February 23, 2018 Interview – Steve Barton of Translator
There are a few unstoppable forces in life. One is nature, never try and mess with mother nature. Another is a deep seeded passion for music, when someone has the bug, good luck standing in their way. Coming from Southern California, Steve Barton knew from an early age he wanted to play music so much so he has been a slave to it for over five decades. Not a bad life term at all, Barton would go on to front the successful Rock band Translator during the 1980s. Celebrating success touring, and releasing music, they were as much a part of the fabric of the ‘New Wave’ movement as any band of the time.
Still receiving spins today thanks to extremely memorable tunes such as the 1982 hit single “Everywhere That I’m Not,” Barton and Translator are alive and well in more ways than one. Releasing their new album, Carriage of Days, in 2017, Barton has not stopped there. In fact, the creative juices are flowing at an accelerated pace for the songwriter as he prepares to release a triple solo album on March 2, 2018! Entitled Tall Tales and Alibis, the 37 new songs are an ambitious work that Barton is rightfully excited about. Recently he took the time to talk the history of Translator, the work behind his solo work, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music for over four decades now. Attaining success with Translator in the 1980s, you have gone on to a lengthy solo career as well. First, tell us, what has your experience been like as a musician?
Steve Barton – Well, I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t a musician in some way. I started to play drums when I was around 9 and my first band was when I was 11, so it has been going on for a long time. I love it, it is the kind of thing you better like doing. It’s more than just wanting to do it, it is sort of like I have to. It is like it is in my blood.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. You love something, you have a passion for it, and you have done it a long time. Speaking of Translator, the band released four records between 1982 and 1986, which were well received. That in mind, what led to the decision to put the band to rest thereafter?
Steve Barton – It sort of ended up being our 30 year hiatus. We had done some shows in the mid-90s into now in a way. In ’86, I am not sure if we just wanted to go in different directions, all that sort of usual stuff that bands say, but it just seemed like time to step away for a little bit. I know we did a big blowout gig in July of ’86, which was sort of a farewell, 3 hour, sprawling event – that seemed like a good way to sort of say goodbye. After that, we all did our own thing for a while. I didn’t put out my first solo record until around 1999.
CrypticRock.com – You did return with Translator. You did 2 records in the 2010s. You did the record in 2012, and then last year you released another record. What was it like putting that record together with all original members?
Steve Barton – Yes, and we did a handful of shows. What happened was, the great reissue label Omnivore put out a collection of Translator demos, a 22 song set called Sometimes People Forget. That led us to go through all the archives, I found all these cool demos, some of which we had forgotten about. Then Bob Darlington, who is a published poet as well, an incredible one, he had written a poem that somehow inspired me.
I wasn’t intending to write a song, but thought, “I could set this to music.” It became the song “Last Fields of Summer,” which is one of the songs on the Translator release that came out last year called Carriage of Days. I said this is kind of cool and one thing led to another and suddenly we had 10 songs. We thought we should put this out so we put it out sort of under the radar – printed some CDS to sell at shows and online, made it available for download. It was really cool, and we would only do that with all 4 original members. I’ve never put a sort of “Steve Barton of Translator”or some other version of the band, it is the 4 of us or I don’t think we would do anything with that name.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool! Is there any plans for distribution of the album through a physical format?
Steve Barton – Well, it is available online. I know you can get the CD and their is translatormusic.com or my website, stevebarton.com. In terms of a big distribution deal, yea that would be nice if we could put something like that together, maybe even record a few more songs. It is nice to keep it going. We just did a short little California tour with The Long Ryders, another band from back then that are old friends. We played some shows in 2017 and it was really fun. There is a certain thing that happens with Translator just from being together all this time, we just look at each other and think, “Ok, something is going to happen right here.” You don’t have to plan it out, it makes it kind of easier in some ways. We are all like brothers in this thing, it’s fun!
CrypticRock.com – That is great. You mentioned the scene back then, call it the Alternative Rock or New Wave movement. It is so hard to label. There were a lot of unique bands back then, from Translator to many others doing their own thing. What are your memories of the scene back then?
Steve Barton – I think what you just said is really well put. It was really diverse. The ’80s now kind of gets a reputation of big shoulder pads, pink and black checks, goofy clothes, and awful synthesizers. Yea… but you can also say the revered ’60s was not all Beatles, there was some crap as well. I found in the ’80s, looking back, the bands we would play with, people were doing all sort of experimental stuff. Stuff that sounds like The Kinks, stuff that sounded like nothing else, it was really an interesting period I think.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. People who are keen to the decade’s music know that. Some may write it off, but if you listen to artists from the era, many sound very different.
Steve Barton – Yea! I remember Translator did other tours opening for bands such as The B-52s. We cannot be, in some ways, different bands, I mean you can dance to Translator songs and it was fun, but it worked beautifully. Gang of Four as well, which maybe we are more closely aligned with sonically, but all those bands we played with were different, and it all worked. I like that, going to a show and not hearing the same thing from all the bands. Which is probably why festivals are kind of cool, you just get a whole bunch of different bands. Back then, there wasn’t those festivals to speak of, so a gig would be really diverse. I like that.
CrypticRock.com – Diversity is very refreshing, you do not want to listen to the same thing over and over again. Now, in 2018, you are set to release a triple solo album!
Steven Barton – Yea, I’m not kidding around. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Wow, 37 songs in total as well.
Steve Barton – Yea, that’s right. Thirty-five of them, 2 of them are cover songs. I do a song I wrote with Translator, a single called “I’m Alone.” I do a sort of slow, moody version of it.
CrypticRock.com – Crazy! It is a triple album called Tall Tales and Alibis and it is due out March 2nd. This is a massive undertaking, what inspired it?
Steve Barton – Tell me about it. (Laughs) Originally, I had written this album and recorded it in Los Angeles with a band I put together for the album – a cool band including Dave Scheff from Translator on drums, it is a cool cast of characters for the band. We did all those songs, then I moved from LA to Portland, Oregon. Once I moved, I don’t know what happened, it unlocked something and all these songs started pouring out. I have a little studio where I live and suddenly I thought, “This is another album worth of songs.” The band album I mentioned hadn’t come out yet, these songs, I recorded in Portland, I was playing all the instruments. I thought, “Huh, maybe I will put them both out.”
Then, suddenly a whole other batch of songs came out that were sort of more quiet, singing in a lower register, it was a whole different vibe. I then had this idea of putting them all out on the same day or thinking of some creative way of getting it out. Then it just sort of struck me like a bolt of lightning, and I said, “Wait a minute, I am going to put out a triple album.” I keep reading now it’s all singles, people don’t want albums anymore, it’s back to singles. Maybe that’s true, so I thought, “Well, fuck it, I am just going to put out a triple album.” (Laughs)
Then, when I put it all together, one album is more sort of up tempo, then the other one is a sort of introspective quiet record, then the one with the band. They all kind of work as a piece. It wasn’t meant to be a concept album, and I have to say, just got the CDS recently and it sounds amazing coming off a CD. From the download too, but it is so rich, and full, the mastering was beautifully done. Probably, my next year will be taken up with this I’m hoping.
CrypticRock.com – It is certainly a lot of material to digest. It does sound rich, but it also sounds very organic and raw.
Steve Barton – Yes! It is kind of lo-fi and, like you say, kind of raw and organic. Even the album with the band was recorded with everybody in the same room at the same time and there is that cool thing that happens. It is pretty organic, I think that is a good word.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it will be exciting to hear what people think once it is released.
Steve Barton – Yes, and I am dying to do some sort of touring on some level. Whether that is me with a guitar or some shows with a band, it all depends on how it all works out. I definitely want to spend spring and summer touring, to say the least.
CrypticRock.com – With all this new music on tap, one would imagine touring would be the next step. Can we expect some Translator gigs as well?
Steve Barton – I think so, maybe later in the year. I have to let this record happen. I can definitely see doing some Translator shows, I know we all want to.
CrypticRock.com – That is exciting. There are a lot of opportunities. It seems like now is a good time for artists from the ’80s who had success to come back. It seems people are yearning for it.
Steve Barton – That’s true. I noticed even when Translator does shows, not to sound corny, but the love that comes back, is really beautiful. People are really kind and it is also interesting, it is not just people in the ’50s and ’60s reliving their high school days, it seems to be a diverse crowd, including younger people. That is one reason I have been doing these solo records through the decades, I want to keep going forward with my songwriting and hopefully people will discover the music who are not just the old fans. That is fantastic, but I want to keep it going and it is a good time for that.
CrypticRock.com – That has to be really redeeming to see your music touch someone from a younger generation.
Steve Barton – It really is, it’s fantastic. Some of these people weren’t born when the records came out. (Laughs) It’s beautiful.
CrypticRock.com – It really is. Judging by your solo material and Translator, you seem to have diverse influences. What are some of your influences?
Steve Barton – For me, there are a couple of things. If I am just going to sit down and listen to music, it kind of depends. Someone’s got to turn me on to something that I’ll listen to. By the way, if I check something out on Spotify, I generally go out and buy the record if I like it. I check stuff out on Spotify or however you listen to music these days. For me, I go back to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, PJ Harvey, The Clash, The Kinks.
These bands seems to always be there. Joni Mitchell in some places as well. I cover a song Frank Sinatra did in the ’50s called “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” on the album In the Wee Small Hours (1955). That Sinatra album is sort of the first concept album. It’s an incredible record I think he made after he and Ava Gardner broke up, it is like his blood on the tracks in a way. Especially Sinatra’s tempo, I love that.
I am pretty diverse. Recently I was listening to a New Age record from a guy named Steven Halpern with long tones. For me, it is whatever it takes. I always go back to, as I mentioned, The Beatles, Dylan, Elvis Costello, Cole Porter. The usual suspects for me.
CrypticRock.com – That is great. Music moves you in different ways. It does not matter when or where it is from, whatever sounds good. More people are subscribing to that point of view now.
Steve Barton – Yes, I think so too. I have 5 or so new songs that I’m working on, the last thing I need is more songs. (Laughs) Like I said, you have to do this because you have to do it. It’s not just like a job or think you are going to get rich. For me anyway, you have to want to do it. I don’t have a choice. I am already working on whatever the follow-up to this record. Maybe they are Translator songs, I don’t know, but I keep pushing the ball forward.
CrypticRock.com – That is well put, it is your calling and that is what it is. Last question. We also cover movies on CrypticRock. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi related films, what are some of your favorites?
Steven Barton – I remember when I was about 8 or something watching the original House on Haunted Hill (1959) in black and white on the TV in the living room. Something happened, I don’t remember what it was, some scene, and I went screaming into the kitchen where my mom was ironing. It was like a scene out of Leave It To Beaver. That movie always stuck in my head.
I would say for real Horror movies, something like Suspiria (1977). I do like the Evil Dead movies too. I like something like that, moody, weird, and experimental, Suspiria (1977) kind of hits that mark.
In terms of Science Fiction, I went and saw a 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in 2015 at the Hollywood Theatre here in Portland. I hadn’t seen it probably since it came out and it completely blew me away. Even starting with the black screen and silence, the whole thing, it was pretty amazing. That was a pretty amazing experience.
For more on Steve Barton: stevebartonmusic.com | Facebook | Twitter
For more on Translator: translatormusic.com | Facebook | Twitter
Purchase Tall Tales and Alibis:
Purchase Carriage of Days: