Steve's track notes reveal inspirations such as Badfinger, The Minus 5, Amy Winehouse, and more besides...
Love & Destruction — Track notes by Steve Barton
I wanted to do a record with a band. Dave Scheff plays drums throughout most of the album. Besides us being in Translator together, Dave has played on several of my solo albums. He’s been my secret weapon. Hilary Hanes handles the bass for most of the record. We'd met earlier in San Francisco when he played with Pearl Harbor & The Explosions. We reconnected when I moved to Portland, Oregon. His driving bass holds down the songs... Larry Dekker from Translator plays bass on a couple of the songs as well... an embarrassment of riches. Some influences are underlined…
FREEDOM’S NOT FREE
I started writing Freedom’s Not Free as protests around George Floyd were beginning. During the writing of the song, the American civil rights icon John Lewis died. The tributes to his extraordinary life were moving and heartfelt. I thought of him a lot as I finished it up. The line about 'There’s a river overflowing / There’s a bridge to be crossed' is directly about the historic march across the bridge that John Lewis was part of in the early 1960s.
The song's not like a newspaper article though. I think there's a certain timelessness to the lyrics. 'A lifetime in a moment / The moon has got a frown' speaks about how quickly our lives can be changed. That verse ends with 'A bird sings at the doorway', which is meant to be a nod towards hope and the future. Of course, the following line is 'The flag is upside down', which does not indicate good times! As with many of my songs, the contrast between two things is there in the words.
My good friend Doug Wieselman (a great composer/recording artist out of NYC) wrote and played the mind-blowing horn arrangement. I asked for “cool jazz, something like Pharaoh Sanders”. He nailed it. My drummer, Dave Scheff, came up with the perfect hypnotic groove. I play guitar and bass...
LAST FOR BEST
One of the first songs written for the album. I remember playing a chord sequence over and over again until the words “I broke into heaven to steal some angel’s wings…” came out. The opening guitar riff appeared quickly, and everything else filled itself in. This is one of two songs mixed by my old friend Ed Stasium. He produced two Translator albums and we have remained close friends ever since.
COULDA BEEN ME, COULDA BEEN YOU
We were in the midst of recording the album at a studio in San Francisco when I came in with this acoustic song. I had written it the night before. We learned it on the spot and pretty much recorded it as heard on the album. A lost connections/search for love song. A deceptively simple driving number.
I had read an article about someone who was in a coma and flatlined. His relatives and friends who were around his bedside were freaking out. But, as it turned out, he came out of it - even after the machine that goes “ping” had shown no life left. He said that he had heard everything while they were trying to revive him, and had finally pronounced him dead. I thought that it sounded like a song, somehow. I sent the article to Robert Darlington (the other guitar player/songwriter in Translator) and asked if he might want to contribute to the lyrics. He is a published poet. His poetry is fabulous and well worth seeking out. Most of the words in this song are his. I knew that I wanted a one-chord song in a sort of “Here Come The Warm Jets” Brian Eno album kind of way. I play drums on this one.
THE WORLD IS A GANGSTER
I was fucking around in my studio with a loop I had put together around a human beatbox beat I had come up with. The U.S. Secretary Of State, Mike Pompeo, was quoted in reference to North Korea as saying “the world is a gangster”. To my ears THAT is a song title! I turned it into a kind of love song with the “…the world’s a gangster, baby - so kiss me like you mean it…” lyric in the chorus. This was a total blast to record.
NEVER GONNA LAST
[New Single/Video - link below]
This is the second Ed Stasium mixed song. I was picturing Badfinger when I wrote and recorded this one. It doesn’t sound like them, but that was my jumping off point. Big, strummy. Will be a single.
FROM NEVER AND NOWHERE
One of my faves from the album. I wanted to make an entire record like this. I’m playing everything on this one. A song about the power of real love - the kind that tears your soul apart. The lyric in the chorus “…then I see you, random as destiny - I stagger to your ragged view with my lock and broken key - from never and nowhere…” sort of sums up who I am.
If there were a Side 1 and Side 2 of this album, this would kick off the second side. I had listened to an interview with someone (I forget who) and he said something about having to go to a funeral of a friend. He talked about taking down his “burying suit” to wear. It was his only good suit and he only used it for very special occasions…and it would be the suit he had chosen to be buried in eventually.I found that to be very moving. This song came out very quickly. I was in a kind of “Music From Big Pink” by The Band frame of mind. It doesn’t sound like them, but they were in the room somehow. Larry Dekker from Translator plays bass on this one. Incredibly sensitive melodic bass. He is wonderful and one of my lifelong best friends.
TONIGHT YOU’RE BUYING ME A RAINBOW
I was at a show that my friend Scott McCaughey’s Minus 5 were playing in Portland. I misheard one of his songs during the set. It is “Tonight You’re Buying Me A Drink, Bub”. I thought, wow “Tonight You’re Buying Me A Rainbow”…what a cool song title…wish I’d thought of that! When I got home and realized what had happened, I wrote this song immediately. It came out quickly. I wanted this to be a song that a band can pound out.
I was hanging out in my studio, playing my lovely 1957 Guild X-50 guitar - strumming it with the edge of my thumb, no guitar pick. A cool vibe came around. I was picturing Amy Winehouse strongly while writing this song. Dave’s drumming on this is astounding - well, all through the album - but this is a real standout.
I am playing everything on this track. I have no memory of writing this - it was like I was in a hypnotic trance. The line “…are you wonderful, or full of wonder…” sort of set this song on its trajectory. Playing it with the band is revelatory.
I have had this arrangement of this Bob Dylan song in my back pocket for a few years. I pulled out my 12-string Stratocaster for this one. I’m playing the bass and organ, too. When we have played this one live, it has been a total thrill.
TO GET TO YOU
I wrote this one afternoon on the piano in the front room of my house in Portland. The first line about “heard the whistle of a train, like the howl of a lonesome ghost” comes from being in bed in the early morning hours at my house. In the distance, a train goes by from time to time. When it is still and quiet outside, it is very evocative. Again, a song of mine about searching for meaningful contact in the midst of…well, Love And Destruction.
THE LAST TIME
What’s this?!? A not so hidden, hidden track. It is the 11-year old me in my bedroom playing the drums and singing. I remember thinking, “this is how The Stones would play it live!”. In my first band, The Present Tense, I was the drummer. This would have been in those days. I love how the cymbal stand falls apart at the end of this recording.
For more on the album and the new single/video...
- Single & Video Never Gonna Last - due to be released March 5th 2021
- Album Love & Destruction - video and more here