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Lead Lines
from Guitar Magazine, December 1998
by Rick Batey

"I feel I've started to relearn the guitar," enthuses Roddy Frame. "It's
a great feeling to be picking up new things again - the odd chord, a few little licks. I'm really getting back into it more than ever."

Sixteen long years ago a too-young-to-shave singer-songwriter emerged from Glasgow's edgy, jangly, soul-soaked music scene with a stunningly precocious set of tunes and a head full of Django, Charlie Byrd and Wes Montgomery; now, the 34-year old's rediscovery of his beloved instrument symbolizes the start-again vibe that suffuses latest LP The North Star. The singing and writing is as passionate as ever, but there's a clarity and confidence that implies the future could hold many more top songs. And some new, fleet- fingered pickage...

"I bought a couple of nice guitars," explains Roddy, "and I don't want to waste them! My right-hand style was always this terrible hotchpotch of plectrum and fingers, but now I've got the ultimate acoustic - a Martin D-45 - and I'm learning fingerpicking properly. I never realised Chet Atkins stuff was so complicated - but when you've got a great guitar, it makes you want to do it justice. I do a wicked version of Freight Train..."

The pearl-encrusted D-45 joins a small stable of cool guitars - including the famous '80s trademark all-gold Gibson ES-295 - but this time around Frame found freedom by limiting his options to just three: the Martin, a late-'50s/early-'60s bamboo and copper-coloured Gretsch Country Club and a stock '54 Telecaster, the last two directed through a Vox AC30.

"I was stripping things back in every way," he confirms. "I can't record with the ES-295 these days, it's too loud, too thick, too forceful... but the Telecaster was a real revelation. It almost had a natural built-in compressor: the sound kind of dips and then swells up again, all from the fingers and the metal and the wood... it's just so incredibly pure."

Just as a new guitar can go hand-in-hand with a playing breakthrough, so the long-overdue abandonment of the Aztec Camera name signals a new age for Roddy Frame.

"A lot of things in my life pointed towards dropping that veil, stepping out and becoming a solo artist," he muses, "not least moving from a big record company like Warner Brothers to one like Independiente. It might seem cosmetic - after all, everyone's always known that Aztec Camera was always essentially me - but I think the name is very important. The change even affected the way I mixed this album; it's more of a solo artist's record, more personal, more spiritual. I think the symbolic shift in name actually filtered in quite deep."

"It was sometimes frustrating in the early days always being judged as some kind of precocious prodigy - but then as you get older it turns around, and you start to worry, 'Is it OK being in my 30s and still making music?' The tragic burnout syndrome is so sad, and that's why I've really come to admire people like Springsteen and albums like Tunnel of Love. It's not just about continuing making music, it's about carrying on making a life for yourself."

"Writing rebellious boy-meets-girl teenage love songs is one thing - but when you're 34 the emotional tones are a lot more subtle. Finding the tools to write about that in a pop or rock idiom without losing the dynamics... that's really difficult."   

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