Land Observations Talks


Take a step back from the doof doof for a minute. What do you hear? Silence. Well, close enough. Now broaden your mind, follow in the footsteps of our Roman bretherin and walk down roads straighter than you'll find even in New York. Immerse yourself in history and tune in to the exquisite sounds of Land Observations (aka musician and artist, James Brooks) as his latest project 'The Grand Tour' takes you down an aural right of passage deep into one of history's finest tales. To celebrate the release of the album, we caught up with James to help find out a bit more about the man behind the music and the finer details of the project;

Hi James, can you tell us a bit about your background – where are you from and what do you do?

Hello. I'm originally from in and around a city called Exeter, actually a Roman city in the South West of England. I moved to London to study Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and stayed… Which brings me to now, where I live in Hackney, East London.

What's the inspiration behind The Grand Tour? 

After making the Roman Roads IV – XI record about a variety of imaginary journeys along ancient, historic routes. I was keen to have some kind of continuum, yet approach a subject matter that opened up new considerations. I started reading about The Grand tour as a concept and became interested in the very specific routes taken around Europe. I found it intriguing in relation to the early beginnings of travel and tourism as we have come to know it – then, referencing it back to our 21st century relationship to International travel.

What were you aiming to achieve with the final product?

It's a record that hopefully hints and suggests rather than tells… They're all instrumentals, because fundamentally I'm interested in exploring the question – Whether instrumental music, or abstraction for that matter, can be specific about something? Whether it can successfully describe and position the listener somewhere; making them think, or at least consider, a different place than they're actually in. Also without getting too philosophical, it's important to consider journeys in the broader sense… the relationship between time and place in all of our lives is really interesting.

The album was recorded with just a single 6-string guitar, did you find this limiting at all or were you more concerned with conducting an in-depth exploration into the potential of the instrument?

I really enjoy the self-imposed limitations of recording on just one electric guitar, thus having to be creative within a seemingly restrictive space. This started on the first Land Observations album, and for the moment, feels an exciting and vibrant place to be. 

My intention was to make a record that explores the potential rhythms, melodies and various timbres that can be found on an electric guitar, but, always in relation to the needs of each track/ location/ journey. So I wouldn't say that my primary task was to just be inventive for the sake of it; it's important that the particular atmosphere guides everything, with my playing attempting to suggest location.       

Who would you say are your greatest musical influences? Have you had the chance to work with anyone you genuinely admire?

I think when I was growing up, I was away once I had found Spacemen 3, New Order and then various 'shoe gaze' bands. One of the first live shows I ever went to which made an impact was The House Of Love. I thought their use of tremolo on guitar was fantastic… I never get tired of hearing tremolo effected guitar. Then like most, the Velvet Underground shaped my views and belief set with what bands and certain types of art based music could be.. I always thought that Sterling Morrison was such an elegant, economic guitar player. And then there's Tom Verlaine… I'm also very excited that To Rococo Rot have a new record out. I went to see them play recently at Cafe Oto, here in London and they were as good as ever. 

How important to you is the visual aspect of your work? Do you feel it has an equal weighting to that of the aural side?

This is always an awkward question to answer… They're both incredibly important and make me who I am; the two areas define my character. A slightly clunky, but relevant term is a polymath. I guess I'm happy to stand somewhere vaguely near that banner.
Having gone to Art school, I'm an artist, if you like, which involves showing with galleries in the London and Europe, yet I've played guitar and musical instruments since I was an early teenager. The visual work I make sometimes relates directly to the Land Observations project – with my interest in psychogeography, place, space, history and locations etc. However, my visual art also has its own identity when necessary, in relation to particular externally curated shows.

What was it like to record near the Bavarian Alps?

It was brilliant. I would start early, record for a few hours and then go for a short walk, returning to the studio with a new focus to continue. This pattern went on for a couple of weeks; it was great, it allowed me a lot of clarity concerning what I was aiming for with the record. I think it was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” and I really think there is something in that.

What are your thoughts on The Grand Tour? (Not the album, the traditional rite of passage)

As a concept, I was drawn to it for the broad ideas of: travel, tourism, sight-seeing, the picturesque etc. All interesting subjects in their own right, however, there's a side concerning wealth, which was a necessity for travel at that time, which is not so relevant or being explored. I was fundamentally intrigued by the idea of tourism that the majority of us plug into – in relation to physically experiencing a specific man-made or natural place and the resulting impact it has on you as a person. In addition, I think it's interesting how we've come to accept, in some form or another, the idea of the gap year for finding yourself and growing up.

Judging from the album you believe that the journey is as, if not more important, than the destination – do you feel this approach allows for greater adventure and exploration?

Yes, very much so. Again I come back to the initial point about making the decision to explore instrumentals rather than more descriptive approaches. The record's intention is to set up a musical scenario for people to consider travel and various environments. For me this is best realised through exploring the potential of instrumentals. I'm very much a minimalist at heart, so I don't enjoy too much narrative… only just enough to evoke.        

Where did you find yourself feeling the most inspired?

I have a studio near where I live in London, this is of course an important place for me. I've lots of inspirational things around me – I can draw, paint, play guitar, write and record some rudimentary ideas. Also, I can answer these questions… as I'm there now. It really is a fantastic space for me.

You've used a selection of vintage amplifiers on the album, do you feel that your tools are significantly important in creating your ideal sound? Which piece of gear used was your favourite?

I have to say my Fender guitar – without that I would struggle. But I think a close second would be the beauty of vintage tremolo.

What else can we expect to hear from you this year?

I'm making a second video at the moment, for 'Walking The Warm Colonnades' from the new album. It will be a continuation of sorts in relation to the first video idea for – 'On leaving the Kingdom for the well-tempered continent.' Hopefully that will be out and about very soon. Then we are in the process of booking some live dates… so please keep your eyes and ears open for those.

Anything you'd like to add?

Thanks for some very good questions. 

'The Grand Tour' is out now, for more information see Land Observations' official website.