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Imaginary Things 

Wednesday, May 31 2000
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This shouldn’t really be much of a news flash, as David‘s the leader of Scottish art-poppers Looper, who’ve just released a well-received second album. If you‘re someone like David, you talk to the media when you’ve got your new record out. You want people to write about you, so other people will go out and buy your wares. Your label tells you to do it; you knew the job was dangerous when you signed on.

But until quite recently, Stuart David used to play bass for Belle and Sebastian, whose other Stuart, their notoriously hermetic leader surnamed Murdoch, is as insistent on not doing interviews as he is highly demanded in that capacity. The whole Belle and Sebastian camp gets the shroud of mystery, plus a well-deserved rep for stubborn inaccessibility.

Stuart David, on the other hand, is a fairly reticent guy, and his Scottish accent is tricky for American ears to decipher, but talking to reporters doesn‘t really bother him. He’s completely out of Belle and Sebastian now, anyway, devoting his full-time energies to Looper, a multimedia band and semi--family affair that also features his wife, Karn David (on film projection -- a major part of Looper -- and keyboards); his brother, Ronnie Black (guitar); and longtime friend Scott Twynholm (keyboards). The new album, The Geometrid, is being released by Sub Pop (relieved at the band‘s media friendliness) just as critics are revving up to fawn over Belle and Sebastian’s upcoming Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant.

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”I had ended up in [Belle and Sebastian] by accident in the first place,“ David says, explaining his departure. David and Murdoch often collaborated during music classes in the mid-‘90s, with David’s bass anchoring what‘s surely Stow College’s best-known student thesis, Belle and Sebastian‘s Tigermilk album, which quickly drew a storm of attention well past collegiate walls. Imagine taking Biology 101 only to have your lab partner’s project snowball to international notoriety. ”I just found myself caught up in the madness,“ he says.

Around the same time, Looper was also germinating, when David began programming his PC to produce chirpily droll pop tunes, loopy in both instrumentation and subject matter. Then-girlfriend Karn began projecting her digital-video creations during his performances, and a band was born. ”I think it‘s always been a misconception that [Looper] was a side project,“ David says, ”because Belle and Sebastian were better known.“ When both bands’ upcoming tour schedules became a conflict for David, he opted in favor of Looper.

Looper tunes have less of the porcelain-doll preciousness of Belle and Sebastian. Looper‘s music, not unexpectedly, features loops and beats, loping amiably amid the sounds of modems whirring, children shouting, keyboards and horns. David sing-speaks everyday tales (slackers burning flies; the aftermath of all-you-can-eat seafood) over the whole thing like a fresh, pre-big-city Lou Reed. He creates most of the loops, but doesn’t play bass on record (though he does trot it out for shows ”to keep the numbers down“). The music‘s only half the story, though, with much of Looper’s live performance revolving around Karn‘s videos of on-the-road weirdness and mugging bandmates or retro-kitschy animation, all nicely synced to the music.

Stuart and Karn were pen pals for seven years before engaging in any sort of partnership, either personal or professional. Karn and an art-school roommate were having a sort of antisocial popularity contest, vying to receive the most letters in their flat. When Karn started losing big-time (”I wasn’t really getting any,“ she admits), her less-than-cutthroat competitor offered up a few friends. He let her pick from five potential pen pals, and Stuart was a luckier winner than he realized.

Such a meeting is the way things go in Looperland, where tales of future lovers corresponding via letter become typically askew song lyrics, as is chronicled in their autobiographical song ”Imaginary Things #2.“ Nine years ago, a letter-writing affair would have seemed charmingly dated; nowadays the pair would have likely sped things up by bypassing the post for the immediacy of e-mail.

But the Loopers love to write; Stuart David‘s first novel, Nalda Said, was recently published -- a full five years after he wrote it -- as the result of discussing the manuscript in a magazine article about musicians who create fiction. And not only did his interview-readiness get him the gig, but he was prepared for a whole new round of press queries, this time as a first-time author. Mostly, that is.

”I hadn’t read [the novel] in five years,“ admits David, ”and I couldn‘t really be bothered to read the whole thing again. I had to make up a lot of the answers.“

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