At 23, Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera has an old head on his shoulders, and as Adam Sweeting found out, his new LP benefits from its wit and wisdom
YOU WOULD think Roddy Frame was 53 rather than 23 to listen to him. “I think I’ve grown up a bit,” he reflects, in soft Glaswegian. “I always thought that by the time you reached 20 or 21 you were pretty much formed as a person, but I see now that’s just a product of the stupid youth culture we have.”
“If you’re above a certain age you sit in that corner of the bar,” he continues, gesturing with his wine-glass. “If you’re young you sit at this table. It’s so silly. I think the further north you go, the more you’ll see the son, his father and all their mates sitting together. It’s a very effective way of cutting people off from their history, isn’t it, to say that old people have got nothing to offer?”
Wizened old Roddy Frame is about to release his third LP, called Love. The last one was called Knife, but that was three years ago. It’s indicative of Frame’s quiet confidence that he could allow such a long period to elapse without feeling the need to rush something out, just to remind people that he was still alive.
The new record is credited, as usual, to Aztec Camera, but while that used to be the name of the band that Roddy fronted, it’s now really just a pseudonym for himself and whatever musicians he happens to gather around him for the job at hand.
Frame’s career got off to a flying start — indeed, his arrival was so spectacular that it nearly finished him off for good. Having formed his first band when he was 15, he fell in with Alan Horne’s Postcard label, which, with outfits like the Fire Engines, Josef K and Orange Juice, was trying to propagate a uniquely Scottish strain of pop.
“I remember when I was 17 I recorded my first single,” Roddy reminisces. “In fact I recorded it on my seventeenth birthday.” The song was ‘Just Like Gold’, and the music papers went nuts, instantly comparing Roddy and Aztec Camera to Arthur Lee’s Love, Hollywood’s most erratic combo of the sixties.
Postcard subsided into a puddle of tweeness and inertia, so Aztec Camera’s first LP, High Land, Hard Rain appeared on Rough Trade.
His songs won him improbable yelps of acclaim from the likes of Elvis Costello, and suddenly Roddy found he was the most precocious auteur in pop.
“I think the emphasis on youth is pretty shallow,” says Frame, sagely. “The other day I was thinking ‘oh my God, I’m 23 and I’m putting out my third album.’
“But when I looked around, all the people doing well in rock or pop seemed to be 40 years old. So I thought well, you’re not doing so bad, son.”
Although 1984’s Knife contained a helping of strong songs, it received a mixed reaction, perhaps because Roddy had recruited Mark Knopfler to produce it. This, he admits now, was partly out of sheer perversity, a move calculated to infuriate critics (Boy Wonder Trampled By Dinosaur Producer). “I think Mark Knopfler’s a workaholic,” he says, “but he gets really good guitar sounds and he’s a hell of a guitarist. I had a jam with him once or twice.”
On Love, Frame dumped many of his past rock-orientated associations. Instead. he went to New York to record with funk luminaries like Marcus Miller and The System’s David Frank and some of the straightforward emotions of soul or funk have replaced the overwrought constructions of yesteryear.
His flair for a melt-in-the-mouth melody remains intact, as does his skill as a guitarist, but the inner Roddy Frame also stands up on several occasions. At the moment, my favourite song is ‘How Men Are’, a ballad of remorseless tenderness in which Roddy confronts the thorny question of sexual stereotyping.
“If you can’t see that women are treated like shit in this world, you’ve got something wrong with you,” Roddy insists, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’ve got to see a doctor or something. In no way am I a liberated man. I still can’t get rid of those things I was brought up with.”
Several of these new songs have taken on deeper colourings since the death of his mother last year, an event he’ll talk about but which you suspect hasn’t sunk in fully eyen now.
“I was very close to my mother. We talked about everything together. We’d sit and drink tea and smoke and talk all night until four or five in the morning. We’d still be sitting there when my dad was trying to get up for work.
“I suppose a song like ‘Killermont Street’ really reflects her death. I wanted to write a song about Scottish sentimentality, but I found I’d written a sentimental Scottish song. I felt bitter about her death. She never got a ride on an aeroplane. She didn’t get holidays in the sun. She didn’t get a taste of the high life. ‘Killermont Street’ I suppose is about that, people struggling on.”
And with that, we struggle off in different directions through the rain. By Christmas, Roddy Frame could be a star all over again.
© Adam Sweeting, The Guardian, 16 October 1987