CURVED AIR have always been special – a progressive rock band poised between classical music and folk with a female singer who could have given any riot grrrl a good run for her money and be the epitome of delicacy. Maybe that’s the reason nobody considered the ensemble to be dinosaurs – never! Which makes their 2008’s return – 30 years since the band’s break-up and after a couple of brief reunions – more than welcome. Now, their ranks boast three original members: vocalist Sonja Kristina, violinist Darryl Way and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa who recently reworked their classics on the new album, “Reborn”, and embarked on successful tour. Quite a reason to engage Darryl and Sonja in a little conversation.
– It’s not the first AIR reunion. So what do CURVED AIR mean to you?
Sonja: I am proud of the legacy of CURVED AIR. Reviewers write that this is a unique band whose music was and still is exciting individual and timeless. I never imagined in my twenties that I would return to perform these songs in the distant future. Everywhere I go, there I meet people who know of and remember the band fondly. They had the poster on the wall, wore the T-shirt , bought “Back Street Luv” (smiles) and are pleased they will be able to see us play live again.
Darryl: CURVED AIR represents the beginning of my career in the music business, so in some respects it’s come full circle. CURVED AIR was the key that opened up other doors for me, such as film and television sound track scoring as well as classical and operatic composition.
– Why is it now that you decided to reform the band?
Darryl: It’s either now or never!
Sonja: As for me, I had a few months to concentrate on and devote energy to recording and revisiting the CURVED AIR material. My time is very full. I am still flying, stimulated and inspired and being carried along in the momentum of ongoing creative projects.
– How does it feel to play together again? And how long do you plan to stay together this time?
Darryl: It feels good to be playing the old material again, which I have to say, seems as fresh now as it did when it was first written and performed.
Sonja: It has been an enjoyable experience. The relations, musical and personal between all the members, old and new, is easy and fluent. The music sounds fresh and full.
Darryl: We have a couple of new members, Andy Christie on guitar and Chris Harris on bass, who are excellent players who also bring a fresh aproach to the music.
Sonja: It is hard to say how long we will stay together, but I feel it is likely we will play festivals next year and major cities internationally. I am also committed to performing and recording with composer and producer Marvin Ayres as MASK.
– Did you try to get Francis Monkman in for this reunion?
Darryl: Yes, we did, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the same vision as the rest of us as to how it should be aproached and wasn’t prepared to compromise, so our ways had to part.
Sonja: Francis was in at the beginning but had extremely different ideas from Darryl about how he wanted this new CURVED AIR to prepare and develop. Eventually, he withdrew. We continued with Darryl at the helm as our musical director and producer.
– Darryl, why did you and Francis, two classical musicians, decide to tap into the rock nerve?
Darryl: It was the Sixties London, and it was the happening medium at that time.
– By the way, did you ever consider violin as a rock instrument?
Darryl: No, I didn’t and still find it a difficult istrument to fit into the genre.
– Were you inspired by Jimmy Page’s bow work on the guitar to apply this approach to the violin?
Darryl: No, but I found the violin envy a bit ironic, because most violinists have deep seated guitar envy.
– Who did you feel closer to back in the Seventies – to David Cross of KING CRIMSON or, for instance, Dave Swarbrick?
Darryl: Neither. It was only Gerry Goodman from FLOCK and MAHAVISHNU [ORCHESTRA] for me and, perhaps, Jean Luc Ponte a little later on.
– Sonja, what about you? Shifting from folk to, let’s call it so, progressive rock, who did you feel closer to – RENAISSANCE’s Annie Haslam or, say, Maddy Prior?
Sonja: Neither. I liked rock bands, THE DOORS, [THE ROLLING] STONES, TRAFFIC and, later, Janis Joplin. I didn’t relate to folk rock bands, strangely enough. I liked the CHIEFTANS instrumental music and solo singer songwriters. And I liked Sandy Denny better on her own than with FAIRPORT CONVENTION.
– The involvement in “Hair” notwithstanding, was it difficult for you to switch to rock mode?
Sonja: “Hair” was very much about rock energy. I learned to let go, use the whole stage and relate to an oudience. I can be very relaxed and at home on the stage, in an adrenalin-fuelled focused way. I also feel performance is a kind of shamanism, a tribal synergetic mass ritual.
– There were other rock bands using classical music but “Vivaldi” still seems the wildest piece of all. How did it come to be – and why, of all the classical composers, Vivaldi?
Darryl: He was introduced to me when I was very young and I fell in love with his music – long before “The Four Seasons” became as popular as it is today. “Vivaldi” was my homage to him.
– The band’s music included everything from classical music to reggae. Was there anything that you considered off-limits in terms of style?
Darryl: No, not really, although jazz was really not my thing, but even so, Francis’s compositions were influenced by some of the jazz that was flying around at that time, like THE MIKE GIBBS BAND.
Sonja: I think the different writers in the changing line-ups brought in different influences. Darryl and Francis were prolific and experimental and wrote separately. There was no agenda on style, it was an exploration of moods, themes and atmospheres within a rock format.
– To what extent, in your opinion, did your great looks contribute to the band’s success?
Sonja: Hmm…. How can I answer that? I don’t think it was looks as much as chemistry – as in any relationship. My female presence probably gained extra press interest. But the music was powerful. The brilliance of the players and dynamic shows all contributed to our success.
– Unlike most of the female-fronted groups, AIR lyrical palette was immense. What did inspire you to write lyrics such as “Marie Antoinette” or, say, “Propositions”?
Darryl: Sorry, I didn’t write those lyrics.
Sonja: The Sixties were revolutionary times. “Marie Antoinette” was a symbol of social divisions that create unrest and the catalyst for change and evolution. With “Propositions” I think Francis made a start on the song then I played with the concept of annihilation. Wordplay out of which some kind of sense emerged.
– Speaking of destruction… What are your memories of supporting such unlikely – in terms of style – band as BLACK SABBATH?
Darryl: It was our first major tour and the first time we’d played to such big crowds, therefore it was very exciting and, funilly enough, we all got on really well with BLACK SABBATH, me especially with Ozzy, as we were both working class lads who enjoyed a pint.
Sonja: [It was a] surprise that the audiences genuinely enjoyed both bands. BLACK SABBATH were amusing traveling companions. Into black magic and practical jokers. Similarly anarchic to my friends The Social Deviants – HAWKWIND, THE PINK FAIRIES and the London chapter of the Hell’s Angels, The White Panthers etcetera – all who I knew from my Ladbroke Grove pre-“Hair” days. I was a barefoot hippie student and was absorbed into the arty political counterculture of 1967 London.
– Recently, you took part in the MOTORHEAD tribute album. Are you a fan of Lemmy’s?
Sonja: Lemmy and I have crossed paths since the late Sixties. I met him amongst the “International Times” and “Oz” community, I think.
– There’s been AIR with and without Darryl Way. What, in your eyes, does Darryl bring into CURVED AIR?
Sonja: Darryl is a very precise and fluent player. He mixes styles and influences and brings a beauty and richness to the music, that is unlike any other violinist in rock. His material as a composer is melodic and accessible. The new instrumental “The Fury” is more ‘classical’ a showcase for violin.
– How different was Way-less band to the one with him in?
Sonja: It had more of my input musically, at last. (Laughs.) I had found players who I believed could represent, replicate and evolve CURVED AIR’s persona and sound. Eddie [Jobson]’s classical style referenced a hybrid of Darryl and Francis. Kirby [Gregory] and and Jim [Russell] took Francis’s rock edge to a different place. I was now the band leader with [bassist] Mike Wedgwood’s support, whereas previously Darryl and Francis had both shared that role. Post “Aircut” and the reunion tour, CURVED AIR became Darryl’s band again.
– Darryl, why, having left the band in 1972, you came back into the fold about two years later?
Darryl: We had a to pay off a band debt, so a reunion tour was thought to be the best way to do it. The live album which was recorded on that tour, was all part of the deal.
– Had your band WOLF run its course before you re-joined AIR? I mean you didn’t reform it when CURVED AIR broke up…
Darryl: Yes, WOLF had run it’s course.
– Sonja, was it a burden carrying on as CURVED AIR in 1973, when you remained the sole original member?
Sonja: Not at all. It was liberating. I have spent many years working with powerful people. I tend to retreat out of respect and to see them develop the music around me in ways that I could not have conceived. It is usually only in performance that I can be totally spontaneous and free. I do enjoy being able to shape the whole when I have the opportunity but I do that by choosing strong players who can create around the nuances of my performance.
– Do you feel responsible – and proud – for bringing Eddie Jobson and Stewart Copeland to the mass attention?
Sonja: Yes, it is good to have worked with proteges who also had the confidence and drive to build hugely successful careers subsequently.
– Darryl, do your rock endeavors and classical works give you pleasure in equal measure?
Darryl: That’s pleasure and pain in equal amounts.
– After AIR, how did you get to play on JETHRO TULL’s and TRACE’s records?
Darryl: They were just people I’d met on tour and got on well with.
– Sonja, you worked with William Orbit as early as 1984. Could you tell then he’d become such a great master of his art?
Sonja: Yes, he was already a cult celebrity with his band TORCHSONG. Stewart Copeland’s brother Miles was managing them. I had heard their recordings and felt privileged to have his input and mix my recording of “Walk On By”.
– “Reborn”… What’s the point of re-recording the classics? Or it just connects present with the past and points to a new album to be out in the near future?
Darryl: “Reborn” was recorded for two reasons. Firstly, we were never quite satisfied with the way the tracks were originally recorded, so it was an opportunity to put the record straight – excuse the unintended pun. Secondly, we wanted to have product that we owned and were in control of.
Sonja: “Reborn” was our way of preparing for the live work and creating a record of the material of this tour. Darryl also wanted to add sounds and explore the songs again from his perspective today – which is what we all did. There are two new songs on the CD, “Coming Home” and “The Fury”, and Marvin Ayres produced and performed exquisite new versions of “Melinda” and “Elfin Boy”.
– By the way, could the “Melinda” sentiment be applied to your own life?
Sonja: In someways, perhaps. But it is about a specific person whose life took a tragic turn. My life has been extreme but I have been fortunate to rise from my lows to incredible highs. [There’s been] many lucky encounters. I do believe we have the abilty to manifest our dreams and desires, and my experience confirms that.
– Sonja, the ‘acid folk’ work with TY-LOR allowed you to re-connect with your folky past. Is what you do with Marvin Ayres where your sonic future lies?
Sonja: MASK and the sounds and music of Marvin Ayres – visit his site at www.marvinayres.com – are my present adventure, obsession and inspiration. After the success of our first ‘ambient experimental’ album “Heavy Petal” and the club hit single “Waking The Dream” we are releasing a single “Technopia” on October 6th (here’s the video). “Technopia” the album is being released on Repertoire Records in November. In 2009 we will be putting on our shows. The present, past and future are existing simultaneously. These are busy and demanding times.
– Darryl, did you hear Sonja’s ‘acid folk’ versions of the AIR’s classics?
Darryl: No, I haven’t heard them.
– Was it great to play the Isle of Wight Festival now?
Darryl: It sure was, and I’m pretty sure it was a great success.
Sonja: It was a privilege to be there amongst a great bill of contemporary and legendary bands. The STRANGLERS, THE KAISER CHIEFS, Iggy Pop, KT Tunstall. Kate Nash and even THE POLICE. My children got to see both their parents play on the same bill in 2008. (Sonja Kristina was married to Stewart Copeland. – DME) There were many thousands of enthusiastic and vociferous fans. Such memorable night and the end of a fantastic first week. A wonderful way to return to the present arena!
– CURVED AIR’s success seems to have been quite limited. Do you think the band ultimately got what you deserved?
Darryl: No, we didn’t. But having said that, it was probably our fault that it didn’t go as far as it could have. In our defense, we left an indellible impression on the people that did see us in those days, an impression that has lasted ’till this day.
Sonja: During our six-year first lifetime, we had a huge following, three top chart albums, sell-out shows and a top ten single. If we had not stopped touring and recording for such a long time CURVED AIR would, I’m sure, be better known by today’s audience. By touring now with this strong line-up, we have the opportunity of celebrating the past with old fans and introducing a new audience to our repertoire. They seem to be very receptive and I think this is a good thing to be doing in this interconnected Internet age, to keep the music alive and reach all the people who will enjoy the CURVED AIR style and sound and exciting musicianship today.