Portland music treasure Steve Barton is set to release his album Love & Destruction...
It's due 26th March 2021. Love & Destruction, recorded in San Francisco and Portland, features Steve Barton on guitar, keyboards and vocals, with Dave Scheff on drums and percussion, and Hilary Hanes on bass. And Larry Dekker plays bass on a couple of tracks. Full credits are shown lower down below. Here's forthcoming single Never Gonna Last...
Love & Destruction tracklist:
(1) Freedom's Not Free (2) Last For Best (3) Coulda Been Me, Coulda Been You (4) Mind Song (5) The World Is A Gangster (6) Never Gonna Last (7) From Never And Nowhere (8) Burying Suit (9) Tonight You're Buying Me A Rainbow (10) Velvet Curtains (11) Fallen Hearts (12) To Ramona (13) To Get To You (14) The Last Time
He could have been a translator for diplomats or caught up in the dubious ways of life insurance. But he chose music. Or music chose him. Thank goodness for that. Because Steve Barton has the gift. He writes great songs and plays great guitar. He has the comic’s timing and the poet's sense. And he shapes all of this together into one whole. He made his first single at the age of 11. He wrote songs for $25 a week aged 14. He’s been in a hit band — Translator — on a major label. And latterly he’s worked at a major music publisher. Steve’s lived in Los Angeles and in San Francisco. Now, he's living in another fine music town, the political hotbed that is Portland, Oregon.
Steve Barton on his life and music:
I tend to move sideways! Maybe I’ve never really fitted in. At 9 years old, I remember making a choice between being an impressionist or a musician. In the playground at school I’d have the other kids in stitches with my song parodies. One of my big hits back then was my take on “She Loves You”. It went something like: “She hates you, No, No, No - You think you’ve lost your love / well you know darn well you did / she says she hates you cause you’re a crazy mixed up kid”.
It was the pivotal year. The Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Who, The Supremes came into my little mind at that age. Altered my DNA. Hearing The Beatles for the first time was more powerful than taking acid. Better, and certainly more profound. For the debut Translator album in 1982, I wrote a song called “Necessary Spinning”. There wasn’t really a chorus, but the refrain was “Sometimes I wish that I was 9 years old again”.
My first band was called The Present Tense. I was the drummer. I had a red sparkle 4-piece drum kit. Like an 11 year old Don Henley, I was a singing drummer. We were a good combo. A record company recorded a single with two songs that I co-wrote with the guitarist - “Lost” and “Illusions”. These two titles could easily be the title of my autobiography. Ain’t that peculiar!
As bands do, The Present Tense split up. The single never came out. I switched to piano and guitar, and for the next couple of years I started to seriously write songs. A friend of my parents gave a tape, a reel-to-reel tape, to someone at a publishing company. They signed me to a publishing deal at the age of 14. I got an advance of $25 per week, a small fortune for a 14-year old. All I had to was write songs. The deal lasted for 2 years. I never told any of my friends about it at the time - see, that’s the sideways movement that I mentioned earlier.
My other love was, and still is, speaking and reading French. I graduated from school with honors in French, and went to the university in Grenoble, France for a semester. But, like that boy in the school yard all those years before, I was torn. Should I become a translator at the UN (my goal at the time), or put a band together? One day I was walking down a street in Grenoble and stopped in front of a music store. There were guitars hanging in the window on display. It was like a scene in a film. Time stood still. I knew it had to be music.
When I got back to Los Angeles after that semester abroad, I wanted a band but I had zero idea how to do that. I’d play with people, but nothing really fucked with my mind like I wanted it to. I briefly took an office job in a life insurance company. They were training me to be an underwriter. Really, my job was to deny coverage to as many people as I could. I never really understood how that was a good strategy for the company. I pretty much hated every minute of it. I turned 21 when I was working there, which is also when I quit…
Several important things happened right after that. First, I saw David Bowie & the Spiders From Mars live. I was that kid pressed up against the stage, right in front of Mick Ronson. Soon afterwards, I went to see Bob Marley & The Wailers at a club in LA. I went out and got my Les Paul because both Ronson and Marley played one. I still use that guitar. Also, my friendship with Dave Scheff took off. He and I have been friends for many years. Dave is the most musical, intuitive, creative drummer I know. The fact that I have been able to play with him for decades now is the greatest gift that I could ask for. Finally, a relationship I was in blew apart. I suddenly lived alone and plunged head first into music. Dave and I played in a Beatle band that toured Japan in 1979. On the flight back we decided to start a new band - that band would be Translator. Dave knew a bass player, Larry Dekker. We were a trio in LA for around six months before we stole guitarist Robert Darlington from another band and moved to San Francisco.
That is the line up that would eventually record 4 albums for Columbia Records between 1982 and 1986. Then we split up, and just like with The Present Tense, I found myself thinking “what in the fuck am I supposed to do now?!?” We have done several reunions through the years. It is always a blast.
Another couple of important events then happened. I saw Oasis at a small club in San Francisco. It was one of the loudest shows I’ve ever attended. I had to step outside to catch my breath before diving back in. It was glorious. Then Blur’s “Parklife” came into my life, and blew my brain away. But most crucial was discovering PJ Harvey. I saw her “To Bring You My Love” tour in San Francisco, and I think it altered my DNA in the same way that The Beatles had done when I was a boy. I can still see her crawling on the stage whispering “Little fish, big fish swimming in the water...” Stunning.
The “Boy Who Rode His Bike Around The World” album came out 13 years after Translator broke up. Why did it take so long? Whatever the answer is, it is lost in the haze of time and memory. The album was produced by Marvin Etzioni (Lone Justice), a very close friend of mine. Dave Scheff played drums, of course. We borrowed Hugo Burnham’s (Gang Of 4) drum kit. Translator had toured with Gang Of 4 back in ’83 or ’84. Larry Dekker played bass on most of the songs as well. Sort of a mini Translator reunion, but definitely a solo album. I called it “experimental pop” when asked. Really, it is just a bunch of my latest songs at that time. My mom was very ill during the making of this album. I can hear it when I listen to it.
Solo album number two is “Charm Offensive” from 2003. I had put a band together to play shows around LA, where I was living at the time. Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch, and a super talented musician) played drums, Derrick Anderson is on bass and Casey Dolan on guitar. The album was produced by Ed Stasium, who had produced two of the Translator albums, as well as The Ramones and many others. To this day, a good friend. Some fast songs, some slow. My mom had died in November 2000, and several of the songs were written with her in mind, especially “Narcolepsy Baby”. The band would travel to the UK and play at The Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was totally fun and mind-blowing to see all the Beatles sites. The 9-year old in me was freaking out. But the familiar restless stirring was already bubbling up in my being. The band was great. But I was still looking for something.
We recorded one more album. A really groovy record called “Flicker Of Time”. These were all songs that the four of us rehearsed like crazy. Getting them down in the studio was pretty easy - we knew them really well. I remember playing a gig at a club in LA where we debuted a few of those songs. One in particular, “Cartoon Safe”, got a huge response. That made me really happy. Out of the blue, the other guitar player quit. We soldiered on as a trio for a while - made a video for “Cartoon Safe” (it is really fun - check it out on YouTube!), and played a handful of gigs.
Then, my dad got sick. He died in December 2009. I wrote a whole bunch of songs after he died, played them for Marvin Etzioni and he said it sounded like an album. We decided to do the record with just me playing everything. That spelled the end of the solo band. That album is “Projector”, a record I am really proud of. It is very naked and direct.
During the first decade of the 2000s, I took a job at one of the major publishing companies. I learned a hell of a lot about that world. I’m glad that I did it, but the familiar sideways restless feeling came back, of course. I began recording an album right before I quit the job. My wife and I moved to Portland Oregon, where I finished two albums - a very cool duo record with Dave Scheff called “New Blue World”, and the tracks that became “Tall Tales And Alibis”, a triple album.
Album One of “Tall Tales And Alibis” was my more twisted pop songs, without bass or drums; Album Two was the moody dark record, mostly solo guitar and intimate vocals; Album Three was a rock and roll album with a hand-picked group of friends in LA. That triple album unleashed the floodgates of songwriting for me. The songs seemed to focus on the search for human connection. The lyrics are all pretty raw, which is why I think of the album’s title as a sort of tongue-in-cheek title. Like, “Is this all actually really me? Or are these just made up stories and lies?” I don’t know the answer to that. A bit of both, I guess.
My forthcoming album “Love & Destruction” was written pretty quickly. The songs just came pouring out. Getting ready for the release, I find myself thinking about what this record means to me - what is the centre, the truth behind it? I never really know what my songs mean until much later. Plus, lyrics tend to change their meaning as time goes by. I do know that I love singing this batch of songs! One of the numbers, “Never Gonna Last”, mentions the Queen Of Hearts a few times - that does not refer to any particular person, but I think that it is something to do with the fleeting grab for the fog that is inspiration.
Lyrics tend to wake me around 3 am - I’ll be in bed thinking about where the bridge should take a song, or realising that what I thought was the chorus is really the verse, or should it be “The” or “A” to start a line. These songs were no exception.
They haunted me to get written. I relate strongly to the last scene in the great French film “Children Of Paradise” aka “Les Enfants du Paradis” - where Batiste is watching Garance as she is swallowed up by the huge crowd in the street. He’s crying out her name as she disappears. That’s what songwriting is like sometimes. Catching smoke with a net.
I like all my albums to sound different than the ones that came before. All my songs are love songs. I believe that. It might be hidden, but there you have it. I try to focus in on the words as I’m singing, to focus on the story the words tell...
I might come at it sideways, but I usually get there...
- Album Love & Destruction due 26th March 2021 on Sleepless Records. Digital & CD.
- Features the single Freedom's Not Free out now (see above)
- Single and video Never Gonna Last date TBC (see private link video above)