THE Roman roads of Britain and Europe may appear an unlikely source of inspiration for an album, but Land Observations likes to do things differently.
The artist, aka Londoner James Brooks, earned some critical acclaim with former band Appliance, but after a spell concentrating on his work as an audiovisual artist, has produced his debut solo release, Roman Roads IV-XI.
The record sees Brooks ‘exploring the power of minimalism’ by building up rich, evocative soundscapes by building up repetitive layers of six-string guitar.
“It was a case of realising I didn’t want to be or have to be in a band anymore and could generate a musical project, and something substantial, which was not band-oriented,” he tells the Mail.
“Being an artist is very much a solo thing in itself so I’m quite used to working alone and being creative alone.
“There’s a sense that you can take it wherever you want to take it and you only have yourself to answer to.
“People have been really interested in the way the whole record is generated all from one guitar, and have told me they thought it was created with keyboards or synthesised electronica.
“That’s great for me because I never wanted it to become some kind of blues-rock virtuoso guitar album — that doesn’t interest me at all.
“It’s about trying to do something different — playing the guitar as if it’s a drum kit.”
Inspiration for the album lay close at hand for Brooks, whose east London home lies near Kingsland Road, one of the Roman thoroughfares which have filtered out from ‘Londinium’ for two millennia.
“I find it really interesting that these things have now become A-roads or motorways, or even had a Tesco built on them, when in other times they were very humble rural paths, and there are these traces you wouldn’t know were there unless there was some sort of signage to tell you,” he says.
“I was saying to someone the other day that this is a contemporary record — it’s not Time Team captured on vinyl, but the archaeological side of it is fascinating, thinking of all the people who have lived by or passed along that road.
“There’s a kind of poetry about them in a melancholic and romantic way and it feels very exciting, and the right place for me to be, to be writing about specific roads, some of which don’t exist anymore.
“That can sound incredibly pretentious, but I don’t want it to be.” The titles of the tracks on the album all reference specific roads, such as the Via Flaminia, Appian Way and, closer to home, Watling Street.
So has Brooks considered taking his high-concept project to its ultimate conclusion by literally following the roads he has pursued figuratively for the album?
“The notion of travel and touring is inherent in the record and we did think about doing a tour playing only at venues within a mile of each of the roads,” he says.
“Our agent got a bit panicky when we mentioned it because of the logistics of it, but personally I would love to do it.”
Roman Roads IV-XI by Land Observations is out now on Mute Records.