MUSIC / The Roddy and Ryuichi roadshow: When Roddy Frame wanted to make his new album with Ryuichi Sakamoto, he had to wait in line. Giles Smith reports

WHEN an album titled Dreamland is released on 17 May, Roddy Frame, the singer and songwriter who trades as Aztec Camera, will probably experience a glow of pleasure - partly because Dreamland is the most consistent album he has made, and partly because its release has been subject to more delays than the M25. As long ago as last August, Frame was in the Berkshire countryside, mixing these tracks. What kept them?

Hook End Manor is an 18th-century red-brick pile, with wooden staircases, panelled walls, landscaped gardens - the kind of place where only members of the aristocracy, chairmen of oil companies and rock stars get to live. Nowadays it belongs to the producers Langer & Winstanley, who rent it out as a residential studio, but during the 1970s, it was the property of Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour. Gilmour sold it on when his wife grew weary of the ghosts.

Or so the story goes. Frame had been there for a fortnight and hadn't seen anything spectral - though he did confess there were one or two anxious late-night moments when he wished he was part of a 12-piece salsa band, or in a large male voice choir - anything other than a solo artist, sitting up in bed wondering what that creaking was.

But on a hot day in late summer, it was hard to imagine anywhere less spooky. Tea was served on the lawn, beside the badminton court; a large Golden Labrador padded about, occasionally wandering to the studio to shove its head inside a bucket of Winalot, left for it just inside the door; the lawns flowed down to the woods; the birds sang, etc.

The studios at Hook End sit inside some adapted out-buildings. Frame leant across the desk with his mixing engineer, Julian Mendelsohn, an old hand at the game whom Frame had selected for his ability to operate fast and without fuss. They worked on a track called 'Birds', Mendelsohn's hands moving quickly over the desk, sitting Frame's voice in among a broad spread of percussion, synthesisers and acoustic guitars. Afterwards, they played back a tape of three already-completed mixes, similarly rich-sounding and clean-lined. Frame stood on the raised platform at the back of the room, listening with ill-concealed glee and little suspecting it would be the best part of a year before anyone else got to hear this stuff.

The album was delayed while Frame attached a further song, at the request of his record company. (The one he added later was 'Dream Sweet Dreams', an up-tempo number with a pounding Motown backbeat, just released as a single.) You can hardly blame the company for their caution, their desire that this album should come out right. Last summer, Aztec Camera had an astonishing non-hit with 'Spanish Horses', a storming song for flamenco guitars with an unfeasibly catchy chorus and (more remarkably) an unfeasibly catchy verse. It hung disconsolately in the chart's lowest reaches and then limped away, unable to capitalise even on people's heightened susceptibility to things Spanish during the Barcelona Olympics.

The advantage of the delay is that the new Aztec Camera album now emerges at a time of year to match its mood. Dreamland is a summer record, largely thanks to the touch of its producer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose methods seem to thicken the air in which the songs travel. Frame is chiefly lauded for his song-writing, for lyrics which tend to pick at words more heatedly than is normal in pop. But another of his talents is finding unlikely contexts for himself. Knife was smoothly produced by Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler; Love was a kind of American soul album, full of chattering drum machines and clipped guitars; Stray had some lush ballads, but just as many moments of guitar mayhem. For the new album, Frame has found another tangent to go off on, placing himself in the hands of a Japanese composer probably best known for his film music (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky).

'I liked what he did when he was in the Yellow Magic Orchestra, and I also liked that album where he plays the music from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence on piano. That's where you realise that the atmosphere around his compositions is actually in the writing - it's got nothing to do with synthesisers. Eventually we met in a club in Ibiza, at the height of that balearic beat, E-culture business. And he knew about Aztec Camera, which surprised me. We started talking about working together.'

These days, if you want to make a record with Sakamoto, you have to get in line. Frame waited, and then waited some more. Finally, somewhere between writing two soundtracks, completing a solo album and composing and arranging the music for the opening ceremony at the Barcelona Olympics, Sakamoto found four free weeks. Frame packed up a bunch of cassettes of his new songs, flew to New York and checked into the Mayflower Hotel.

'Ryuichi's unlike a lot of producers in that he doesn't work from the drums upwards. Often he would set up a little percussive loop and you would build the entire song around that. So that everything you played was in response to that percussive lick. And more often than not, he would take that percussive loop out altogether in the end, or it would just become a tiny feature of the track, when in fact it was the backbone. It just means the tracks have this suppleness which wouldn't be there if you'd been playing to the drums all the way along.'

'He's got this reputation as a boffin, a professor of music who sits in front of a computer screen. But he's more intuitive than that, and he's always trying to corrupt what he knows. Halfway through the day in the studio, he will stop and play some hip hop or some house for 10 minutes, and then go back to what he was doing. He's always trying to trip himself up like that, and to discover new things. Just before we worked together he'd been out in Borneo, I think, with a DAT machine, looking for new sounds.'

Sakamoto had Frame experimenting with lower keys, 'dropping my voice so I could sit real close on the mike and get a real intimacy that you don't ordinarily get'. Frame says his days there rapidly fell into a pattern. Into the studio in the early afternoon; out again at around 2am; straight across to a deli off Time Square for a turkey sandwich ('because it was possible to get one at two in the morning, and for no other reason'); a cab-ride back to the Mayflower; an hour or so listening to Shabba Ranks on a ghetto-blaster; bed. It was a period of brisk efficiency, before the delays set in. But the album is, at least, worth its wait.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor