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Just Like God - Roddy Frame Confesses
from "Alternatives to Valium" fanzine, May, 1982 (?)
by Alastair McKay

The last thing Roddy Frame said to me was "sorry for selling out". The last thing I said to Roddy Frame was "don't mention it". I wish I'd said "what a strangely archaic notion."

Selling out? When do you ever hear that accusation levelled at today's top popsters? Since the faceless corporation of BEF made big business fashionable again the old punk ethics have sounded decidedly quaint. Admirable maybe, but quaint. Try asking Spandau Ballet if they've sold out. Sold t-shirts yes, sold posters, sold badges, but sold out... is that the name of our new l.p. boss?

So Aztec Camera have sold out. Does this, I wonder, make them just like 'Gold'? The David Band sleeves are an ominous sign. The beginning of Back on Board sounds a bit like 'True'. The group's names are vaguely similar. But look, if you really want to know the difference between them it's the difference between "listening to Marvin all night long" and "faces of Strummer, they fell from your wall, and nothing was left where they hung."

But still I have my doubts. The live show was enjoyable but it was a bit too traditional for my liking. The guitar solo on 'We Could Send Letters', the screaming girls, the melodrama, the encores. Like a Christmas service or something, you have a good time, your emotions surge in the right places, and then you step out into the snow and remember you've got a hole in your shoe and the kiddies want a home computer from Santa. Not that I'm religious, of course.

Why am I telling you all this? I should be telling Roddy Frame.

How are you finding Warners as a label?

It's very good on Warners. Very very good. I wouldn't have gone with them if I didn't think it would be good.

It's strange that just as you were leaving Rough Trade for a major label The Smiths were turning down big offers in favour of them.

Yes, I suppose so, but Rough Trade were trying hard to get onto Phonogram! At least with The Smiths.

What was wrong with Rough Trade?

Well, they can't put records in the Charts. They can't do much abroad. The one good thing about them was Geoff Travis, he's one of the best people in the music business. Apart from that they haven't really got much going for them. I don't see what they've got at Rough Trade that I haven't got now at WEA.

What about personal contact?

Yeah, personal contact with Geoff. I really enjoyed having personal contact with Geoff! Put that down! But there's no real difference as long as you let the record company know who's in charge and don't let them push you about. Like I didn't think there was any need to rush ahead and record a follow up to 'Oblivious' just because it was a hit, even though WEA would have like me to. Once you let a record company do that once it'll be never ending. It'll be single, promote the single, do some gigs, do Top of the Pops, do an album, promote the album, some gigs in Europe, the States, get another single out, etc., etc. But I won't be pushed around.

Do you mind your records being hyped?

No! The music business... I mean, what is hype? Hype's just advertising. Instead of trying to persuade record shops to guy your record you just tell them.

The charts are pretty much a fake anyway.

Oh, yeah! Of course. You couldn't really look at the Charts and take a moral attitude towards them, could you? It's like trying to pick up mud and make it clean by washing it. You know, it doesn't work, you just get cleaned up mud. It's still mud though.

Does it demean you at all?

Not at all. I think it's wonderful to be in the Charts.

What about Top of the Pops?

I think it's a good show. I always watch Top of the Pops, don't you?

I watch it, but I don't like it.

Yeah! Everyone always watches it every week.

But you watch it in the hope that someone good might be on.

But you do like it, and a lot of people like it because they have people on like Madness, and Marilyn and Boy George and that's what people buy. I don't want to turn on Top of the Pops and see, well, the Durutti Column, that would just make the programme more boring than it already is. Who would you put on?

People who are good but not in the Charts. Say James Brown.

But it's not that kind of a show, it's Top of the Pops. No-one knows who James Brown is. Certainly my sisters don't know who he is.

You seem to have a different audience now. Tonight there were lots of girls with their arms outstretched towards you.

It was great, wasn't it! They were just people who were really enjoying the concert.

Do you like the guitar solo on 'We Could Send Letters'?

Yes, that's a wonderful guitar solo! It's just a Neil Young/Tom Verlaine impersonation. The solo's much more bitter than it is was before - it's not as bland because the song has taken on a whole new bitterness. It's not a nice song, it's just sarcastic. 'We could send letters', it's just about having no contact with someone even if you think they're not far away. It's just sarcastic.

Don't you think the guitar solo makes it just like a traditional rock song?

I wish I could write a traditional rock song, unfortunately the chords are all wrong for a traditional rock song. But it makes it into an untraditional rock song, it's not like Dire Straits. The guitar is just horrible, that bit, isn't it?


But it's not even like a heavy metal guitar solo because it's just notes that don't go together, it's just messy. It's a certain way of playing I think. It's like a different style I'm developing which I'll use a lot on the next l.p. I'm sure.

The endings of all the songs, too, it was the old r&b climactic ending. You could do without that.

I think it's traditional.

Is that why you do it?

Well, why do you like 'Down the Dip'? Do you like 'Down the Dip'? I really like it because it's traditional. Well, what kind of music do you like if you don't like traditional music?

There is a place for tradition, but you shouldn't follow it blindly.

I just flaunt it, but it's not tongue in cheek like Martin Fry. I actually like these kind of song endings. I'm just a music fan, really.

A muso!

No! A music fan, it's a different thing. Old musos talk about Can and Faust and Diversion. I talk about getting the new Clash record and wondering if I'll like it.

But you don't think that with these big endings and long guitar solos...

I think people will take it in different ways, but they take it!

But isn't it battering a point home when saying it subtly would be more effective?

We still say it quite subtly. We obviously just disagree about certain points in the concert. It doesn't really matter.

Scott Piering of Rough Trade said you wanted to do an instrumental l.p. Do you still want to?

You spoke to Scott and he said that? I don't know where he got that! I wanted to do some instrumental songs, but not an l.p.! That would be a real bore! It would be just like Durutti Column!

You seem to have an obsession with hippies. What's that all about?

It's just because I am a hippy! Nah! I just sort of quite like hippies in a way and they've got a wee bit of character about them. They usually dip into a few things.

What about drugs then - given that you're just a hippy?

Well, I don't think hippies are the most druggy people. A lot of hippies I know are just like very undruggy people - "Oh, no, man. It might upset my biorhythms!" But the Pistols just lived on dope and speed and fucking smack. Steve Jones was a junkie, Paul Cook was a junkie, Rotten was a junkie.

Who do you write your songs for? Yourself or the listener?

I write them and I think if they please me they'll probably please the listener, but I set my standards fairly high because I think people that come and see me have got fairly high standards.

Does it matter to you that the audience gets the right idea from your words?

Yeah, it matters more now.

A lot of the songs seem very personal.

Yeah, that's what I mean, it matters more now. Not that I avoid the sort of personal - feelings and emotions - it's just that now I put them over in a more articulate way. Just that I smarten up a bit.

Are you bothered if your songs are popular?

I don't think I'd put records out if I didn't want them to be popular.

Do you worry that by trying to write popular songs you might risk appealing to mass emotions or bland sentiment? You might fall into using Manilow style cliches?

Oh yeah, but I love cliches, but the only cliches I use are good ones, and people use certain chord progressions because they find they work, they're traditional and it's music and you should use that.

Isn't that lazy?

Well, it depends - I'll only sing something which I do believe is worth singing. I mean, if I can seriously go out and sing a lyric which is really like Barry Manilow, if I truly believe I can go and sing it... If I truly go out and rhyme 'musn't grumble' with 'apple crumble' then I'll do it. As long as I believe it then that's fine. It just depends on whether I do agree that apple crumble is quite important, worth a mention in your song.

You seem to have a good rapport with your audience.

Yeah, I sometimes wonder about that. Usually at a concert you just hear sort of cheering, band and then the next song. We get a bit of clapping and then everyone's shouting "Hey Roddy, do this, " and they're always really cheeky as well. I must just look vulnerable, like the sort of person people would like to accost!

How long will you carry on being a rock 'n' roll star?

Until people decide that I'm not one any more, I'm not one yet. But I think I deserve it more than a lot of people. I think we've got a lot better attitude towards it. The band's a lot more genuine than a lot of bands. That's important still.

But that's like what we were saying about Top of the Pops, all the bands are insincere.

But you don't make money from Top of the Pops, you just get a sore back from standing up all the time. But I mean it is a good show. The night we were on Madness were on, and Feargal Sharkey and the Assembly were on. He was great, it was great! It's a good pop show. I'm sorry it's conservative, but the whole country's conservative. I'm sure Top of the Pops is more important to people than mass unemployment and the Irish problems.

Do you think politics might creep into your words?

They won't creep in. If they come in they'll come in. From the heart.

What's the line you sing about the red flag?

It's just like saying that communism is good. Communism's a lovely idea. It's probably as much an ideal as falling in love with the most beautiful woman in the world and living happily ever after without any arguments or any nastiness getting in the way. People fall in love with an ideal.

So your next album will be called 'Problems with Communism'.

No, the next l.p. will probably be called, eh... 'Fuck Me.'

That's a catchy title. Finally then, what do Aztec Camera add to the world?

Occasionally on stage we add magic to the world.

What sort of magic?

There's only one sort of magic. Alchemy. The wonderful transportation of all base emotion into one little thing.

What would you like your final words to be?

I've had a good time!

I rest my case there, your lordship. Now Roddy's a fine man and a talented writer, but - bearing in mind that Mark Knopfler is producing the Aztec's new l.p., and that Dire Straits' live album was titled 'Alchemy' - I won't go expecting miracles.

Another old punk priniciple: if I want good songs, I'll write them myself.   

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