NEW YORK — We're all students of our intuition, but some of us learn better than others. Roddy Frame is a 19-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist who intends to follow his as far as it takes him. With his band, Aztec Camera, Frame performs a folky, refreshing band of pop that's catching on with fans and peers alike: asked in a recent interview who he considered his primary competition today, Elvis Costello answered "Roddy Frame"—and then took Aztec Camera on the road with him.
"I try to embrace the simple and intuitive," he says, slumped on a couch in a "lived-in" hotel room randomly decorated with empty Heineken and Budweiser bottles. "My music is really very traditional, based on classic singer-songwriters — Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Neil Young. I like wordplay, cliches, Jack Kerouac's speed-raps, childish naivete. I don't want to be too cynical."
That's right. Aztec's sound resonates with the flowered, youthful optimism of gentler '60s psychedelia, more Love than the Doors. The band could loosely fit into a burgeoning neo-folk movement along with new guitar-based groups from both sides of the Atlantic: Big Country, the Go-Betweens, Weekend, Violent Femmes, Dream Syndicate.
For Frame, the folkie obsession began three years ago when he made his first child-prodigy singles for Postcard Records, a willfully obscure label based in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland. "Postcard was really against the whole British funk thing," Frame recalls. "We were all into the Velvet Underground, Dylan, jangly guitars. Everyone took delight in having the weirdest guitar. If you had a guitar Lou Reed was seen with in a photo from 1969, that was great!"
Frame soon fled the insularity of the Glasgow scene, though, and moved to London where, last year, the band recorded their first album, High Land, Hard Rain (Sire). The album's songs reflect Frame's search for broader horizons. London, he says, has made him tougher, more aware of competition, of the need for writing songs accessible to listeners. "The Bugle Sounds Again," "Pillar to Post," "Back on Board" — three of the album's best tracks — put the first-grope feelings into words and music.
Frame, however, declines to be made a spokesman for young men starting out in life. He doesn't want to give anyone any advice. The songs, he says, are impressions, based on his own experience.
"I think there's more substance in personal songs, love songs—I think they inspire people more. Who wants to sit around unemployed in some awful industrial area like Birmingham and hear about how bad it is on the streets of London?"
Not Roddy Frame, apparently. He's getting ready to abandon those streets for a cottage in the country. Before he does, though, he'll realize a life-long dream and see America, at least through the windows of a tour bus, as Aztec Camera opens up Costello's summer U.S. tour. He'll be on the road, a little bit like Jack Kerouac, following his feelings, going to where intuition leads him.