Mondo Peacock: Interview with Stuart David
by Anna Battista
Welcome to the Geometrid. Yes, welcome to this sort of space ship, a world of its own, on which you will be delighted by Looper's music, mental tracks on which scratching, quiet storytelling, noises of modems bleeping, voices of kids and other average samples can be heard. And when you get tired of listening to the music you can always relax yourself with a different food for the mind: a couple of novels, Nalda Said and The Peacock Manifesto, courtesy of none else but Stuart David of Looper.
"I started writing songs when I was fifteen, novels when I was twenty," Stuart David claims, stating that his inspiration came "from David Essex and Duran Duran." Regarding his novels being autobiographical he can only say, "The first two probably were, and the first one in particular, but they were never published -- I was too young to really have any biography then anyway. Nalda Said took a year to write. The Peacock Manifesto took three months. I'm hoping it'll keep coming down."
"I've begun to think now that I maybe just panicked this afternoon, and then over-reacted some. But I'm still not sure yet, I still don't know for sure. I am still shaking although, and what I'd really like to be able to do tonight is talk to Nalda. Even just for a little while. To see what kind of words she would have to say. When I was a boy, you see, I heard Nalda's words nearly all the time; while we sat out on the old sofa in the evenings, or while we swept up leaves in the winter lady's garden through the day. And always she would tell me all about myself and how I'd come to be in her charge, and about the world too, and how things in it worked. And whenever I was confused by something I could go and ask her some questions, and listen to her talk, and slowly things would come back towards sense."--Stuart David, Nalda Said (I.M.P. Fiction)
Nalda Said is about an anxious character, brought up by his aunt Nalda who narrated him endless stories, tales upon tales, also telling him that he is the son of a thief and that his father made him swallow a diamond when he was a baby just to hide it. As a consequence, the protagonist of the story lives in a constant fear and paranoia, in a desperate attempt at running away from even the least suspicious person, fearing that they might discover his secret and kill him to get the precious stone stored in his bowels, never managing to build a solid friendship. The novel is a pretty innocent and delicate fable in Stuart's songwriting style and, surely, a must for fans. When it came out, Nalda Said was compared to the works of Fife-based author Iain Bank, master of some of the best science fiction and crime fiction novels. "I read quite a few when I was eighteen and nineteen, I think, The Wasp Factory, Walking on Glass, The Bridge, Espedair Street," Stuart remembers. "But I haven't read any since then. I think they probably compared me to him simply because we're both Scottish. People are very lazy. I don't see there as being anything Scottish about Nalda Said at all. I wrote it in Portugal, or under the influence of that when I came back. Obviously Peacock is very Scottish, as a character -- but again, Scotland itself doesn't appear in the book." Stuart David doesn't even have a favourite Scottish writer. "Maybe Billy Conolly," he states.
Nalda Said came out in 1999, but Stuart's friends had a chance to read his unpublished works before anyone else: "I let all my friends read my first book. Some people liked it and some didn't. My first book was very brutal and nihilist in its outlook. So it wasn't to everyone's taste. But I think the people who liked it really liked it, and the people who didn't really hated it." Stuart was also a member of Glaswegian band Belle & Sebastian and I wonder if they ever suggested him to stop playing and start a career in writing. "That would have been a very sly way to ask me to leave the band, wouldn't it?" Stuart jokes, "I don't think anyone in Belle and Sebastian would ever be as unkind as that to anyone about their musical talents. Not to their face, at least."
"They call me Peacock."... Why?..."The tattoo. I wear it on my shoulder. I had it done in my teens, in admiration of the bird. I still admire the way it looks. I admire the way it struts. I admire the way it preens."... And did it hurt? "Did it fuck." --Stuart David, The Peacock Manifesto (I.M.P. Fiction)
The Peacock Manifesto is the story of a new quest, this time for fame, for music fame, to be precise. Glaswegian radge Peacock Johnson has got the perfect idea for a successful record: sampling country singer Glen Campbell. Apparently a guy in The States, Evil Bob, can help him out to make his dream hit come true, but when Peacock gets there, he discovers that Bob is just another mad chancer like him. "Peacock's a character who wants to make money quickly with a misguided idea that a chancer can put together a track from a couple of samples. But that's an art in itself, which he soon learns," Stuart explains.
"We just need to repeat that part. It'll fly," Peacock and Evil Bob conspire, "As soon as you've added some beats and maybe a house piano it'll be fantastic. It can't fail." Their experiences and attempts are truly tragicomic and hilarious, especially when they try to do some DJing with a pile of useless and dated second hand records. "It's a pisstake of two characters who think that anyone can be a Superstar DJ," Stuart adds. Joining their efforts, crashing in numerous hotels, visiting a recording studio after another and meeting more clueless people while Beverly, Peacock's trashy wife, is lost on fancy cocktails and Hollywood movies, Peacock and Evil Bob try to make their dream come true and they even get to Graceland. Peacock's 'wee wifie' loves tinseltowns such as Hollywood and Graceland, the latter is also Stuart's favourite place between the two.
"Where are you from?" he asked me as we were leaving. "Scotland," I said. "Excuse me?" "Scotland," Bob told him. "Really? That's fantastic. I love your accent. I really do." "Cheers, pal," I said. I don't suppose I have to tell you what he said in reply. --Stuart David, The Peacock Manifesto (I.M.P. Fiction)
Peacock's Scottish accent causes a bit of a mess whenever he goes in the States: every time he speaks nobody understands him but instantly people claim they love the Scottish accent. "It happens to all Scottish people in America. Every time they open their mouths. It's very patronising," Stuart states. Though Peacock speaks with a Scottish accent, but Stuart doesn't use the Scottish orthography: "I briefly considered it with Peacock, but I really don't like books written like that -- cause everyone has their own kind of universal voice in their head that they read with, and if you try to give your character an accent it just slows up the reading. People usually attribute one to a character themselves, same as they picture what they look like, so it's best to let that happen naturally for the reader, rather than hitting them over the head with your own interpretation. In the case of Peacock, I went against that by presenting the characters visually. But that was only cause they already existed."
At the end of the novel there are also some pictures of Peacock, Bev and Evil Bob, Peacock appears even on Looper's site, it's a bit as if he has really managed to take a life on his own. "Peacock existed before the book, as a character," Stuart exclaims, "So it kind of worked the other way around. It was more a case of adding the book to him to give him some depth. The book was a way to develop Peacock more. For me to understand who he was. Peacock I'm still working with, and he continues to grow, but I wouldn't meet him for a coffee or anything," Stuart concludes.
In recent years it has been rather fashionable to publish a novel and let a movie follow with the screenplay penned by the same author who wrote the book. "I wouldn't write a screenplay from a book I've already written, no," Stuart remarks, "I have written one screenplay for a Peacock film, but I couldn't ever be bothered writing something twice. Both my published books have had film options sold at various stages. It's quite an exciting idea in itself, but I don't hold out much hope for liking the films in reality. I don't like most films that get made at the moment. I think I would prefer to see The Peacock Manifesto on the screen. I really can't imagine how Nalda Said would work as a film at all, cause most of it happens in the guy's head, and I walk out of films with voice overs." But who would star as Peacock? "Well, the actor would have to be me -- and the director would have to be Karn, but I don't think she has the confidence for it just now." In the previous months there have been readings out of Stuart David's second book in a few bookshops: "We just turned up and shouted at people really. Peacock, Bev, and Evil Bob. Bev read a little bit of the book, and sang badly. But Peacock and Bob mostly just swore and argued."
" 'There's a record shop right across the road,' I told him. 'I saw it on the way in. A second-hand place. Go and get some records and I'll figure out how all this stuff works.' 'This is madness, Peacock,' he said. 'Let's just fucking go.' 'It's another grand,' I told him. 'Go and buy some fucking records.' 'No.' 'Go.' 'Fuck off.' "--Stuart David, The Peacock Manifesto (I.M.P. Fiction)
Looper's first record was a limited 7" released (on Sub Pop Records) in July 1998, its title was "Impossible Things." This release was followed by another single, "Ballad of Ray Suzuki" (on Jeepster) in 1999, which was consequently followed by the album Up a Tree (Jeepster; Stuart's fave track on it is "Quiet and Small"). The single contains the unmistakable sampled voice stating 'you're looper', which gave the name to the band: "It was a word one of my Irish flatmate used to use all the time. He was always saying 'You're a Looper' or 'He's a Looper,' meaning 'idiot'. It seemed appropriate." A second album, also on Jeepster, "The Geometrid" (Stuart's fave track on it is "On The Flipside"), followed in 2000, anticipated by the singles "Why 2K?" and "Mondo '77" (both on Jeepster). If Peacock had to describe Looper's music, what would he say about it? "Well, he's writing and singing the new album, so he'd probably tell you that was fucking magic. Even if it was just to get you to buy it. The first two, he'd probably tell you, were pretty pish."
In Looper's albums there are often stories told on the background of some music. I wonder if Stuart finds it easier to write stories, lyrics or composing music: "None of them are hard once you've got an idea that will stand up - but they're all impossible when you don't have a living idea." So, to get us new inspirations, Stuart also recommends us a band, an album and a book. "Eh... Hoboken for the band. Destiny's Child's second album, and New Cardiff by Charles Webb for the book." At present Stuart & Co. are rather busy: "We're working on a new album. A daily diary of it being written and recorded is at www.geometrid.co.uk and you can also catch up with everything we're up to at the moment there."
Come on, visit the Geometrid, there's some good sounds and entertaining literature waiting for you: welcome to the Geometrid, welcome to Tomorrow's World.
Special thanks to Kaye Roach @ IMP Books for her help and the Stuart David/Peacock picture.