Formerly one third of the triumvirate Krautrock imbued Mute signing, Appliance, James Brooks now ventures forward with his new traversing solo project, Land Observations.
Released as a limited edition 7-inch vinyl EP, the ‘Roman Roads‘ 3-track taster – a full length album will follow in 2012 -, comes wrapped in a personalised and hand-crafted artwork cover by Brooks.
Using only his trusty 6-string electric guitar for company, Brooks creates suggestive instrumentals from multi-layered and repetitive loops; played over a diaphanous, atavistic pastoral motorik rhythm.
His arch musings and indolent gestured guitar riffs bring to mind the ‘No Pussyfooting’ collaboration work of Eno and Fripp, and the more serene atmospheric textures of Acid Mother Temple’s Kawabata Makoto.
The title of your debut EP, ‘Roman Roads’, gives the theme away, but what is it that initially sparked your interest in the Romans, and especially their ancient motorway building skills?
Good question, well fundamentally it stems from a broader interest in man’s relationship to place/ landscape, that’s where the Land Observations came from. Then in-particular the decisive nature of road planning intrigues me: with these man-made structures visually cutting through space to serve people; then in musical terms, the relationship of certain playing styles and rhythms with roads and journeys- especially in this case of straight Roman roads to repetitive/ rhythmic music.
‘Fosse Way’ (one of the 3-tracks on the EP) is in some ways an ancient and rural scenic version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’, or even Cluster. Is Krautrock still a major influence?
Yes, you are very right… Land Observations has German motorik music in there. For me these bands redefined what was possible with rock orientated music and its instruments, i.e. Taking the ‘Rock’ out of ‘Rock’ yet retaining the momentum and propulsion. Yes definitely, I want the tracks to have pastoral quality, yet sometimes with an undercurrent of unease… For example, the full-length version of ‘Fosse way’ will be on the debut album, which evolves somewhere else as a track.
The second track on the EP, ‘Octavian To Augustus’, name checks the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Octavian, who was given the revered title of Augustus and was adopted by Julius Caesar, as a sort of protegee. What role does he play in your musical concept?
Yes, I liked the way he was reinvented as a person and given a new name and level of authority. Musically I wanted that track to change and morph into a darker place from its earlier ease and simplicity- with the analogy to him as a character being hypothetically ‘given the keys’ to the Empire…. As I was saying earlier, the project ties in with my interest in people and land- then more specifically the insatiable nature of an ancient Empire for territory and to then lay a network of roads to retain it. Seems ambitious when I read through this now… but I want to create something about that.
Have you made a conscience decision to only use the electric guitar on this EP?
Yes that is important for this project. I wanted to impose a limitation on myself of just guitar. Yet from that, I wanted to explore the balance between synthetic looped playing with naturally played sections. It might of course evolve, but we’ll see.
If it’s not a trade secret! Could you perhaps explain briefly the process you go through, and some of the equipment you use in the studio, when producing these pieces?
Well… I guess what I will say is that it’s a mixture of idiosyncratically miked amplifiers and then processing the sound to a suitable degree with pedals/plug ins/ rank equipment. Like many recordings in the 20/ 21st century it is about the creation of ‘believable’ artificial spaces… However, fundamentally the sound is electric guitar through a valve amp, which is enhanced by effects, but to hopefully not lose total sight of the original guitar sound.
Who are your influences at the moment?
Well as I said earlier, the Kosmische era is always there in large amounts, plus- post punk plays its role in ethos and my guitar sound- especially of late, those early Cure/ 4AD records have been important. Then of course the Durutti Column and the modern repetitive classical music of Reich/ Glass etc. Also, I have recently been listening to a lot of Takoma and Post-Takoma guitar players, which I think are great. Then early 90′s shoe gaze records have been coming back out of the collection… and sound fantastic.
Can we expect more of the same on the forthcoming LP?
Yes, very much so. I’m writing and recording at the moment in London and Berlin for what will become the long player – which I am pleased to say, will be now released early next year. My message I keep saying to myself is that it’s an album with a concept, but not a concept album… With all the tracks being named after specific roads that existed across the UK and mainland Europe during the Roman Empire.
Are there any plans for live concerts or tours?
I recently played The Roundhouse, London as part of the Short circuit festival which went very well, so yes without doubt there will be more live shows and festivals.