A conversation with Jamie Stewart


    We spoke with Jamie Stewart about talismans, big butts, holy candy, the nature of God, and being a godlike figure to ants.

    It would be curious and nice to build a shrinking light beam in a lab so I could live inside of a grapefruit or a tangerine or become a godlike/tiny cowboy figure to ants, provided they did not immediately eat me when I tried to decree to them and then ride them.


    Julien Fernandez

    The Swiss-German physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) thought that we can diagnose some diseases and contagions through understanding imagination. For example, he came up with the idea that rabies is produced by the very strong imagination of the sick dog, which then permeates his saliva. So essentially, when the dog bites you, his imagination seizes your will. Sounds crazy, right? Do you think imagination transfers from person to person? Can imagination trump will?

    Jamie Stewart

    Interesting. There is no way that I or anyone could know if this occurs literally. But, in some ways, it seems to occur figuratively. One’s creative actions or physical actions can become a work of art – or an event – and contact with them can then permeate the existence of anyone who might come across them. Maybe?

    For the second question, I do not think will and imagination are really at odds. It takes will in order to expand ones imagination and it takes imagination to realize ones will. But, again, it’s impossible to know.


    Is there anything in the world you’d like to study scientifically? What would you take into the lab if you had the tools, time and know-how?

    I never had much of a scientific mind or drive behind an admiration, nor a dark closeness for and to nature. So frankly, I am not sure that there is. I can think of some nonsensical things that would amuse me to waste time and resources on, if I was living in a non-reality.

    It would be curious and nice to build a shrinking light beam in a lab so I could live inside of a grapefruit or a tangerine or become a godlike/tiny cowboy figure to ants, provided they did not immediately eat me when I tried to decree to them and then ride them.


    Broadly speaking, think of the concepts of imagination, idealism, impulsion, and research and how they exist in you. Can you illustrate that in some sort of chart or bar graph?

    Well, I am sitting on an airplane, so I can’t really make one right now. But I will include a photo that can be broadly interpreted as a graph. When I am very very very very high and I close my eyes I frequently have hallucinations of rapidly evolving fantastical graphs or other ways of visually organizing information.

    In the moment that I see them, I understand what they represent and depict – but in the next moment, they vanish and I instantly forget what I saw. It is a flash of insight and then a flash of confusion, over and over, very quickly. Sometimes it is fun. Sometimes it is unnerving.

    A graph representation by Jamie Stewart

    Calculation in music is for total assholes.


    How do you deal with nostalgia and sentimental objects? Do you keep things around your house from a long time ago?

    For me, nostalgia is a non-participatory, “good old days” examination of in the past. Which I personally don’t feel any need to partake in. But sentimentality, a connection to a love for something or someone or symbol or event that is absent? Well, I am overly sentimental. I keep little things hidden all over my apartment to remind me and keep me connected and to be used in a talismanic way. A talisman of respect, memory, sadness, protection, spirituality, family or humor.

    In corners, in guitar cases, in little jars, up top of book cases, in my pockets, under the bed, in the dirt of the cactus, in my wallet, they are all over everything! Dice, a piece of my father’s bones, patches, pennies, holy candy, religious statues, sea shells, leaves, rocks, sticks, rings, drawings, pocket knives, notes, drawings, old birth control, magnets, postcards… this is becoming a long list. You tapped into something deeply present in my private and internal life with that question.


    Sometimes it’s difficult to consider art in an evolutionary/survival terms, because it’s not technically necessary to live. Writing a great song does not guarantee money, security, or food. What goes through your head when you feel the instinct to make music?

    It’s just what you said, an instinct. People talk all the time about a need to do it. Who knows why? It is does not matter why. Songs – especially great songs – bring something necessary to human existence that was lacking before that song came into being. But as to the rational drive to participate in this most amorphous and difficult of pursuits? It’s a mystery.


    New York City is an amazing thing. I’m amazed by the sheer cooperation and will that keeps its tidal wave of humanity together every day. It shows almost anything is possible. Regardless of art, what inspires you in the everyday world?

    Palm trees
    Big butts
    Airport tarmacs

    House plants
    Watching a building being torn down


    Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the piece La Memoire by the French poet Gil J. Wolman. It made me think of you! Does memory play a role when you perform? Is there a lot of calculation involved, or are you possessed by some other force?

    When one is actually playing for real, it is the opposite of calculation. Real playing means being possessed by an outside force. Being free enough to go away and let the music occur on its own. I am not a good enough player for this to happen often. It does once in a while, but I maintain the quest. Calculation in music is for total assholes.


    I think that regardless of religious beliefs, everyone has a notion of God. Even the world’s staunchest atheist must have a sense of enormity, if only in the vastness of time and space. What’s your personal notion of something – anything – larger than us?

    Mine is quite traditional in some ways. It interweaves ideas of heaven, reincarnation, interventionist love, and a return to some kind or supreme being or supreme cognizant. I believe in God but not any sort of singular, “correct” idea of what defines God.

    I’m not absolutist in any way other than being anti-fundamentalist – which I suppose is a kind of fundamentalism. I should think about that. But I don’t think anyone has to believe in anything or they are doomed.

    I suppose I believe in everything that can give any kind of guidance or path and does not infringe on the paths of anyone else. But at the same time, I feel nihilistic, have no faith in humanity and hate everyone. There’s probably no hope for me settling.


    I feel like your work in Xiu Xiu deals heavily in themes of sexuality. Have you seen the film Un Chien Andalou, by Salvador Dalì and Luis Buñuel? If not, do you mind viewing it (it’s twenty minutes long) and letting us know how it strikes you?

    I am on a plane, unfortunately. But in keeping with the theme of these questions, I will imagine it for twenty minutes.

    Okay, twenty minutes have passed. My version was boring. I think I should see the real one.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 6
    Curated by: Julien Fernandez
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: June 21, 2017
    Total questions: 9
    Word count: 1296
    Reading time: Five minutes
    Hyperlinks: 5
    Imagery: 1


    Un Chien Andalou: Imagined
    Grapefruit or tangerine: Either
    Mentions of radishes: 1


    About the subject

    Jamie Stewart is the leader of the band Xiu Xiu.

    About the curator

    Julien Fernandez was born in Mayenne, France in 1976. He currently lives and works in Pescara, Italy with his wife, two kids and a dog, Lenny. He is captivated by structural relations between objects, animal behavior, contagion and magic, and is currently working on a mechanism that would classify mental images in the physical world. He also designs and envisions the day-to-day architecture of North of the Internet.

    Related conversations W

    North of the Internet is a series of conversations with creative human beings.

    Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

    © North of the Internet 2017 — ∞Dignity & Introspection _