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The Tom Cruise of Pop
from Record Mirror, March 1988
by Johnny Dee

The sun is out, the sky is blue, it's beautiful and so are you. Well, according to Roddy Frame anyway. He's sitting underneath a skylight in the restaurant at the Victoria And Albert museum, munching on an egg and cress submarine roll, full of the joys of spring, philosophising about love, politics, mountain bikes and hairspray.

Roddy is feeling positively upbeat. His new single, 'How Men Are', has done better in the charts than his last few releases and he's off to Spain with his band tomorrow morning. Offering me his last cigarette he tells me how he'd like to meet Chelsea and Scotland winger Pat Nevin and points to the similarities between soccer and Aztec Camera live.

"Those London shows, it was like, 5:0," he says, a canny grin flickering across his face. "You come off after the first encore and you get a penalty, and it's 'wow - right in the back of the net! See you London, goodnight!'."

Aztec Camera (in various shapes and forms) has filled the air with protest, love and soul songs for seven years now. From the purple prose of the first singles to the precise pop vocabulary of the new long player, 'Love; Roddy's Aztec Camera has changed from an artistic curiosity to a chart contender. He's moved with the times and followed his changing musical taste.

"You can only go on listening to Velvet Underground LPs for a certain amount of time."

Roddy has always worn his romantic and political leanings on his sleeve. The two sides collide in 'How Men Are'.

"All the women around me were always saying things like, 'all the bad things that have happened to me have been because of men'," he explains.

"Women are denied chances and abused by men all the time. It's so obvious what inspired me to write it, you can see these things around you all the time. It seems to me sometimes that if you want to get on in business or whatever that it's quite important to have a dick and if you haven't got one you've got to try a lot harder."

Do you think a man can write a feminist song?

"I think that's the point of 'How Men Are'. That there's a man singing it. Someone said it would be a good song for Randy Crawford. Generally I think anyone can sing it - ideas are ideas."

Have you always been aware of male domination?

"I wasn't aware there was such a thing as sexism until I was much older. I've always had a gut reaction to it."

'How Men Are' isn't a preaching song. It offers the answer - love. Is this, along with compassion and sharing, Roddy Frame's ideal?

"It's common sense really. If I have two sandwiches and you're hungry then I should give you one of them. You don't have to be Karl Marx to know that."

So, when did you first fall in love?

'When I was about three years old. She was the same age and lived a couple of doors down the street. She was a Catholic and I was a Protestant and we were split up when we were five and went to different schools. We were very much in love, it was all very romantic."

Have you always been romantic?

"Life's too short not to be. I had a go at being a post-Marxist materialist for a while but I didn't really cut it."

Have you ever been a 'Jack the Lad'?

"I have been a bit, but I was never exactly 'cock of the north' or anything like that. I think I am a bit 'laddy'. I'm certainly not an intellectual."

With the new LP there's been a lot of talk about Roddy Frame finally maturing. Yet Roddy has always been worldly and more aware than others of his age. At 17 he recorded his first single, 'Just Like Gold', a song which, admittedly, snuggled in a soppy, romantic world but showed Roddy already sussed about love - be it requited or torn.

Roddy: "I think it has a lot to do with having older brothers. You get to hear about things like girls, pubs, sex and fights earlier."

After a period on the independent labels Postcard and Rough Trade, Aztec Camera signed to a major company. With that move came hits, TV shows and a full-time job. He recorded his first LP in a Christian rock studio in Eastbourne; 'Love' in Times Square, New York. From Eastbourne to New York ...

What would the younger Roddy think of all this? The slick production, the perfection...

"He'd probably have slogged it. He slogged everything didn't he? I think the new Roddy Frame is better."

Why?

"He makes better records, writes better songs, does better shows, he's got a better band."

Have you finally entered the world of showbiz?

"Well, I go around treading the boards don't I?"

You seem more self-confident on stage now, arrogant even.

"I've always been arrogant, it's just that now I've got more to be arrogant about. I've got a shit hot band and I'm standing in front of them. I think I've got every right to be arrogant. I'm proud of what I'm doing."

In case you weren't around to remember, let me remind you that the younger Roddy Frame was a timid creature live. He used to wear tassled suede jackets and hide behind a floppy, lank and greasy fringe.

"That sort of thing can be quite appealing though," he says defensively. "That bloke from the Mighty Lemon Drops, he does that but he's quite cute isn't he?"

Mr. Frame used to have spots, too. Nowadays he bears a fine resemblance to Tom Cruise (of 'Top Gun' fame), with his short hair and clean appearance. There's no way that Andy Kershaw is going to stop this bloke in the street and give him a free trial pack of Clearasil.

"Tom Cruise - he's quite good looking isn't he? Do I really look like him?"

Vaguely, but there were times when frankly, he was a mess. More of a Mickey Rourke in 'Barfly'.

"I remember the first time I went to America. I arrived in San Francisco minutes before this TV show. I was really dirty, I hadn't changed or shaved for a couple of days, I had oil on my hands and stuff. I arrived at the television studio and straight away they said, 'and now Roddy Frame from Aztec Camera'. I walked on and it was like a little discotheque situation with glitter and tinsel hanging behind me. The kids in the audience didn't know what to make of me. They were all wearihg designer suits and I was standing there 'manky' in the middle of this showbiz thing."

Roddy still hasn't perfected his TV appearances. In Japan recently, a presenter asked him if he liked Japanese girls. "Do you like Benson & Hedges?" he replied. They just thought it was his warped Scottish humour. At least these days he looks presentable he even admits to wearing make-up for TV and photo sessions.

Why?

"I like cosmetics. There are new ones coming out all the time. In America they have this hairspray called 'Slick' that smells like lemonade. It's brilliant, packaged really well and it looks nice on."

You're into make-up then?

"I like hanging out with the girls and talking about cosmetics, yeah."

Have you ever worn lipstick?

"Yes, I went a bit overboard with the pictures on the 'Knife' album. I used to do a bit of drag actually."

Did you ever go out shopping for women's clothes?

"No, I used to go shopping and I'd say 'God, that's a really fantastic top there'. People would say, 'but Roddy, that's a woman's top'. It didn't bother me, I quite like some women's clothes."

They fit better don't they?

"Especially if you've a slight build."

As we leave the building and walk out into the fresh spring air, Roddy takes me to one side and whispers "give me a good write-up. Mention lots of words like artist and genius."

Roddy used to be the boy wonder; now he's more of a pop superman, spreading the gospel of love. He is an artist and some do regard him as a genius. But basically, he's a pop star. A bloody good pop star.   

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