Interview: Land Observations

Guitar player James Brooks from post-rock band Appliance comes back to Mute with his new conceptual music and psychogeography project Land Observations and the first album Roman Roads IV-XI. His minimalistic concert at Festsaal Kreuzberg, Berlin before Liars late October did not fail to capture the audience’s attention. James answered a few questions for LSD before going on the road again.

Can you tell us about your influences for your new album Roman Roads?

I guess the first thing that comes to mind are influences like acoustic primitive American guitarists, the notion of solo playing – not being in a band but composing on a single instrument not in a puritanical way, but in a clean or stripped-down way, and not with a rock aesthetic; it’s more a rhythmic record than a bluesy-rock composition. I’m just trying to stretch what guitar can do I suppose. You could also look at it like it’s a gap-year record, you know when you travel between high-school and university, a right of passage record.

And regarding the concept of the album?

Each piece is instrumental and trying to evoke a particular road, sometimes it’s a road that doesn’t even exist anymore. The idea of history and what the road was used for, I did a lot of research before starting to write: I was trying to capture the characteristics of each road – whether the terrain or the road might be busy or slow… It feels incredibly ambitious when I talk about it, but this is a good thing! The record is about walking, it’s about movement, momentum – more than driving, what precursed the auto-bahn. Also the idea I’ve heard that the Roman Road network was “the original internet”, a crisscross of people being interconnected.

Besides the music and the roads, you added a visual aspect to the project?

I’m a visual artist as well; my life is split into the two worlds so it felt very comfortable to try to bring these two things together within Land Observations. I’m also very interested in psychogeography and the history of landscape. I wanted to keep this show nice and clean and decided to project the names of towns and settlements along the roads from the album as a list of Latin names on a black background rather than visuals of the roads themselves as I have done before.

Are you happy with the result and the general reception of  Roman Roads?

I am really happy with the record. Well, all the tracks are a soundscape about movement, but I did not want to be too descriptive. Sometimes people don’t have to buy into the whole concept, like any artwork, you can meet the concept half-way or you can draw your own conclusions from a piece. The album is both calming and energetic, it sounds like a paradox, but I wanted an album that was quite gentle and had pulsing rhythms rather than heavy techno/rock ones. There’s a warmth to it as well and it’s an introspective record – maybe listening to it on headphones walking somewhere, that’s how I love to listen to music, so I’d like people to do that too, that’d be amazing. 

Have you got following-up ideas for this specific project yet?

There are more than 50000 roads, so I could continue with that… but I have other possibilities, Land Observations is a project’s name, the idea felt comfortable with instrumental pieces; the next record may or may not be about roads.

Stream: Land Observations – Roman Roads IV-XI (Full Album) 

Stream: Land Observations – Appian Way

New Video: Land Observations – Via Flamina

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