James Brooks a.k.a Land Observations is probably better known as one of the key members of the band Appliance who have released numerous titles on the Mute record label over the years and had the privilege of recording not one but four BBC Peel sessions! Brooks is also a visual artist and has exhibited his work on the international art scene. It’s not surprising then that James has incorporated his love of guitar based music and visual art within his new EP release ‘Roman Roads’. Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby caught up with James via e mail to discuss the new record and discover where his passion for music originated…
Cat On The Wall: To begin I thought it would be interesting to find out how you first got into making music before we start talking about your latest release. Do you remember what first made you decide to venture into the world of music and how has your journey been so far?
James Brooks: Well at the impressionable age of 11 I showed an interest in playing guitar. We had an old nylon strung instrument in the house so I began what is as any player would say an initially frustrating yet amazingly satisfying acquaintance with the guitar. Then we had a neighbour who fortunately played and every so often he took me under his wing and gave me pointers – he was interested in people like Duane Eddy, Les Paul and Chet Atkins amongst others. At the time they seemed slightly out of time with where I was coming from – at that stage Pete Townsend and The Who were initially steering me. Yet, in retrospect these players have contributed to my playing to some degree, I appreciate their innovations with a clean/reverb guitar sound even if my sound is more effects laden. Mr Les Paul of course is very interesting with his multi layered recording approach, something that we all still respond to in one way or another. Racing forward – those formative years were tremendously rich and I guess I am still on that road be it with a greater playing proficiency.
COTW: Your latest project ‘Land Observations’ incorporates your artwork as well as musical soundscapes. How did this project come about? Did you already have a concept in place before recording the tracks?
JB: For me it is all about what I am reading/ listening/ looking at building up into a cohesive idea. As with any idea, it is a balance between letting it find its form and then channelling it where it needs to go. In one way it is a bit like flying a kite… Land Observations is an idea that’s been developing for some time now of producing instrumental pieces of music that try to address locations yet limiting it to the guitar as the only instrument.
COTW: Can you tell us about your interest in historic roads? What is it about them that fascinate you?
JB: Again it is this long running interest in movement/ motion within music and making the analogy with roads. Specifically the motorik/ Kosmische music of the 70s has always been very important to me for that sense of economic rhythm, yet is not out and out Rock. This has now become aligned with parts of my artwork, where I am looking at ideas of mapping/ place as a reality, but also as an abstract.
COTW: You recently played the Roundhouse which consisted of you, your guitar and some pedals! How did you find the experience of performing alone? Can we expect some live performances from you in the future?
JB: The show went very well, the Roundhouse of course is a wonderful venue to play! It is actually very refreshing to perform as a solo artist, with my array of pedals allowing me to get the level of sonic processing required. I guess there is a reference to shoe gazing of the early 90’s, taking the pressure off me allowing me to just play. I have projections for the live shows which hopefully add to the visual ideas concerning the traces of historic Roman roads around the UK and mainland Europe. Yes, there will be more live dates at relevant festivals/ venues.
COTW: Why did you decide to release the ‘Roman Roads EP’ as a 7″ vinyl? How can fans get hold of a copy?
JB: It is a available as a 7″ vinyl and as digital downloads. I think the climate now is great for the glorious format of vinyl again! I always think Record Shop Day in April is very exciting. A physical format that allows for exciting artistic statements, so for me it plays into my hands as an artist. I love the idea of returning to an old experience of sitting down listening to the music, reading and absorbing the liner notes and specific artwork. The record will be available from 1st August and of course the Enraptured records website. Digitally from all the usual sources etc.
COTW: What are you listening to or reading at the moment?
JB: Musically I have been enjoying some of the releases on the Tompkins square label of solo guitarists especially William Tyler and Nick Jonah Davis, who I think are interesting. Then revisiting old Cure and 4AD records amongst others. I’ve actually just finished reading the recent ‘Bowie in Berlin- A new career in a new town’ book, which was great. As you can imagine I hold that trilogy of records close. Now I’ve just started a book called ‘Wunderlust’ about the history of walking which is very interesting in relation to the concept of travelling and our relationship to landscape as we move. Then yesterday, I was pleased to hear that Ian Sinclair has a new book out.
COTW: Finally, what are your plans for the near future?
JB: I currently have a solo exhibition of my artwork in Paris, which I was over there for and then I took some time to travel around parts of France on the roads as a research trip of sorts…. So now it’s continuing writing for the Land Observations album, which will then be recorded in Berlin over the summer which should be inspirational. It will then come out in early 2012 with live dates around then – with perhaps a special live performance being filmed.
LAND OBSERVATIONS- ‘ROMAN ROADS’ EP
Released on 1st August 2011 On limited 7″ clear vinyl with hand inked sleeve – Enraptured Records – Distributed by Cargo -(RAPT4562)
Download – http://itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/land-observations/id434570637
(Also available from most other download sites worldwide)