Pop: Child's play

Stuart David plays bass for Brit winners Belle & Sebastian. But listen to what he can do with fridge magnets.
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The Independent Culture
In a Greek taverna opposite Glasgow's Queens Park, Stuart David, his wife Karn and his brother Ronnie are quietly sipping at their Cokes with scant regard for the rule that says pop bands should develop an aura. Collectively, this rather shy trio form the spoken-word electronica outfit Looper - a looper, in case you wondered, is someone who's a few Smarties short of a full tube.

To complicate matters, Stuart David also plays bass with Belle & Sebastian, the surprise winners of this year's Brit Award for Best Newcomer. The better known of his two bands was recently disparaged by the bubble-gum pop producer Pete Waterman and the rebarbative Jonathan King, and David's phone has been kept busy by vengeful, quote-seeking Scottish tabloids ever since. He's somewhat underwhelmed by their attention: "Belle & Sebastian haven't capitalised on the situation, so hopefully it'll calm down again," he says.

Like Belle & Sebastian, Looper are signed to the Glasgow-based label Jeepster (total staff: three). It's easy to romanticise about such a cottage-industry set-up, but Jeepster's roster has become synonymous with originality and a certain callow charm. "They don't even ask to hear your records before they go to the mastering plant," explains David, apropos the label's refreshingly hands-off approach.

Jeepster re-releases Belle & Sebastian's hard-to-come-by debut Tigermilk in May. Looper's album Up a Tree was released this week, and The Green Fields of Foreverland - a pop/folk solo album by Belle & Sebastian's cellist Isobel Campbell - is scheduled for April. These are magical records; flawed, but beguiling; contemporary, yet tinged with a kind of aural sepia that renders them classic. Stuart David maintains that the ebullient sparkle between the notes is partly down to a lack of record company interference, and the fact that these albums were self-produced.

Although he's always found it easy to write prose, David says that he finds conventional songwriting a bit more problematic. Up a Tree surmounts this difficulty by blending engrossing spoken-word narratives with intriguing soundscapes. In "Dave the Moonman," for example, the Apollo landings are a metaphor for a sense of possibility in the eponymous hero's own life. As Dave discovers more and more information on the Internet, however, he comes to doubt whether men ever landed on the moon, and we share in his disillusionment. Elsewhere, "Columbo's Car" begins with a sampled double-bass and a chance sighting of the detective's vehicle, then builds into a wildly imaginative conceit in which David and Columbo take turns playing Tetris on a Gameboy.

"A lot of the album is about trying to recapture the playfulness of childhood," says Stuart, "and the sounds on the album and the way it was recorded reflect that."

This scissors-and-string approach is also evidenced in the album's use of unconventional instrumentation. Looper will attempt to play fridge magnets, or use the zipper on a jacket to simulate the sound of rap scratching. One of Up a Tree's most instantly evocative sound, though, is the tap- tapping of the antique typewriter that introduces "Impossible Things # 2".

"Impossible Things...," it transpires, is both a love story and a band biography. Its wistful, but never sugary, narrative documents a slow courtship by post; the veryone that led to both the formation of Looper, and Stuart's and Karn's marriage.

Though Karn has played typewriter and percussion on recent Looper acoustic sessions, and Ronnie is credited as the guitarist on "Festival 95", on the face of it Stuart's band mates seem somewhat superfluous to a project that is patently his baby. Their centrality to the endeavour becomes clear when you consider that Looper are not just a band, but a multi-media experience. Karn tells me that she studied sculpture at Dundee University, and a number of her Plasticine miniatures are pictured on the Looper CD sleeve. She's also working on some animated films that will form part of Looper's live show.

Ronnie, meanwhile, is an excellent stills photographer, and snapped most of the sleeve's portraits and skewed studies. Live, he supplements his guitar-playing duties with spells projecting images to accompany Karn's Super-8 loops.

Naturally, the band's website functions as a virtual art gallery as well as a listening-post for Looper songs. It includes a link to a photographic exhibition of Ronnie's in which he imagines his dad as "a spy, not an engineer", some of Karn's animations, and the first two chapters of Stuart's forthcoming novel. "All kinds of artists have visited the site, and if their work is interesting, we're happy to let them use our web-pages to exhibit," says Karn. Now you know where to click.

Looper's debut album `Up a Tree' is out now on Jeepster. You can visit their website at http://www.treehouse.clara.net

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