nail the songs into a certain structure,” says BØRNS. “I wanted to write a little more orchestrally, with different movements and key changes, kind of like the Beach Boys did.”

On the album-opening “God Save Our Young Blood,” Blue Madonna brings that symphonic grandeur to a delicately sprawling anthem driven by BØRNS’s ethereal vocal work. With its plush beats and sunlit harmonies, the track unfolds in lyrics both enchanted and unnerving (“Baptized in blue skies/Roll the window down, reach out/Feel around for new life”). “I’d been looking at these different translations of the story of the Garden of Eden,” says BØRNS, “and I was thinking about the idea of how we kind of kicked ourselves out of paradise, and how that relates to the current state of humanity and the earth. The song is like a plea to nature or to love: the thing that’s going to bring us together, but also eventually destroy us.”

An album built on brilliant contrast, Blue Madonna takes its title from a stripped-back, sensually charged slow jam whose lyrics betray a childlike sweetness (“She glides in a swan dive/Cooler than a strawberry shake”). “To me the idea of Blue Madonna represents innocence and purity and virginity, but there’s also an element of sadness,” says BØRNS. “I think that’s a main theme of the album: trying to hold onto that innocence.”

With its effusive rhythms and soaring vocals, “Man” embodies another theme central to Blue Madonna. “‘Man’ is about feeling almost immortal but also really vulnerable—the idea that even if you have everything in the world and you feel like you’re on top of some mountain, you’re still going to get your best night’s sleep in the lowlands with someone you adore,” says BØRNS. “The concept of immortality is something that I thought a lot about while touring,” he adds. “Sometimes on the road you feel almost godlike, and other times you just feel completely worn out and beat down.”

Throughout Blue Madonna, BØRNS endlessly shows his supreme ability to take his infatuations in exhilarating directions. Equally influenced by glam rock, doo-wop, and Detroit proto-punk, lead single “Faded Heart” matches its massive hooks and throbbing tempo with flashes of dreamy sleaze (“You and the suede backseat is all I’ll ever need”). On “I Don’t Want You Back,” BØRNS conjures a hazy synth-pop luster with the help of a vintage Omnichord, and again proves the agility of his imagination. “A while back I found some sexy magazines from the ’80s, and the advertisements were so hilarious and amazing,” he says. “There was one thing that stuck out to me, a sound system for your car called the Sparkomatic, so I decided to write a Prince-esque song around that. It ended up becoming a breakup song where I figure out that my lover’s sneaking around after hearing the other guy’s Sparkomatic through the walls at 4 a.m.—that’s how good that sound system is.”

At turns triumphant and heart-crushing, the synth-heavy “Sweet Dreams” had more earthly origins. “The foundation of that song was something I’d recorded on my phone in Michigan, a sample of an owl and all these crickets outside at night,” says BØRNS. “The sample was sort of haunting and it put the song in a particular atmosphere, so ‘Sweet Dreams’ came out of that.” And on “We Don’t Care,” with its post-disco strut and snarling guitar riffs, BØRNS turns in a divinely inspired vocal performance. “I wanted to write a song where I was doing my best to channel Roy Orbison,” he says. “He had this cool technique where he’d start out singing very low and somberly, and then by the end of the song he’s hitting this top note and it’s so intense.”

Despite his restless inventiveness, BØRNS’s clarity of vision and sophisticated musicality lend Blue Madonna a cohesive grace. Growing up in coastal Michigan, he first discovered his penchant for music by figuring out Elton John and Three Dog Night melodies on his family’s piano. “There’s chords I remember discovering in middle school that I still integrate into my music now,” he points out. “I guess there’s some sort of innate melodic thing that I’ve always tapped into—in a way, I feel like I’m always writing the same song over and over. But to me there’s no escaping that: your instincts are always going to be the same since you were very small.”

Soon after moving to L.A. at age 21, BØRNS connected with Tommy English through a mutual friend and started working on his 2014 debut EP, Candy. Following the smash success of “Electric Love” (included on both Candy and Dopamine, and hailed as an “instant classic” by Taylor Swift), BØRNS has performed at major festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo, in addition to headlining a sold-out theater tour in 2016.

In beginning Blue Madonna, BØRNS had few set intentions beyond an urge to experiment with unorthodox instruments (such as the theremin) and to work with composer Steve Weisberg in adding string arrangements to the mix. “The way that Tommy and I tend to work is we just create as we go along,” he says. “We try out different things and puzzle-piece different ideas together, and then just see what happens from there.” This time around, the two collaborators tested out various approaches to pushing their creativity, including “getting up really early and working before our brains were awake, to find out what naturally comes out of you when you’re not totally thinking straight,” as BØRNS explains. The result of that experiment: “Iceberg,” an intensely hypnotic track that merges its jagged guitar tones with a looped piano riff to beautifully eerie effect.

Looking back on the making of Blue Madonna, BØRNS notes another objective that closely guided the creative process. “When we first started working on the record I said to myself, ‘I wanna feel completely exhausted by the end of this,’” he says. Many months later, BØRNS realized he’d fulfilled that mission upon heading to San Francisco with English for one final round of recording. “Every day for a week we’d wake up and jump into the ocean and then go record all day long; we just lived in the studio,” he says. “I remember sitting at this little oyster bar at the end of that week and drinking tequila and just being blissfully exhausted, and feeling like, ‘Okay, there we go—that’s all we had.’ I really don’t think we could have put any more of ourselves into this music.”
"On Soundcloud, BØRNS is described as a "tree-house dwelling LA transplant." It should be interesting to find out more of this guy's story, but for now, "10,000 Emerald Pools" will suffice. It's an expansive, fluid piece of music that comfortably combines elements of rock, folk, electronic, and pop." -- Pigeons & Planes
Mikky Ekko
Mikky Ekko
One night last November, Mikky Ekko was sitting on the riverbank near the London home of one of his songwriting collaborators, Fraser T. Smith. The two were drinking tequila and playing around with some chords when the lyrics to a special song began pouring out: “Time,” which is now the title track to Ekko’s upcoming debut album. “There's an honesty and a simplicity to it that I’m really proud of,” Ekko says of the ballad, which features just acoustic guitar, strings, and Ekko’s soaring vocal. “I was trying to find a way to say, ‘No matter what happens I'll be there for you, even if you only want me for tonight.’”
The song is especially significant to Ekko, coming as it does after the multi-platinum success of “Stay,” a stark piano ballad he had co-written during a particularly vulnerable time in his life. “‘Stay’ is beautiful, but I didn't know what was happening when I wrote it,” he says. “It happened through me. I was just a vessel for it. But ‘Time’ I manifested into being.” Of course “Stay” was recorded by Rihanna (featuring and co-produced by Ekko) and went on to become one of the biggest hits of 2013. It sold over ten million tracks worldwide, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Pop Songs chart, and earned Ekko a Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Duo/Collaboration. He also delivered a memorable live performance of the song with Rihanna at the 2013 Grammy Awards. .
At the time of the Grammys, the Nashville-based Ekko had one independently released EP and a handful of left-of-center singles under his belt, including “Pull Me Down,” written and produced with elusive sonic collagist and hip-hop producer Clams Casino (A$AP Rocky, The Weeknd), which earned him attention from tastemaker media like Spin, Pitchfork, and the U.K.’s Dazed and Confused. Prior to that, in 2011, Ekko was a virtual unknown whose obvious songwriting talent and otherworldly voice had earned him opportunities to spend time in London and Los Angeles working with several A-list songwriters and producers, including his “Stay” co-writer Justin Parker (Lana Del Rey, Sia), Fraser T. Smith (Adele, Sam Smith), Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and Jim Eliot (Ellie Goulding). Once “Stay” became a worldwide hit, things kicked into overdrive. Since then, Ekko has had his songs “Place For Us” and “We Remain” (which he wrote with Ryan Tedder for Christina Aguilera) appear on The Hunger Games soundtrack. He co-wrote and is featured on Chris Malinchak’s current single, the disco stormer “Stranger.” In August, Ekko was nominated for a 2014 MTV Video Music Award with David Guetta for “Best Video with a Social Message” for the song “One Voice,” which the two recorded for the United Nations’ “The World Needs More” campaign. He is also highly in-demand as a collaborator and has been in the studio writing with and for Lil Wayne, Gwen Stefani, Zedd, Jessie Ware, Giorgio Moroder, Rudimental, Major Lazer, and Lupe Fiasco.
“’Stay’ really informed the way I view myself as an artist and what I was capable of doing,” Ekko says. “It made me go back to the drawing board with the desire to write the best songs I possibly could. I feel like my songwriting, my style, and my perspective are more focused than they’ve ever been.” This is clearly evident on Time — a diverse collection of top-shelf R&B-influenced alternative-pop, with Ekko’s emotionally resonant voice taking center stage. The music retains the independent spirit that drives his early songs “Pull Me Down,” “Kids,” and “Disappear,” without extinguishing Ekko’s desire to write songs that are truly accessible. “I don’t really consider myself of the pop world,” he says. “I’ve worked really hard to make sure the music doesn't sound like anyone else’s. But having a pop sensibility, for lack of a better word, allows me to create something that’s relatable to people, yet still maintain what’s precious to me.”
The songs on Time include Ekko’s collaborations with Ryan Tedder, Benny Blanco, Jeff Bhasker, Stargate, Boots Ottestad, and Dennis Herring, as well as Ekko’s previous collaborators Clams Casino, Dave Sitek, Elof Loelv, Nick Ruth, and “my Brits” Parker, Eliot, and Smith. “Those three guys are great at finding chords that tug at me as an artist,” Ekko says. “As soon as I start feeling that yearning and heaving, that's when I know I can get something out. They are basically like shrinks. I go in and talk about my problems. They make sure the melody is good. We try really hard to find creative ways to push ourselves past what most people consider to be the boundaries of modern songwriting.”
First single “Smile” captures the moment “when you're a teenager and you lose somebody for the first time and you don't know what to do about it,” Ekko says. “Usually I’m just trying to write songs to comfort myself.” Ekko wrote “Comatose” around the period he found out that Rihanna wanted to record “Stay.” “I was hoping to give her another song instead and Justin and I came up with this,” he says. “It’s about trying to find your way back to a moment. Where ‘Stay’ was very much in the moment, ‘Comatose’ is about chasing the reflection, chasing the memory, being in the dream of the coma and trying to find your way back to the light.” On the other end of the spectrum is “Watch Me Rise,” which Ekko wrote with Stargate and Benny Blanco. “I just wanted to let people know, ‘I'm going to do whatever the fuck I want and I don't care what you think,’” he says. “It's a bold song. I don't usually like songs that bold, because there's a braggadocio about them, which is not my thing. But when I work with those guys, I go for it. I feel like the song is a cool representation of me beginning to find my footing in a world where I don't necessarily feel like I belong. But I need to go there to make sure I know. It's kind of like, ‘Know your enemy,’ right?”
Ekko’s belief in music’s transformative power was instilled in him at a young age. He was born John Stephen Sudduth in Shreveport, Louisiana, the son of a tar plant manager turned minister. Ekko grew up in the church, which he considered “a reverent space.“ “Sometimes I’d sit in the sanctuary and sing by myself for a while,” he says. Ekko bounced around Georgia and Mississippi with his family, eventually winding up in Tupelo where he attended high school and sang in the choir. He grew up listening to classical music (thanks to his mom) and classic rock (thanks to his dad), and began imitating R&B singers like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson as a teen, “because I realized I could do runs,” he says. However, he never considered a career in entertainment to be attainable. “I thought about it like a kid from Mississippi thinks about anything that’s so far removed from being a small town preacher’s kid in Mississippi,” he says. “It’s like a dream you chase blindly when you show up in a big city.”
After graduating from high school, Ekko did move to the big city, Nashville, and enrolled in a music business course at a community college while trying to find a gig fronting a band, figuring it was best way to impress people with his voice. He also began to write songs, recording them a cappella and backed by rhythmic stomps and claps. In Nashville, Ekko met the producers Tim Lauer and Dan Hansen and self-released the music they created together as an EP, Strange Fruit, in 2009. His efforts, as well as his mesmerizing live performances, attracted management, who advised Ekko to get off the road and focus on getting the music right. Once labels and publishers heard the songs he had written with Eliot, Smith, and Parker, including “Stay” and “Smile,” they clamored to sign him, with RCA winning out in April 2012. A few months later, In October, Ekko’s song “Feels Like The End” was used in the season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy. Ekko’s songs have also been heard on Orange Is The New Black, Homeland, and Pretty Little Liars.
Now the release of Time is finally on the horizon. “The album is pretty eclectic sonically, but lyrically there are moments of love and angst and things that many people deal with on a daily basis,” he says. “I'm just trying to be honest about all of that stuff. I think I've become more honest because after ‘Stay,’ I realized how important it is. Just be genuine. People just want to feel something real.”