As 'Boy Wonder' Roddy Frame leaves his teens and delivers his first professionally-
produced album, Bruce Dessau joins him to discuss the 'Meaning of Life' and other less
The wonderful world of music has heard little from Aztec Camera during 1984. The beginning
of the year saw "Oblivious" finally in the charts, courtesy of WEA, the band's new label,
and Roddy Frame's face firmly at home in the pop media. But, unlike most opportunistically
minded record companies and bands, there was neither a swift follow up single, or a swift
repromotion of one of the group's earlier classic independent '45's. Product-wise, all has
been quiet for the last nine months, while the band toured America with Elvis Costello and
started to make inroads over there.
Now, however, the silence is broken, with the new single, "All I Need is Everything" and an
album 'Knife', produced by Mark Knopfler. And, keen to find out more about the heart behind
the hits, as well as the man behind the music, I met up with Roddy Frame over coffee somewhere
in the middle of London...
The first thing one notices when listening to "All I Need is Everything" is how the sound,
although essentially unaltered, has become so much more expansive. There are still those
snatches of almost flamenco guitar, but there is also the fluid fusion of disco & melodic
soul. So I asked Roddy about the creation of the single and the album on which it appears in
an extended form...
"I wrote the single back in March when I was in America. Firstly I had the tune and three
chords, and then after a long struggle I managed to get the lyrics to it. It is an unusual
choice for a single, because unlike our previous singles (and most pop singles) it doesn't
have a recurrent chorus at all. Most of the album was written in America in the early part of
the year after we had finished the Costello tour. We haven't played in the U.K. since Glasgow
last Christmas, because after the tour we didn't really feel like playing live, and I just
wanted to write and see a bit of America."
It all sounds like a rather civilised way of going about things. Wasn't there any pressure on
you from WEA to capitalise on the success of "Oblivious"?
"No, we have a very good relationship with WEA," (strangely pronounced 'wier'), "so that we
don't actually have to do anything. Too many bands get signed up to big record companies which
they see as this big corporate father image, or phallus image or something. But it certainly isn't
like that with us and WEA. For instance, when we first signed up there was no pressure on us for a
single. They saw "Oblivious" as a great single that had not had the exposure and were quite happy
to repromote that, without demanding new songs. And they have given us more than enough time
to record the new album."
I for one was surprised to hear that it was being produced by Mark Knopfler; was the decision
made for you by WEA?
"Mark Knopfler was totally my choice - doesn't it seem like my choice!?" (Roddy rocks backwards
and forwards in his chair laughing, in a combination of surprise and indignation!!)
Well, he seems to go against the grain as far as Aztec Camera's first album was concerned...
"I think he gets very good guitar sounds, and has done some particularly good arrangements in
the past, particularly for films." ('Local Hero' is his most notable to date, and he has also
done the soundtrack for the new Bill Forsyth film, 'Comfort and Joy'.) "I liked the idea of
him producing because I wanted to do longer songs, with musical themes. The title track,
"Knife", is over nine minutes long, and it was good to have someone of his experience there to
help work things out. The album also contains a version of the single with an instrumental
conversation between a classic guitar and a synthesizer."
You've still retained that distinctive flamenco touch in your guitar playing...
"Yeah, I can't help playing like that. Campbell says I'm just like a Gyppo!! But I've never
had any training, it's just the way I taught myself to play, and it's still there. I'm sorry,
I can't help it!"
Don't apologise. I like it, I like it...
"But even where there are synthesizers which make noises you couldn't get from anything but
very modern synthesizers, the guitar sound is still the same. I did not try to change it to
fit in with the more modern ideas."
So what kind of differences were there in the recording of this album and the first?
"This one was much more relaxed, and also took much longer because we wanted to get the best
possible drum, vocal and bass tracks."
Is Malcolm Ross a permanent member of the band now?
"Yeah, he's a great guitarist and I've known him since the Postcard days and now he is
actually in my band! It's funny because he has played in the three classic Postcard bands,
Josef K, Orange Juice and now us."
Reminiscing on the sound of young Scotland inevitably took the conversation round to the
latest of the young pretenders, The Bluebells, who I couldn't help thinking have copped
numerous aspects from my interviewee, not to mention his sleeve designer... I'm sure I'm not
the only one who thought he was hearing the new Aztec single when he heard the opening lines
of "I'm Falling". So I asked Roddy if he thought The Bluebells had capitalised on his
"Well, people have commented on the similarity to me since I've been back from America, but
I can't really see it at all. I used to know them quite well a few years ago, and I am sure
they are not intentionally trying to sound like us, although bands like The Bluebells and The
Pastels certainly owe a great debt to Postcard, for at least drawing attention to the Scottish
music scene. Frankly The Bluebells seem a bit silly to me, an Eighties equivalent of The
Monkees in the way they've been manufactured. Still, I suppose they have manufactured
themselves, rather than the record company doing it for them, which seems to be the difference
between sixties and eighties pop. But maybe at last the big labels have latched onto the
Postcard thing and are trying to exploit it now. They all seem to want that funny artwork
What about The Smiths? Don't you think that they have acheived on Rough Trade what you felt
you had to go to a major label for, namely to be commercially successful. Why did you sign to
"Basically to do what I have done with this album. Financially we did not have the facilities
we have now." (Modesty forbade him to mention that the deal also gave Rough Trade a slice of
their WEA royalties and helped them out of considerable financial straits.) "I don't see what
you gain on a small label. You only make life more difficult for yourself. The independent
idea is very strange. What exactly are you independent of? You are competing with the big
labels and often using their distribution networks, but miss out on not having the money to
back it up. We are really happy with our deal, we have plenty of freedom and total artistic
control, and being on a big label means there are people to organise things for you so that
you can concentrate on more important things like writing."
You started out in the business very early on, recording your first single "Just Like Gold"
the night before your seventeenth birthday, the kind of age when most people are just buying
their first singles. And you seemed to become jaded by the business at an equally early age.
How do you feel about it these days?
"Yeah, for about four years I was sixteen according to the press, which I did not like, and
then I got fed up with people talking about us in the same context as Haircut 100, which was
not the idea at all."
What about this incident of Heyward seeing you wearing jodhpurs and appearing on TOTP wearing
jodhpurs the following week?
Roddy laughs heartily. "Haircut 100 were just crap - real throwaway pop, like The Bluebells
and Howard Jones. These days things just aren't built to last."
Just like pop before punk?
"Yeah, only worse, this is real recession music, just completely trivial. It's not even worth
Roddy Frame seems to have a point there. Yet in comparison to Jones and Kershaw, Haircut 100
and ABC were bloody artistic genii. There is a line on "Down the Dip" (from 'High Land, Hard
Rain') which goes "Hanging with the hollow men who never got the groove," and I thought that
this could have been describing precisely Jones and Kershaw, and then realised that they were
not around then. So I asked if it could apply to them, and if not, whom?
"'Hollow Men' was a phrase I borrowed from T.S. Elliot's poem of the same name to conjure up
this image of bleakness, for those who have some kind of spiritual or religious thing lacking.
Those two are just too insignificant. I was thinking more in terms of someone who does have
some sort of validity and spirit which they totally lack. Then try to act so sincere and just
come over as stupid. How can you want to be taken seriously and at the same time call your
album 'Human's Lib'? Come on!" (giggles.) "At least in the early seventies, pop bands didn't
talk about the meaning of life, that was left to Yes and Genesis, the 'serious' bands..."
So what about your new album with its eight extended tracks and themes. That sounds decidedly
"The themes are basically musical themes, rather than being philosophical, or pseudo-
philosophical. It will be different to the first album, but I hope people will still appreciate
it. I still want to bring out singles, "Still on Fire" on the album would make an excellent
On the first album, you made no secret of the fact that you had stolen the intro of "Walk Out
to Winter" from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". Are there any more honest plagiarisms on the
new album, and why do you do this?
"Yeah, there are some, because there are some chord structures that we think we can use better
than they have been. The opening chords of "All I Need is Everything" are from Jimmy Cliff's
"Many Rivers To Cross". I think it is a kind of nod of the head, or tap of the hat, to the
writer rather than stealing it on the quiet. I'm a great fan of Love and have used some of
their stuff as well. It is strange because I first heard them about seven years ago, but only
really got to like them recently."
Roddy Frame was fortunate to become involved in making music at such an early age that he has
never had to consider working in a more 'conventional' situation. However, there is no
escaping the fact that even the music business has its tedious, office type side to it. So how
does he cope with that aspect?
"Fortunately I'm in a position now where others do the organising for me. Besides, I don't
think I could ever work in the kind of office situation with people I didn't like without
telling them so. It's absurd. I don't think I would last very long in an ordinary kind of job.
It's much easier being a pop star!"
So I gather you are against the kind of capitalist system we are being submitted to at the
"The whole f***ing ratrace seems horrible. But I think that maybe capitalism is in its death
throws at the moment. It is quite an encouraging sign to see ordinary people pelting the
police with rocks."
You don't seem to have taken a particularly political stance at a time when bands are going
out of their way to declare the support for movements such as CND and Save The GLC?
Politics simply means knowing what is wrong and what is right, simply to see what is
ideological in the light of what we see round us. Like the miner's strike, it is worrying
that most people don't seem to be concerned about it."
Well, you haven't played any benefits for it. Would you?
"Yeah, of course, but I don't know how much good that would do. The best thing about it would be to
demonstrate where I stand, which is what anyone in the public eye should do. I mean, Howard Jones calls his album
'Human's Lib', but what has he ever done for humanity?
"Besides, I hope it's always been clear where I stand from what I do. I am a born Socialist
simply because I know what is right and wrong. Politics is not like supporting Celtic or
Rangers. There is only ONE right side, and that is socialism.
"It would be nice to see the whole world moving to the Left. I'd really like to visit Russia,
which apart from everything else has some really great architecture. (!) I would not totally
defend their system, but it did seem to start out from a better set of values than ours, or
the American Constitution. The idea of Free Enterprise is a complete farce. Someone setting
up a factory and having ten people working him who makes five pounds a week while he makes
ten pounds a week is totally wrong. The wealth of a country should never become the sole
property of a minority of individuals."
At this point Roddy laughs, as if at the idea that anyone could possibly hold that view and
still be both sane and human.
"I don't think there is anything naive in wishing for this, or things such as equality of
educational opportunities and no more private medicine. Capitalism just seems like a complete
celebration of wrongdoing..."
Have you heard about the more extreme groups of Anarchists who produce papers such as 'Class
War' and openly encourage violence, saying that Thatcher should be assassinated?
"They're taking their time about it then aren't they?"
But do you think that is going too far?
"No, but I don't think it would make that much difference now. Britain is just a subdivision
of American Corporations. The new Conservative leader would just be another puppet of
It would be easy to pick holes in Roddy Frame's political views, but at the same time, he does
have some serious opinions when most pop stars are saying how much they love the Royal Family,
looking for the next tax haven to record their album and swanning around with Hordes of
Hooray Henrys and dippy debs. But besides this, I wanted to find out more about Roddy Frame
the person rather than Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera. So, tell me, what interests do you have
outside of music and politics?
"I read a lot, particularly this guy Colin Wilson, who has written all sorts of wierd stuff
about philosophy and the Occult. He gets some really good ideas across even in the cheapest
glossy paperbacks. You always know where he stands, even when he is writing about mad sex
murderers. He used to have a very sensible romantic viewpoint, but lately he seems to have
turned into an old Tory!! It seems to get them all in the end, but the greatest thing about
him was that he was Working Class. He wrote his first book, 'The Outsider', when he was
working in an all night cafe in the Haymarket and sleeping in a polythene bag on Hampstead
Heath during the day."
Would you have liked to have been through that kind of discomfort for your art?
"No, and he didn't like it either. He spent his early days in miserable poverty and was glad
when he could get publishing deals and advances. I don't really think this idea of the artist
having to starve to produce his best work really holds..."
Have you written any prose or poetry yourself?
"I've written bits of poetry, but I feel much happier when I have a guitar in my hand!!"
With Colin Wilson's own sceptical views about the supernatural, I ask if Roddy Frame believes
"There must be some kind of blind force, or life force, in evolution, which I suppose you can
utilise - a feeling of goodness that flows through everything and everybody. I do believe all
beings are basically good, rather than everyone being born with a clean slate to be bad or
good in life. Whether there is a God in the Christian sense I don't know, there are certainly
a lot of things that are difficult to pin down scientifically, like ghosts. Some things are
just impossible to explain without turning to the supernatural for an explanation."
So, you are already a veteran at twenty, how do you see the future? What about Roddy Frame at
"It will be nice to be older, because hopefully it means that I shall be wiser, and be able to
answer some of the questions I can't answer today. But as for having had more experiences, for
most people, they just have more experiences of the same things and end up just taking a load
of bull****. I hope I never get like that. I don't know really, I think the people that end up
as nobs were all nobs at school, at least judging from the people at my school: they started
off badly and never got better! I didn't have many friends at school, I was probably a bit
much of the loner, typical intellectual artistic type. I kept well away from team games."
Do you mix much outside the band?
"Not really, they are all in London at the moment and are the only people I see when I am
Do you still go to concerts yourself?
"I went to see The Go Betweens the other night and they were great. I listen to a lot of other
music, for the simple reason that I enjoy hearing say, The Associates or Scritti Politti
singles. You must not ever lose sight of that fact, or you can't ever enjoy music. It doesn't
matter what label it is on, or how much money has been spent on the production; if it makes
you happy when you hear it, then that is all that really matters."
Green seems to have gone to incredible lengths to have a hit single. Do you think he has kept
his integrity, and how important is having a hit single to you?
"I don't think he has sold out at all, and if anything he has raised his standards, spending
two weeks to get the vocals right, in order to have a hit. Of course it is important to have
successful records because I want people to hear my songs. I hope this doesn't sound too
pompous, but I think my songs enhance peoples' lives more than Howard Jones'. Similarly, I
would rather play to a thousand people than a hundred."
Personally, I am inclined to think that maybe Roddy Frame overestimates the intelligence of
most of the record buying public, which is why they lap up Jones and Kershaw by the bucketload.
To my mind, Aztec Camera will always appear to the more discerning punter, because not only do
they want to be taken seriously, but they are serious, which doesn't make for world-wide pop
As for Mr. Frame, a man with a nervous smile and a strong handshake, the adult world of music
will inevitably be at his fingertips. As no less an authority than Elvis Costello has pointed
out, Roddy Frame's artistic potential is staggering, and maybe it is no coincidence that his
latest album was produced by the man who had worked with the other all time great writer and
songsmith, Bob Dylan. If Frame can fulfill just half of his promise, the eighties could see him
established as a true populist hero.
At twenty, he is already wiser than many twice his age. As long as he stays on our side, there
is always hope. Let us just pray that he does not become an 'old Tory' like Colin Wilson.
Somehow I don't think he will...