Steve Barton Talks about his Punk days and life now
Interview Conducted on January 27, 2018
By Dan Locke
The four-piece band was formed in Los Angeles in 1979 when singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Barton linked up with Larry Dekker on bass and Dave Scheff on drums. A second singer/songwriter/guitarist, Robert Darlington, joined soon after and completed the lineup. The combination of two talented songwriters and a powerful energetic rhythm section became the key to their success.
Translator then relocated to San Francisco where they were signed to Howie Klein’s independent label, 415 Records, on the strength of the demo tape they sent to college radio station KUSF: the loose and rambling yet laconic “Everywhere That I’m Not” has remained the band’s signature tune. The song was featured on Translator’s debut album Heartbeats And Triggers, which was produced by the widely respected David Kahne. As a result of 415 Records’ national distribution arrangement with Columbia Records the debut album received good promotion and became an underground and College radio hit in 1982.
Tall Tales and Alibis, the seventh solo album from Steve Barton, founding member of the revered band, Translator. They’re being sent for your editorial use. Please don’t post or share. A sprawling tour de force rich with sonic invention and poetic expression, it’s a showcase for Barton’s multifaceted gifts and his best work yet. The release is an ambitious TRIPLE album, filled with brand new songs from Barton. Tall Tales and Alibis is being released March 2, 2018 on Sleepless Records.
* Steve Barton: vocals / guitar
* Bob Darlington: vocals / guitar
* Larry Dekker: bass
* Dave Scheff: drums
You dad and mother were both actors, what was it like growing up with them?
The story that they always told me and my sister is that they were married between the matinee and evening performances of a stage play. My folks moved to Los Angeles from the east coast for the movie and TV opportunities. Television was a new medium when they made the move. Although they did appear in films, I mostly remember them doing lots of television work. I would cue my mom in the kitchen – I’d have the script and read the other character’s lines so she could practice her part. I recall doing that – I must have been a child, probably around 7 or 8. She was in a bunch of episodes of the “Twilight Zone”, “Perry Mason”, “Gunsmoke” and so many more – lots of early TV. Only appearing in a couple of episodes of “Leave It To Beaver”, she played Eddie Haskel’s mother. One memorable film role was as the long-suffering stage mother in “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane”. She was in a Western called “The Way West”, which was shot in Oregon. We went there as a family. I remember walking around the Main Street set that the film company built somewhere in Bend, Oregon. A big memory is that we had to leave early and fly back to Los Angeles because we had tickets to see The Beatles at Dodger Stadium! My dad also did lots of early TV shows, but spent the last twenty years or so of his life doing voice-over work for commercials. He did that almost until the day he died. All of their friends were actors. I vividly remember poker parties that were held at our house where the other guests would be the cast of “Hogan’s Heroes”, for example! I’d be in my bedroom listening to the clinking of cocktail glasses and the muffled laughter of adults until the wee small hours of the morning.They we always supportive of me going into a life of music.
What was the favorite movie to watch with them?
Every year we would watch “The Wizard Of Oz” around Halloween. These were before the days of Netflix, cable or even DVDs, so you had to rely on whatever was being shown on the networks. I think it was an annual event.
There is an actor by the name of Steve Barton who was born in the same year you were. Do people ever mistake you for him?
He was the original Phantom in the Broadway production of “The Phantom Of The Opera”. He passed away in 2001. I wish I could have met him. People have never confused us, except for one time – my first solo album “The Boy Who Rode His Bike Around The World” was about to come out in 1999/2000. I received an email from someone in Germany who was very excited to hear my new music. However, they thought I was the other Steve Barton as it turned out! I sent them a copy of my album anyway! There is also a painter with my name. However, I am the only Steve Barton who writes rock and roll songs and makes groovy albums.
How did you start you musical career?
I started as a drummer and switched to guitar and piano when I started writing songs. I think that becoming a songwriter really set me on the path.
Tell me about the development of your musical style?
I just keep on going. I think that whatever development there is has occurred naturally and organically. The key for me is to not try too hard.
Tell me about Present Tense?
The Present Tense was my first band. I played drums and sang. Our lineup was drums, guitar and another singer who played tambourine. We would play the hits of the day. I recently found an old reel to reel recording of a rehearsal – the songs that we ran through that day were “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees, “Hey Joe” (The Leaves version) and a snippet of an original composition. We were a good little band, and we would have been 11 years old or so.
How did you start Translator?
I had been playing in a band that was finishing up a tour of Japan in 1979. Dave Scheff (Translator’s drummer) was already my friend, and he was the drummer in this touring group. When we got back to Los Angeles we decided to start our own original band. Larry Dekker was Dave’s college friend who we got to play bass. We were a trio for a few months until we poached Robert Darlington from another band in LA. As a quartet, we moved to San Francisco in late 1979. That is where we were based from then on.
How did you get your name?
I had written a song called “Translator” and it seemed like a good name for the band! You can hear our trio demo of that song from 1979 on the Omnivore Recordings release from 2015 of Translator’s demos, “Sometimes People Forget”.
How did you get your first publishing deal with ABC Dunhill Music?
My dad had a friend who knew someone at ABC Dunhill. He played my demo for them and they liked what they heard. I was 14 years old. They signed me and gave me a weekly advance of $25, which was like a million dollars to me. I didn’t tell any of the kids at school that I had signed. Not sure why not! I think it was my private thing. I had that deal for two years.
Tell me about your first recording session?
The Present Tense recorded two songs that the guitar player and I wrote. One was called “Illusions”, one was called “Lost”. I sang them. When we went into the studio somewhere in LA, not sure where, the backing track had already been recorded by studio musicians before we got there. We were crestfallen. We had figured that we’d set up our gear and record. The producer was Mike Curb. He wisely had me sing to the pre-recorded track, but then had us set up and record the songs with the band as well. I still have the acetates of each version.
Tell me about your first gig, after you release your record?
My first gig would have been with The Present Tense. I remember a party for a local cafeteria in Van Nuys called Ontra (probably pronounced “on tray”). It was at one of the owner’s houses. The men wore name tags that said “Hi! I’m hippie Dan” (or whatever their name was), and the women had tags that read “Hi! I’m flower child Gilda”. They all seemed so old to me. I was around 12, they must have been in their 30s or 40s.
You had two LP Translator- Translator (1984) and Evening of the Harvest- Translator (1986) which has a more raw sound? Was that because of the Ramones producer Ed Stasium? How did you get to work with him? During the recording did any of the Ramones come visiting your recording session?
Our first two albums “Heartbeats And Triggers” and “No Time Like Now” were produced by the great David Kahne. I think that the band always wanted to experiment and try new roads creatively, so we decided to work with Ed Stasium for the following two albums. The fact that he had worked with The Ramones was impressive, but for me it was that he had worked on the first two Talking Heads albums that sealed the deal. Plus, Ed was the recording engineer on “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight and The Pips. I mean, come on!! No Ramones came to visit, although I did watch TV in the lounge with the wonderful bass player Tony Levin at the recording studio in NYC! Both David and Ed are fabulous producers, and I have nothing but fond memories.
You played SXSW in 2006. How was it? Any good stories you can talked about?
SXSW was fab. It was a Translator reunion and it was very well received. The Austin paper ran a story about us, and the show was really fun and packed. There was music everywhere you turned for the entire weekend. My favorite show that I saw was in the patio of a bar, outside, for free. I don’t ever know who was playing, but it was fantastic. Every parking lot had people set up to play music. We had a blast.
Why did you decide to get back together with the band in 2012?
It sort of turns out that although we thought we had broken up back in 1986, it was actually just a super long hiatus. We initially got back together in 1993, and we play now every few years. Always the original four members. I have never gone out as “Translator, featuring Steve Barton”, and I won’t. We still love playing together, but we now do our own things as well. The latest Translator album was “Carriage Of Days”, which came out in 2016.
How was it to work within the walls of Abby Road Studio?
The Translator album “Carriage Of Days” which is mentioned above was mastered at Abbey Road. We were psyched because we got to use the same fellow who worked on re-mastering the John Lennon albums and the Beatles in Mono box set!
How was it to work with Robert Anthony “Robbie” Rist? “Cousin Oliver” from the Brady Bunch. I did see him play at IPO in Chicago.
Robbie Rist has been a friend of mine for going on 20 years now! I had moved back to Los Angeles from San Francisco, and I was doing a solo gig – just me and my Les Paul. Robbie came up to me after my set, introduced himself and asked “why don’t you have a band?!?” I told him that I didn’t know anybody (even though I was sort of well-known from Translator, I am still a shy person). Anyway, he disappeared into the crowd and came back with his then-girlfriend and announced “I’m your drummer, she’s your bass player, when’s the rehearsal?” It was like a corny movie! We played as a trio – hey, there’s that “trio” thing again – first The Present Tense, then Translator, then there was a short-lived trio right after Translator called Blow Up, and then there was this! We played for a while, Robbie and his girlfriend broke up, and he suggested a friend named Derrick Anderson as our bass player. Derrick has remained a close friend though all of the years as well – he plays bass on the band record which is Album Three of my new triple album “Tall Tales And Alibis”. The trio expanded to a 4-piece with Casey Dolan on guitar. It all lasted for a good long while. Once my dad died, I sort of pulled the plug…but it was a really good band and a great experience. We can be heard on two of my solo albums, “Charm Offensive” and “Flicker Of Time”.
How did you get hooked up with IPO? And how do you enjoy Pop music?
I’ve played a bunch of the IPO (International Pop Overthrow) shows over the years – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and even the Cavern Club in Liverpool! I don’t really remember how I initially got involved. My guess is that Robbie Rist made it happen. Oh, and I love Pop music!
How did you start to work on an album after the death of your father? Did it help you with closer?
The songs for my album “Projector” all came about around the time of my dad’s death. They just poured out. Yes, I think it did help with the grief process.
What music fest would you like to play?
I’d do any of them! The one that Peter Buck runs in Mexico is intriguing. So is Glastonbury. Who knows what the future holds?
Do you like vinyl?
Hell yeah! I still have my vinyl albums from when I was a teenager – plus, I do still occasionally buy new records on vinyl. The last new vinyl album that I bought was “Skeleton Tree” by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. What an album! Last week I bought some used vinyl LPs – Tiny Tim’s first album, the soundtrack to the Fellini film “Roma” and an album of sea shanty songs.
You next album comes out on March 2, 2018. Can you tell us, anything about it?
The title is “Tall Tales And Alibis” and it is a triple album. Each album has its own vibe and feel. Album One is stripped down rockers in a lo-fi setting for the most part. Album Two is a quiet and dark record. The third disc is with a band that was hand-picked for the record. Dave Scheff from Translator is on drums for most it. Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s band plays drums on three songs. Nelson Bragg from Brian Wilson’s touring group handles the percussion parts. Derrick Anderson holds down the bass. Co-producers Marvin Etzioni and Willie Aron play guitars, piano and organ. I play guitar and sing.
What does the statement “I hope to die before I get old”? Mean to you?
I’ve always interpreted that to mean that one does not want to get stuck in a rut. One of my new songs on the triple album is called “Before I Get Too Young”, which might be a twist on that!
What your favorite album?
Oh my…far too difficult to answer! There are records that I tend to come back to time and time again. Among those would be The White Album (Beatles), Blood On The Tracks (Bob Dylan), Blue (Joni Mitchell), To Bring You My Love (PJ Harvey), Love From London (Robyn Hitchcock), London Calling (Clash), Imperial Bedroom (Elvis Costello), In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (Frank Sinatra)…but really, this is only off the top of my head at this particular moment in time. Ask me in ten minutes and it could be totally different. Really depends on my mood.
The Who or The Rolling Stones?
Again – nearly an impossible question for me to answer! I love Pete Townsend’s songwriting so much. I was fortunate enough to have seen The Who with Keith Moon a couple of times. What a powerful and creative force they were. Since then, I have met Pete on a few occasions. He’s always been genuine and cool to me. All of that said – holy fuck, The Rolling Stones are THE ROLLING STONES!! I have an old reel to reel recording of myself as a 9 or 10 year old. As mentioned earlier, I was a drummer back then. On the recording I’m playing “The Last Time” by the Stones – probably their current single at the time! I say “here is what it sounds like on the record”, and I play it straight ahead. Then I say, “And here is how it sounds in concert” – and I unleash some sort of distorted pre-punk pre-White Stripes sonic onslaught. Even at that early age I knew somehow that the live experience was its own thing, and the records were their own thing. I still feel like that. So, for today I’m choosing The Rolling Stones – but that’s only because you asked. I really don’t have to make that choice, thankfully!
If someone was listening to you for the first time, what 3 videos or songs would you tell them to look/listen to and why?
Of my stuff? Well, they should check out “Everywhere That I’m Not” by Translator for sure, I’ve always liked the Translator record of “These Old Days from our Evening Of The Harvest album, and then I would pick one from my latest album. How about “She Is The Girl”? But, it is really hard to pick just three!
Who is your favorite singer and why?
I’m not sure that I have a favorite singer. My brain is wired for “favorites”. That said, I love John Lennon’s voice so fucking much. David Bowie as well. PJ Harvey slays me.
What was your first concert you performed in and your last concert?
The first concert was mentioned above – The Present Tense at the cafeteria owner’s party! The last show that I played was at the 25-year anniversary show for the great Portland record store Music Millennium. It was an all day event with lots of bands and singers.
How do you see your band in the next 5 years?
I just want to keep on moving forward and writing songs.
Any guilty pleasures your fans would be surprise you listen to?
I absolutely love “Spectrum Suite” by Stephen Halpern. It is a New Age album. The tracks are supposed to be keyed into the chakras in our bodies, and they are also tied into various colors. I don’t know about all of that, but I do listen to that album a lot!
What is on your bucket list?
I would like to tour Europe. Sooner, rather than later please.
What is on your phone for music now?
I pull stuff on and off my phone, but currently I’ve got my new triple album, all the Beatles albums, Hunky Dory and Black Star by David Bowie, the soundtrack to “Submarine” film by Alex Turner, the second Buffalo Springfield album, In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning album by Frank Sinatra, Let England Shake by PJ Harvey…and a few more things that I can’t remember (I don’t have my phone in front of me).
Anything in closing you would like to say?
This has been a pleasure! Now, go get my new album!! “Tall Tales And Alibis”. Dig in…
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