How did you get into riding bikes? Broke your sax?
In the Spring of 1985 I bought a Schwinn 15-speed mountain bike used from a friend of a friend because he needed to make rent that month (or wanted to buy some weed), for $100. I started riding then. I had just dropped out of college and was playing in a band, and I’d just broken up with a girlfriend of a few years. I had a lot of extra time on my hands during the daytime hours and needed an outlet. About six months later I upgraded to a Mt Fuji, which was pretty much state of the art then, and started racing. Ah, the days of rigid steel, 35-pound bikes!

Where are your local trails these days?
We have a really great system of trails in Boise, Idaho — it’s called Ridge To River (from the top of the mountain to the Boise River). It’s a really great, well maintained system by a small office in the city — it’s city funded and run although we do get public support and donations.

Are they built trail or natural?

The original trails (every year they get expanded on) were probably game trails, deer and coyote. Then motorcycles in the ‘60s and ‘70s developed more trails. Then in the 80s they became mountain bike trails. Then some time after that we got hikers using the trails.
The hikers don’t necessarily love the bikers, the bikers don’t really know who made the trails so they bitch about the motorcycles — I say, we wouldn’t have the trails without them. I’ve seen what happens though when the groups start to argue — motorcycles get hurt first. I used to do a lot of biking in New York state and California, where most of the trails are off limits because of the hikers.

In the UK we’re about to be deluged in mud as winter sets in — what’s it like in Boise?

This part of the world, the trails are very dry, especially this time of year when we haven’t had any rain for weeks. They’re starting to get pretty powdery and sandy — it’s a bit like skiing through powder.

Photo by Andy Lawless

There was an interview in a UK broadsheet ripping the piss out of you, what happened there?

She was a bitch! I did not expect her to make fun of me. I thought she wanted serious answers to her questions. I got a piece of hatemail from someone, raving about me. I thought ‘I wonder why I got that?’ then I finally read the article. She basically took all my answers and just shortened them enough so she could take potshots at me.
She was telling me how to be cooler, and prescribed the soundtrack from Grease, like that’s cool. Oh good, a Meg Ryan movie and Grease, that’ll cool me up for sure.

Are you still hauling around your 35lb Mt Fuji?
I finally got back to hardtails, I bought a Gary Fisher Superfly, I’ve had it about a year and I love it. I’ve upgraded a couple of things, bar and stem to make it lighter. I’ve swapped out the crankset to XTR.
The frame I got was the original black with hardly any graphics on, but it started making this squeaking every time I pedalled. I kept taking it back and they couldn’t figure it out, they finally decided it was the frame and sent it back. So I actually ended up with the next generation frame.
The riding around here is not so I really need a full suss bike, I always felt it was a little bit much. Yes I could go 40mph downhill rather than 37 but the difference in dragging that extra 10lb of weight uphill. It’s straight up and straight down, you climb for an hour and a half and descend for 25 minutes. I love this bike. The 29in wheels, I didn’t believe it, but now that I ride it, they roll faster. It’s the weirdest thing, they just wanna roll. Literally the day before I bought this bike I said two things, I’m never going to own a 29er and I’m never going to own a carbon frame. But I rode it and fell in love with it.

Einstein came up with his theory of relativity while riding a bike, do you get inspiration there?
I only write crappy three-and-half minute songs, I can’t touch the theory of relativity. But sometimes I come up with a hook, not usually a whole song. It’s usually one of two things that brings it: pain, when you’ve gone past that point of agony and you’re in that half delirious mode and something will come, or it’s the rhythm of pedalling or breathing, something will pop into my head — a feel or a groove. It happens every now and again, I don’t count on mountain biking to write my songs for me but I’ve certainly come up with endings and beginnings to songs, the two hardest parts for me.

The new album’s been getting rave reviews, what’s it all about?

I tend to be pretty instinctual when I make music. The concept of my last four records is that, I’m a jazz singer but I grew up listening to punk rock, rock and roll, new wave, soul. What I try to do is make songs that no other jazz musician would think of, because they haven’t heard them. There’s a John Lennon tune on this new record, singer songwriters from Canada. I’ve tried to take who I am as a fan and put that into my records rather than just recording the same old jazz records, that Frank Sinatra and Billy Holiday recorded.

No old classics then?

Well, there are a few old standards on it. People always said, they’d love to hear me do some standards, so on this record I thought, fuck it, I’ll do some standards. And not just standards, but the most over-recorded standards. ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘The Wee Small Hours of the Morning’, songs that everybody knows but you can’t deny are fantastic songs. I was on my way to including all those old standards, then I found a John Lennon song I really wanted to do and a Pink Floyd song I wanted to connect to. It’s kind of like a medley, combing two songs. The Pink Floyd song is ‘Vera’, from The Wall, this really short song. Growing up I had no idea who Vera was, I listened to the song growing up about a million times. Then I was in London in ‘95 and it was VE day, and there was Vera Lyn singing, We’ll Meet Again. It all hit me then. Then there’s a great version by Johnny Cash he did near the end of his life and I started really loving that song. It’s those two songs combined. I like the twisted idea that you can put those two songs together and make them work.

Are you happy in your work?

It’s such a great way to make a living, the only thing better would be to get paid to mountain bike. I do for a living what I do for free.

Check out Curtis’ website