A conversation with Jesse Ainslie


    We spoke with Jesse Ainslie about groves of ageless trees, living with an eternal witness, acquiring shiny rocks and what the North means to him.

    I feel the elation of a song or a miracle of nature or an act of pure compassion. The witness sits, just removed, watching through my eyes.

    We asked Jesse to name 20 colors.






















    Morgan Enos

    Do you think a level of detachment is necessary to exist in a chaotic world, or more of an embracing of the bad with the good? What mental approach do you embrace in your day-to-day?

    Jesse Ainslie

    I would not use the word “detachment.” I call it The Witness. While I live in the world, I feel the pain of getting kicked around, jerked around, bossed around, pushed around; I feel the elation of a song or a miracle of nature or an act of pure compassion. The witness sits, just removed, watching through my eyes. The witness knows that all the horror, all the chaos of today, is a blip on the radar. The witness measures time in cosmological terms.

    By allowing this other consciousness to have a vote in the day-to-day, we gain the perspective of the unaffected observer without sacrificing or negating the wealth of feeling we are given. With this scope of vision at our disposal, we are capable of riding our emotions like waves on the sea, neither denying them nor drowning in them.


    What scientific or logical consensus argument do you see as untrue? Why do you feel it to be so?

    The preservation of this civilization and the species homo sapiens is viewed as a paramount concern. I do not agree. This civilization has been a capitalistic theocracy for thousands of years. Our species has decimated the planet, annihilating and enslaving other beings for the acquisition of shiny rocks.

    Don’t get me wrong; there are many beautiful aspects of humanity and our civilization. There are many things and people that I love. But I do not believe that we should be saved at the expense of all other concerns.


    Do you put more stock in ideas of faith or empirical arguments? Do you think the two can coexist?

    It depends on how we would like to define “ideas of faith.” If we take it to mean religious law, then I place no stock in them at all. There is no intersection, there is no potential for religious law and empirical argument to coexist. Religious laws were written by long-dead peoples for whom the words “empirical argument” would have almost no recognizable meaning.

    However, the concept of a divine, universal power is perfectly compatible. A monotheistic creator deity would necessarily touch all of existence. Consequently, all empirical evidence would necessarily be a function of that deity; and an empirical argument would be based on evidence created by that power. Whether or not I believe that is a card I prefer to keep close.

    There is a grove of ageless trees, nestled in the folds of the earth, where a little river flows. The mountains are purple against the grey dawn.


    Do you ever see your own mind as a physical landscape, like a country, town or neighborhood? What or who resides in it?

    There is a grove of ageless trees, nestled in the folds of the earth, where a little river flows. Above the canopy to the west, the mountains are purple against the grey dawn. Walking east, we come to the edge of the wood, a plain stretches to the horizon. There is a house made of wood. No one lives there. I will not enter. In the distance, the spires of a city ruined and abandoned sit like an idiot under the rising sun. Friends and animals live near me, but not with me. Spirits both benevolent and demonic share this land.


    Please describe the last song you wrote that you decided was unworthy. What was missing, or what needed to be removed?

    I tend to keep every fragment. They often come in handy down the line. Sometimes I will write a great line in a crap song. Eventually I forget the song, but the line sticks around.

    But the last one I abandoned was about a marriage that has become unrecognizable and intolerable for one person. No precipitating event. Something about the life cycle of a love. You know, some loves just die of old age.

    Honestly, it kind of just hurt too much to work on it. Dwelling in that feeling, describing that revelation was not pleasant. And I couldn’t find the spark to lift it out of catatonic depression. But, it has some good lines that will bang around in my brain until they are useful.


    Is it more rewarding in the long run to join the status quo, or to look at the world from the margins? Which group of people will be remembered?

    I believe that people who bring the margin to the center tend to be remembered. So, Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking are remembered because they had the ability to probe the edges of knowledge and then bring it back to the rest of us dummies. Martin Luther King made palatable a message of radical liberation to a broad and largely racist audience. Robert Rauschenberg and Patti Smith work in the avant-garde, but their style feels familiar, human, elemental.

    The most gripping stories probably come from the margins. If we want these stories told, we’ve got to know our listener.


    Are you afraid of negativity? Why or why not?

    I am not afraid of negativity. I honestly don’t know why. It always takes me by surprise.

    Quark, anti-quark, ion and opposite. Is North a particle or a wave?


    Do you ever feel like you’re confronting mystery head-on when you write or perform? Is the imagination a void, or teeming with life?

    Definitely when I write songs. I almost never have a subject in advance. The imagination is an ultra-fertile soil. We plow and plant, we sow and reap. Then we till it all under and start again. The remains of the previous harvest nourish the earth for the next.


    Please give an imaginative or poetic interpretation of what the North means to you.

    The sweetest nectar pours forth from northern trees. The most virulent poison pours forth from white-skinned snakes. The North has inflicted itself upon us. The North is a banker and a judge, the North is a slumlord and a would-be Nero. Or, the North is nothing at all. Quark, anti-quark, ion and opposite. Is North a particle or a wave? North is behind me, but the North is not a direction. North is a star to a ship. North is a force that draws the needle. North is “not south.”


    When was the last time you felt a cool breeze? Describe when, where and how you felt that sensation.

    A cool breeze blew through my backyard this morning. The sky is grey today, the air is heavy with water. Two squirrels faced off on the power lines above my head. A crow chased a hawk. Flowers growing on the palm look like fat, sexy bananas.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 211
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: July 18, 2018
    Total questions: 10
    Word count: 1091
    Reading time: Four minutes


    River: ∞
    Grove: ∞
    Liberation: ∞
    Mountain: ∞
    Vision: ∞
    Witness: ∞


    About the subject

    Jesse Ainslie is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has performed with Phosphorescent, Virgin Forest, The Castanets and more. He resides in Los Angeles.

    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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