A conversation with Jeremy Barnes


    We spoke with Jeremy Barnes about ancient instruments, the folly of tradition, how we’re always changing the story of the past, why he’s inclined to respect the joker in the king’s court and why he’s more comfortable in his body than ever before.

    Ideas from the past become so mangled and distorted. We’re constantly changing how we see the past and also changing the story of the past.


    Morgan Enos

    Your song “Alexandria” features a Persian santur, which I imagine to be a very ancient instrument. What do you feel when you play instruments or hold objects that sort of crack open time and space, like you’re hearing sounds our distant ancestors could have heard?

    Jeremy Barnes

    Yes, the santur is one of the oldest string instruments. It was around in Mesopotamia and is a direct ancestor of the piano. It’s a bit like hitting the strings of a piano with sticks. I guess I’m often thinking about the connection to other cultures and countries when I play. I think of Iran and its history, and also the way the instrument travelled from the Middle East up into Turkey, Southwest Europe and Germany. And then eventually someone attached this strange key apparatus and it became a piano.


    Does the very act of making music deal in time or ancient concepts for you? Do you ever feel like you could be in BC or AD simultaneously by singing, playing or saying something?

    Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken any mushrooms, but you’re making me feel like I’m due for a therapeutic journey of the mind.


    What do you think about the very nature of culture or traditions? The concept’s on my mind lately due to the loud, incoherent gun debate going on in America. People would be willing to admonish or attack kids for protesting over a perceived threat to their “tradition,” but how much water does that idea even hold? What if the tradition was bullshit from the get-go? Does it have value just because it’s old?

    Of course not. The old things that supposedly have value often seem to be the wrong things to take out of history. Ideas from the past become so mangled and distorted; we’re constantly changing how we see the past and also changing the story of the past. I’m mainly interested in the borders around culture and tradition. The places where people connect, through music or textiles or language.

    I don’t stay up late. I love it when I know what my next move is creatively and I can stop and go to bed and make that move the next morning.


    Imagine yourself being a king or ruler tasked to build a new world in the shell of the old. What lessons would you take from how our current world failed in how you would restructure things politically, economically or socially? Or, do you not feel yourself to have the leadership qualities in that sorta wackadoo scenario?

    Again, I think that an outdoor adventure with a bag of mushrooms would really aid this question. I always admired the joker in the king’s court, who through comedy is able to speak wisdom and truth. How often have the people in charge really deserved their position? I think history smiles more kindly on the jokers.


    How many times in your life have you stayed up all night? How did you feel afterward? What is the biological purpose of sleep to you?

    When I was younger, I did this all the time. And it was part of the creative process. The work wasn’t good enough unless you were at the limit. These days, I get enough sleep. I don’t stay up late. I love it when I know what my next move is creatively and I can stop and go to bed and make that move the next morning. Starting up again with no ideas is definitely the hardest part of this.


    How does it feel to be in your body and in the world now, versus when you were a child? Was it more comfortable or uncomfortable to be in the world then vs. now? How has that internal feeling changed?

    I am much, much more comfortable now. My early childhood was wonderful, but from about 12 to 30, I really was not comfortable in my own skin. The older I get, the more comfortable I get. But I also consider mortality and the impermanence of things more. The interesting thing is that I remember doing that as a young child as well.


    Do you think science, logic and rational thinking can 100% explain the world? If not, where’s the barrier where our understanding ends, whether in a physical or spiritual sense?

    No, I don’t. But I love that they are trying! We’ll never crack the mystery.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 163
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: April 9, 2018
    Total questions: 7
    Word count: 700
    Reading time: Three minutes
    Hyperlinks: 1


    Joker: Jeremy Barnes
    Impermanence: Yes
    Tradition: Null
    Time: ∞
    Leadership: Variable
    Distortion: Accessed


    About the subject

    Jeremy Barnes is one half of the band A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the former drummer of Neutral Milk Hotel. He resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    About the curator

    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.

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