Progressive rock is a genre in which rock abandoned the short song and made lengthy compositions that were often more suited for classical music and jazz. In addition, the music contained some classical and jazz elements. Progressive rock was most popular in the 70s, and some of the most popular bands were Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. One unusual band of the progressive rock era was Curved Air for two reasons. First, one of the lead instruments was a violin. Second, and not least of all, Curved Air was fronted by a woman, Sonja Kristina. It was rare for a female to be the lead singer in a progressive rock band. Sonja had also come from an unusual background in folk and musical theater. She was discovered in a London production of Hair.
During the 70s, Curved Air would have many lineup changes. The original lineup included violinist/keyboardist Darryl Way, guitarist/keyboardist Francis Monkman, and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa. Future members would include Eddie Jobson (who would also play with Roxy Music), and Stewart Copeland (who would go on to play with The Police). Curved Air initially broke up in 1973 and then broke up for good in 1976. Yet, one person remained constant—Sonja. She was the spokesperson and sex symbol of the band. Curved Air could survive many lineup changes, but if Sonja were to leave, there would be no Curved Air. Later bands, such as Blondie and The Pretenders, would have many lineup changes, yet a strong front woman remained constant throughout, and the band could not survive without that female presence.
When Curved Air broke up, Sonja would go on to marry Stewart Copeland, who then went on to bigger things as he formed The Police. Once a front woman, she now had found herself as a rock star’s wife. In addition, she went back to theater. In the twenty-first century, she found herself reforming Curved Air. Some old members, such as drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa and guitarist Kirby Gregory, are back along with some new members. In 2014, a new Curved Air album has been released called North Star.
In this candid conversation with Sonja, we look back at Curved Air’s history in the 70s up until the present. Not only do we look at her past as a singer, but her other roles as an actress, a rock star’s wife, or a croupier at the Playboy Club. I want to thank again Billy James from Glass Onyon PR for setting up this interview, but most of all I want to thank Sonja.
Jeff Cramer: How did you get interested in singing?
Sonja Kristina:I’d done a couple of little solos when I was in junior school. It was a Christmas concert and I sang “The Holly and the Ivy.” It looked like there were nods of approval from the teachers and that was just one verse. Then I learned guitar. It was classical guitar, but I learned a little bit.
Then I started learning songs from the 101 American Folk Songs book, and I learned to play the chords on the guitar. I started singing some of the songs I’d learned to people and they really liked what I did. My guitar teacher, Sister Ann, was a nun, and she got all teary, so I was obviously doing something right.
I just took lots of opportunities to sing songs to people, and I knew there were folks clubs in my local town and in the town where my school was. I also got lots of records from the record library with people like Odetta. Then in 1964, I discovered Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was a big influence on me, so I learned a lot of her songs as well.
I think it was an adrenaline rush to sing, to play the guitar, and to not forget any chords while I was singing. I’d also done quite a lot of poetry speaking at school when I was younger; in England it was called elocution lessons, so you learned to do public speaking. There were these little competitions. I’d won one competition, and I remember what it felt like to really hold the audience captive while I told the story of the poem, “We are Seven.” So words, casting a spell with words, and then casting a spell with a tune and telling stories and moving people. I began playing in lots of different folk clubs.
JC:I understand that Curved Air discovered you because you were playing a part in Hair.
SK:I wandered into my manager’s office, and I was a real hippie with bare feet, and I was out all night playing guitar at squat parties and just living a hippie bohemian sort of existence. He said, “Oh, there’s a show here that’s looking for people like you, and the advertisement said, ‘Hippies wanted, equity members only, must be good movers.’”
So I went and auditioned. We did lots and lots of auditions and recalls. Then I got into the show, and it was a fantastic experience ’cause we were working with Tom O’Horgan, the director from the La Mama Music Company in New York, and Julie Arenol, the choreographer, and Galt MacDermot were also there teaching us the songs. We spent more time working on being real on stage than actually working on the script. We learned the songs quite early on.
The show had to wait to open until theater censorship had been abolished in England. I think the day after it had been abolished, Hair opened and created a big stir in the theater world. I had a solo song; I sang a song about a Hells Angel with a white crash helmet who I’d lent $3.00. I was alone on the stage, and I went from a girl who just sang with a guitar and had a little bit of acting at school to a performer. I felt at home on the stage and uninhibited.
I think the boys who were in Curved Air were called Sisyphus originally, and they were in the pit band for another Galt MacDermot musical, Who the Murderer Was. That musical was happening when Hair was going on. I’d been in Hair over two years.
On January 1, 1970, I got a call from Roy, my manager, saying that this band wanted to meet me and try me out to join them. I was still in the show, and as soon as I heard their music, I felt that it was also very special, just like Hair was, as well as the acoustic folk music scene. I just felt very privileged moving into each new scene.
JC:I understand that Curved Air spent a lot of money on that picture disk—the debut album.
SK:When I joined Curved Air, they already had a publishing deal. Their manager was a photographer who’d offered to manage them, but he had some contracts in the business. He knew Lionel Conway, who was the head of Island Music, and he was impressed enough with the seeds of the songs that were developing, which weren’t really songs until I joined. So the publishing company paid our rent.
Curved Air’s first album Air Conditioning
We went into the studio and recorded our album, which Lionel Conway paid for. Then Lionel and Mark Hanau, the manager, took it to different record companies, and then we played a concert at the Roundhouse where quite a few labels came down to see us. After that, there was a bidding war, and Warner Brothers won. We were the first English band they had signed. They offered a lot of money. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was $99,000 or something like that over three years. That money went to the production company to reimburse the money they’d put into the band in the first year. It funded our tours, and after Warner released the album, it charted almost straight away. Our first big tour in big halls was supporting Black Sabbath.
JC:That must have been an interesting thing between the two unique sounds of Black Sabbath and Curved Air .
SK:Yeah, and the audience loved both, so we obviously had enough power. We were very loud; we had big Orange amps and really good amplification. Francis, our keyboard player and guitarist, and Darryl Way, the violinist, were experimenting with all the latest technology for effects and things. It was a very exciting show.
JC:We’ve talked about Hair and the folk clubs, but how did it feel now that you were the lead singer of this group Curved Air? Was there a difference?
SK:Well, it was just magical. My performance kind of evolved; the more gigs we did, I got more into bringing the songs to life, and I was getting into moving and dancing to the music. Then I started doing interviews; I was the spokesperson for the band.
We were all living together, and I didn’t want there to be any kind of barriers between me and the guys, so I was pretty much one of the boys. I wanted to be able to give them hugs, have play fights, and just be myself and get undressed or dressed for the show without having to hide away just so we could all be in one dressing room together. So, there were no boundaries; I melted whatever boundaries there would have been.
Curved Air as one
People have asked me, “What was it like? Wasn’t it terribly chauvinistic—all these men and rock music?” But it wasn’t for me ’cause I wasn’t playing the part of a girl particularly. I was just a hippie person. I didn’t wear dresses—I just wore trousers, flairs, and embroidered shirts or T-shirts in the very beginning. I just saw myself as a performer. I didn’t really sing about love at that time; it was all very mysterious kinds of stories about madness and abandonment and pain.
JC:In the second album, the band scored their first hit single “Back Street Luv.”
SK:We released “Back Street Luv” [To hear “Back Street Luv” click here.] when it first started getting played on the radio, then we did Top of The Pops. We’d already done another TV show before called Disco 2. The audience, which was mostly boys, started screaming when we came on stage, which was quite extraordinary. They were screaming like people screamed at the Beatles. When that single was in the charts, it was a novel experience.
We were also doing quite complex music in the show, as we were doing “Peace of Mind,” which Francis Monkman had written. It is a fantastic piece with lots and lots of musical changes and beautiful words that he wrote. We were also playing Darryl’s “Young Mother,” which was a very popular live number with lots of improvisation in it. On a musical level, the game was very high.
We then went to America. I think the first time we went was to promote the second album. We toured with some great bands, so we supported Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, and even BB King. We played with BB King in New Orleans in a very hot and humid barn type of stadium club. That was great; we could see all these performers and we were playing in big arenas.
JC:Was there a difference playing for more bigger people?
SK:It was very fulfilling. The music went down very well in America. They were cheering the solos that they liked, and they really seemed to appreciate music in a different way than they did in Europe. In Europe, they loved the whole thing, but the applause came at the end of the songs. In America, they cheered the solos, which was new.
JC:The third album, Phantasmagoria, was the last one that was close to the original. There were some lineup changes, but the third album’s lineup was close to the original lineup.
SK:The bass player seemed to change with every album. [Band members] Darryl [Way] and Francis [Monkman] had very different directions. Darryl was melody oriented, and apart from the classical things that Francis played, which he was very reverent about as far as popular music was concerned, it was very free form. The difference between them is that Darryl writes beautiful, simple, melodic song forms, and Francis is more eccentric and complex.
They were very moving in completely different directions musically, and as far as production was concerned, they couldn’t agree so they both each produced their own sides of Phantasmagoria. I think they had done this on the second album in that they did one side apiece. Once we’d finished Phantasmagoria, released it, and taken it out in America, they’d had enough of touring, so they decided that they were going to go off and concentrate on their own musical preferences and tastes. Darryl formed Darryl Way’s Wolf, and Francis joined the band Sky.
They did put on Phantasmagoria, one of the songs I had written in 1967 called “Melinda,” and that was nice because they were very wary of being thought of as a folk band. The very first time I met them they wanted their music to be kind of classical and rock rather than folk.
JC:I could picture “Melinda” being played in the early folk clubs. I saw a YouTube of where the camera is mostly focusing on you playing “Melinda” just with you strumming your acoustic guitar; it very rarely cuts to the other band members. [To see this video, click here.]
You continued for the next Curved Air album Air Cut, and you brought on Eddie Jobson?
SK:I wasn’t sure what to do, but the management we had then said that we should carry on with the band. They said I should get a new band together and make a new album, and then we would fulfill our obligation. We could get more advance from the record company, ’cause every time we delivered an album we got more money to put into the project. Darryl, Francis, and Florian, were okay with this, and Eddie Jobson was the natural successor to Darryl.
Air Cut album
His band, Fat Grapple, had supported Curved Air on two or three concerts in the year just before everybody split up. He was a Curved Air fan, and he played electric violin and keyboards. He showed Darryl that he could play “Vivaldi” backstage at one of the gigs. So, we chose him. We had to persuade him to leave his bunch of friends in Fat Grapple and said this was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. Then we auditioned for the guitarist and the drummer.
Kirby Gregory, whose playing with us again now, was just amazing. They were all really young, just a few years younger than me at that time. Eddie was seventeen, and I think Kirby was eighteen. They were both really good performers. The drummer was much more of a straightforward drummer than Florian was, so that meant that the drumming was different.
We all got together; we wrote materials together, and I put another one of my old songs from my folk days, “Elfin Boy,” which was about my very first passionate romance with a person, who actually was a rock star or was a popular singer himself. [To hear a one-minute sample of “Elfin Boy,” click here.] Eddie wrote the equivalent of Francis’s epic pieces; he wrote “Metamorphosis” and I wrote the words, and Eddie wrote the other ones.
We went out for a year and we played in Italy and all around England, and some European dates, and it was very well received.
I then wrote some songs and we went into the studio and recorded them for a new album. Our manager said that Warner hadn’t accepted the album so therefore we wouldn’t be paid the advance and the flow of money would stop.
Then Eddie was asked to join Roxy Music. I think he’d done some sessions for them. Then Kirby wanted to form a blues band with his friend Elmer Gantry. I don’t know if in America they’d heard of Elmer Gentry’s Velvet Opera, but that was his band and they were a very successful band. So Kirby and Elmer wrote some songs and became Stretch. That left me with no band for a while.
JC:What did you do in the time when there was no band?
SK:I had a child to support, so I had to go out and find ways of earning money. I first got a job as a sort of temp. I went to an agency, and I was put in this room full of girls. We were adding up figures in big ledgers and once we’d added them up— it was a TV rental company—they were going from pounds, shillings, and pence to digital money. We had to add all these things up, and then they were putting them on the computer. I did that for a bit; it was strange, but it was a good experience.
Then I saw that you could get paid to train as a croupier at the Playboy Club, so I thought I’d give that a try. I auditioned for the Playboy Club where you had to stand on a little stage in a swimsuit or a bikini and they would assess us, and then we had to do an intelligence test because we were auditioning to be croupier bunnies as opposed to cocktail bunnies. I did that for nine months.
I learned how to cut chips and deal cards and add up to twenty-one very fast—that was another kind of experience. I’d never been with so many women since school ’cause I went to a girls’ school. We had to sort of go and see the bunny mother before we went on to the floor. We had the ears and the tail, and we had matching Minnie Mouse shoes that went with our costumes, but we wore a little, tiny mini skirt and a little sort of bib thing to cover our cleavage so we didn’t distract the punters [gamblers in British Slang] with too much flesh. Also, it was working nights as well, so I was arriving home at 5:00 in the morning and then getting up again after lunch time.
JC:Did you ever meet Hugh Hefner?
SK:No, but Victor Lownes was around quite a lot. He ran the Park Lane Playboy and he would pick girls and invite them out to parties, and it was considered very rude to turn him down. I was never asked, but I just know that that was the case.
Then I got offered my old job back in Hair for three months; they were doing a short run of Hair, so I said, “Great, thank you very much.” I left the Playboy Club and did a run at the Queens Theater in the West End. I did some interviews, and the journalists were asking me if I thought that the hippie thing was passé by then, and this was in 1973. I said no and thought it was just as relevant.
When that run had finished, I moved into a flat in Hampstead. I met this lady at a party after the opening of The Rocky Horror Show and a lot of the cast crossed over from Hair to The Rocky Horror Show; they were similar kind of theatrical family. I noticed at this party that there was a kind of a cynicism about the hippie thing.
Then I heard this woman talking about cosmic this and bliss across, so I headed for her and we got to talking. I said “My marriage had broken up,” and she said, “Oh, you can come and stay with me.” So we got a cab, and on the way back I discovered that she lived in the exact same flat that Curved Air had lived in when we were all together in 1970, which was where Elaine Paige, Tim Curry, and other people had stayed before Curved Air moved in. It was just a total coincidence and that was lovely.
I always find that these things seem to be signs, ’cause there it was. Ian Copeland was living downstairs, so I got to know him, and Darryl called me up around about that time and said that he was being managed by Miles Copeland by just another coincidence. So Ian was living downstairs from me, underneath where Curved Air used to live. There were lots and lots of music business people who stayed at the house on 87 Redington Road. Hot Chocolate, Roy Harper, the band America, “Joe Jammer” from Led Zeppelin, people from Stone the Crows . . . they lived at the same flat.
Ian, who was downstairs, he booked me a tour supporting Cozy Powell and Country Joe & the Fish. I noticed that Country Joe was also very cynical about the hippie movement as well, having done Woodstock. He said that he was very disillusioned with what had happened, and everybody had become junkies and it wasn’t working. I found that very sad, but I still carried the torch inside of my spirit.
I did that tour, and then Miles put the original band back together again. We did a very successful tour of mainly universities and town halls, and there was a lot of excitement, but because of my experience in being female, and whatever sex object I was in the Playboy Club, I reinvented myself. I stayed with my friend Norma in that flat with her and her family; she was from New York and she wrote lyrics for the next two Curved Air albums with me.
Then Norma moved to Portobello Road, and I was staying there with her. We used to go to Portobello Market and buy lace dresses and beads and fringes and things, and so I put together this look that I felt was like a space gypsy—I had a jeweled G-string, so it was my impression of a fantasy futuristic kind of vamp, I suppose.
Sonja’s new look
JC: The next two albums would have Stewart Copeland as the drummer.
SK:Yeah, I first met Stewart in Ian’s flat downstairs from Norma, but then he became our tour manager. He didn’t make that much of an impression on me to start off with. I was actually in a mini relationship with Ian before I met Stewart.
The magic happened when Stewart came along for a rehearsal. That was when I thought he was really, really interesting.
We got together during that tour. After that tour, Francis and Florian didn’t want to carry on again, so Darryl talked me in to staying with him and we would get a new Curved Air with the musicians he had been working with who included Stewart. There was just all this linking of Copelands, and it sort of randomly all came together in a pattern. It also went back to exactly the same spot in London where Curved Air had begun to re-begin.
Curved Air with Stewart Copeland (1st left)
JC:I noticed that the songs on the albums that Stewart was on were shorter, down to three minutes. One of the songs, “Woman On a One Night Stand,” is going for a Janis Joplin type of feel.
SK:Well, that was a song I had written after my marriage broke up. It’s about going out and being free, and having one-night stands and not finding them very satisfying. There’s a little bit of chemistry when you first meet somebody, but when you went to bed together it didn’t sustain itself that long, so you moved on. I had some fun. [To hear “Woman On a One Night Stand” click here.]
The band was writing and they came mostly from blues background. Stewart was Stewart. His own songs were very straight forward. Mick Jacques and Tony Reeves were very sort of bluesy, and Mick was a very bluesy and wonderful guitarist, a much more bluesy sound than Kirby or Francis. When they weren’t really bluesy they were more rock and wild. I think Tony Reeves came from Greenslade or went to Greenslade, but I think he had something to do with John Mayall, so this new blood that was in this new band was pulling toward a different kind of rock and blues. Even my own song.
JC:This would last for two more albums. What happened at the end of it?
SK:I wasn’t as in love with this material as I had been of the original band’s writing and the Air Cut band’s writing. It was okay. There were songs that I actually put my lyrics to and that part of it was good and worked for me. It was just that the songs seemed to be so disparate and it didn’t really seem to have a direction anymore. Darryl’s contribution on Midnight Wire was more ballad-oriented, but then on Airborne he started trying to create these Curved Air epic tracks, such as “Moonshine” and “Juno.” They were more kind of Curved Air, but they had Darryl’s lyrics.
I wasn’t crazy about singing other people’s lyrics at all except Francis’s. On the first and second album and Phantasmagoria Francis wrote some very clever lyrics that I did enjoy singing. But that was the exception. I didn’t enjoy so much Darryl’s lyrics, and the songs didn’t move me so much to perform. Yes, it was disparate but our very last song was a cover of “Baby Please Don’t Go,” which we released as single. We did that live and it went down really well live.
We had a girl keyboard player in the last few months of gig—Alex Richman. She’s a good player, and she used to sing as well. It was strange for me to have another woman in the band. I can’t quite remember how she got involved except that we needed a keyboard player, or we experimented with having a keyboard player.
The new material wasn’t as definitive as the other Curved Air, as the best of Curved Air’s writing. Then punk was coming along and Miles decided to concentrate on punk, and our show wasn’t as cost effective. We weren’t selling as many albums as we had in the past because the way everything was changing in the music industry and the influence that was coming through.
Once again, we didn’t have our wages paid anymore. Both Stewart and I were very broke and we were living in a squat in Mayfair with Stewart’s brother Ian. We moved around to different places for the next two or three years.
JC:Around that time, Stewart would go on to The Police.
SK:Yeah, that’s right. He called Sting down from Newcastle. We’d been taken to see Last Exit, that was Sting’s band, by Phil Sutcliffe, who was a fan of Last Exit as well as Curved Air; he was a young journalist at the time.
We both really got Sting. He was very charismatic even though he was just playing in a college canteen or whatever—there wasn’t a big stage or anything. He had the voice, he had the presence, he was the only thing that was really memorable about that band. Then when Stewart wanted to form his own band he wanted a three piece; he was inspired by the Jimi Hendrix model.
He was also inspired by punk. We had free time, and we were going down to The Roxy where the very first punk bands in England were playing—people like Billy Idol and The Damned, X-ray Spex, and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, which is one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. There were influences. The very first rehearsals and writing for The Police happened in our big, squat place. Stewart hadn’t done Klark Kent quite then.
After The Police had done a few gigs, Stewart and I moved a few more times. Then he did some recordings of his own stuff and invented this persona called Klark Kent, and this was before The Police had had any hits.
Just before “Roxanne” broke, I was so broke that I went into a second-hand record shop to sell my albums. I noticed that they were advertising for staff, but the staff had to have a first-class honest degree or have succeeded in something, so I asked, “Well, does being a rock star count as having succeeded at something?”
It was the Record and Tape Exchange Empire, which is now really big; there are all sorts of clothing exchanges and computer exchanges in London. It was really cool working there; it was fun buying from the public and selling to the public. You really sort of found the value of things because the longer things sat on the shelf the cheaper they got. When people would come in to the shop and say “Sonja, what are you doing here?” I would say, “I’m working for a living, what do you think?” So I did that for quite a while.
JC:I saw an interview where Elvis Costello interviews The Police. I’m sure you know this, but from watching that interview, I noticed that Sting wasn’t the only strong personality in that band; Stewart was quite a lively guy.
SK:Oh yeah, and [Police guitarist] Andy [Summers] too in some ways.
JC:You also did a self-titled solo album in 1980?
SK:Yeah, and that’s just been re-released. It’s getting some good reviews after all this time. It seems that people really like it. At the time it came out, the record company collapsed and few people actually heard it when it came out. I re-released it a few years ago, but then the original record company, Chopper Records, wanted to put together a package of all the Chopper material now, and so we did a deal with them to put out this album again. It’s nice that people appreciate what I was doing then because at that time I was just channeling my version of Curved Air meets punk. I was working with this band called Sonja Kristina’s Escape; that was when we were sort of developing the materials. That was the material that was on the Sonja Kristina solo album.
JC:After the solo album I know you married Stewart. What did you do during that time? You sort of laid low before we would hear these occasional reunions with Curved Air.
SK:I was having babies. I moved out to the country and took advantage of not being on the road, but money was coming in from The Police once they’d been to America, and “Roxanne” had picked up, and everything was very, very different.
Married couple Sonja Kristina and Stewart Copeland
Stewart’s money started coming in, and I didn’t have to work. That was when I started doing some fringe theater. I did another show in the West End—The French Have a Song for It—and we toured with it. It was really nice show. It was an English translation of Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf songs. In that show there was an actress, Amanda Barrie, who was well known in England, and Helen Shapiro, who had been very well known as a young pop singer in the 60s. I enjoy theater, so it was nice to be able to take the time to do it. I did a musical on TV, which had been written by Dave Greenslade called Curriculee Curricula; that was a very strange and surreal piece. That’s what I was doing.
We bought our first house and were getting it decorated while Stewart was away. He had a very bad habit of calling when I was in the middle of a little fringe play, saying, “Sonja, I’m on this heavenly island and I’m lonely. Why don’t you come out and join me?” And I’d say, “No, I can’t. I’m in the middle of this play.”
The wives didn’t go out to many Police shows; we just went out altogether, all three wives, at particular times. The first time we went out was to Key West in Florida where we had a little bit of a holiday, and then we went out when they played Japan. We went out when they were touring Egypt and Greece. When they were out on stage and we wives were just sort of hanging out at the back and I could hear the roar of the crowd, I was thinking, “Oh, I miss that. I miss doing that.” So the fire was still there. It was still also a wonderful, strange, and crazy experience sitting on the sidelines while this band just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
Curved Air had been pretty big in terms of where we’d played, and we had chart albums, but The Police just got so big and they were playing the big stadiums. I went to see them in London a few years ago and was part of their entourage. I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve had many lucky breaks.
JC: You would do with a mini reunion with Curved Air in the 90s before Curved Air reformed in 2008 for good.
SK:I did The Acid Folk in the 90s. I was on tour in England. I wanted to get back out there again, so I sort of went back to the beginning in a way, but we kind of mixed it with psychedelia and playing acoustically in the new acoustic clubs. Then we played electric in the psychedelic clubs. Then we went all round England and that went really, really well. We were just playing small venues; some folk clubs and small rock clubs, but we would pull a good crowd. I had a great band.
Darryl had been sort of saying, “Let’s get back together again.” We did one gig in 1990, which was when I was doing The Acid Folk, and everything as well. In fact, The Acid Folk people came to those gigs. We got together because we were supposed to be doing a TV show, but then the TV show didn’t happen so everybody melted away again.
Sonja’s Acid Folk album
I was with The Acid Folk for six or seven years from 1996, and Paul Sax and Robert Norton from that time had been in Curved Air for the last five years; the violinist and the keyboard player were discovered back then.
Darryl asked me when I was busy working on a creative project, MASK, with Marvin Ayres, but I didn’t want to divide my creativity with getting together with Curved Air and be with my project MASK, or our project, Marvin and I.
But then we released our second album with MASK. Marvin started going back to his own music again. I was then mentally and creatively free to accept the idea of reforming Curved Air. It was Darryl who asked me, so I said, “Okay.” All the original members met up, and Francis dropped out because he still didn’t really like Darryl’s music. That aspect wasn’t going to work.
Darryl decided that a good way to get back into it, and also to re-claim a lot of the songs, which were copyrighted to Warners, that we would re-record the old Curved Air repertoire. We were going to play along with a couple of other pieces that he’d written—an instrumental piece and a couple of songs—but we would do it the way that he thought they always should have sounded.
I recorded in my studio, and Florian in his, and then we sent files to Darryl, who then put it all together. Darryl played everything else and then got a guitarist. Then we went out and it went really well. One of our first gigs was the Isle of Wight Festival. The reception was really good because people hadn’t seen us for a long time.
Darryl stayed with us for a year, and then he decided again that it was too stressful to tour. I brought in Paul Sax from my wonderful The Acid Folk band and Robert Norton, our keyboard player, to replace Darryl who had been playing very simple keyboards and violin but he couldn’t play both together. Now we had wonderful violin and keyboards, and so the sound is much, much richer than any other lineup has been and the potential was much greater. We have the same bass player, Chris Harris—he was working with Darryl on some other projects before. Darryl asked him to be part of the new Curved Air, so he’s still with us and he’s been the longest lasting bass player who’s ever been with Curved Air. He’s been there since 2008 so he’s been with us for six years.
JC: I understand there has been a new album out, North Star.
Curved Air’s new album North Star
SK:I’m very, very pleased. The album has only been out a few days, but the people who have already bought it are saying really lovely things about it, and they’re enjoying the album. I’m very proud of it too because it took a lot of work to get it together. We don’t live near each other, and we had to kind of accommodate everybody for periods of time in order to get the album into its finished form.
When we first talked about recording an album together, we decided that there would be no hierarchy; we would share all the publishing, and everybody would be allowed to contribute to the compositions. It wasn’t like one person’s would lay down how the song should be played; it would be sort of a group decision, a mixture between improvising and writing. Paul Sax came up with his own lines for the pieces, and everybody contributed lots of sketches of songs and pieces, but no words because I wanted to write the words.
The lyrics for these songs . . . I took melodies that were already there in the original draft, which meant that they were melodies that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of myself if I’d been writing myself. But I found words to fit with those melodies, and other ones I tried to do something that would fit on top of everything that had already been created or was being created. I messed around with it until I felt that I could feel the words and the music.
[Guitarist] Kit Morgan left after we’d started recording, and we were beginning to get into overdubs and production. He had a lot of problems in his personal life. He was kind of dispirited, and he didn’t want to be involved with the band. So we then asked Kirby if he would come back; he was always our first choice, because we had been in touch with him and he had actually done a guest spot on one of our gigs on two of his songs that he’d written. It was just the right time for Kirby too—he had a full-time job, but he wanted to go back to being part of a band and touring and everything, so he has been getting leave to play with us. He came in and replayed all the parts that Kit had done. He kept some of the themes, which were part of the song, but he completely put his own slant on the songs.
We actually recorded in one take two of the cover versions—“Across the Universe” and “Chasing Cars”—that we did on the new album. I had this idea of a Steve Reich kind of repetitive motif, so that was the basis of “Colder Than a Rose in Snow,” which was a re-record in a way. I had recorded the song with The Acid Folk and on the Sonja Kristina album.
New Curved Air
Then we finished producing the album ourselves, which was brave, but Robert Norton, the keyboard player, has sort of been our in-house engineer. During the writing process, he’d saved mixes of where we were at with the writing and sent them all out to us. Everybody heard everything at every stage, and everybody’s opinion counted. It was the best that everybody could make it and to satisfy everybody’s standards of their own playing and of how the songs should be.
JC:Now with the new album and going back on tour again, how does it feel to be back again?
SK:I mean, we’ve been at it now for six years and we’ve played the big Prague festivals. We played Glastonbury, we played Isle of Wight, we played in Europe and Japan, but we haven’t played the States yet—we’re just we’re waiting for the right offer out there. Through Facebook, people say, “Come to Brazil,” “Come . . .” We want to go to these places, but the business has to be right. There are six of us, and we don’t have someone paying our wages; we have to be self-sufficient, so that’s these days. We put our own money into it. We have to be self-sufficient.
JC:What’s it like being back on stage?
SK:It’s great. Our band is made for festivals because they’re so dynamic and they’re such good performers that the big stage loves them. Also, we like playing in more intimate venues where the crowd is pressed up against the front of the stage. Everyone in the band is very committed to Curved Air. [You can hear the current Curved Air perform, “It Happened Today,” by clicking here.]
JC:Any other plans for the future beyond the new album and going on tour?
SK:I’ve been asked to do some other collaborative projects. In fact, Dave Cousins just said that he’d like to write some songs with me. I’d like to do some theater at some point, maybe a play or a musical, but it would need to be something exciting and new, but I’m sure it’ll come along when it’s meant to. I just would like some time to explore the theatrical side of my vocational aspirations.
Sonja Kristina Today