Steve Barton Reflects on a Few Firsts (Song and Gig) Plus Some Memorable Day Jobs

June 30, 2015

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I generally don’t break very many strings, so I would say maybe 2 or 3 in a typical year. The flat wound strings that I use on my acoustic guitar are pretty expensive. I do keep a spare set to use as needed. For my electric guitar I use GHS Boomers, which are very easy to find and are pretty inexpensive to replace!

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

The song was called “Lost”. I wrote it when I was 11 years old. My band at the time, The Present Tense, went into the studio with Mike Curb who produced a single of the song, but it never came out. Thirteen years later Translator recorded a demo of “Lost” – which appears on the Ominvore Sometimes People Forget album. Oh, the first line of the song is: “Lost in a world of darkness and hate / Lost in a world of fire and fear / Everything’s moving at such a fast rate / I’m lost in a place which is far and near”.

Describe your first gig.

I remember that The Present Tense (my first band, when I was 11) played at a party at the home of the guy who ran a cafeteria in my hometown of Van Nuys, CA. The restaurant was called Ontra (get it? On Tray…). I loved that place. The jello with a dollop of whipped cream was fab. Plus, the bathrooms were upstairs, which seemed exotic and cool to me as a boy. The party was during the Summer Of Love. All the adults had name tags. The men’s read “Hippie John” or “Hippie Bill”, or whatever their name was. The women’s all read: “Flower Child Doris” or “Flower Child Gladys”, etc. The band played really well.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

I did work in music publishing for a while – really interesting and a great learning experience. My video store jobs were all pretty cool as well! But really, I just sit around and write songs….

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

It has been pretty consistent over the last 5-10 years. I’m not good at figuring out what it will look like in the future!

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

All that I’ve learned is that you never know what’s around the corner…


Los Angeles songwriter Steve Barton is best known for his work with 1980’s new wave band Translator.  Formed in Los Angeles in 1979, Translator relocated to San Francisco and were swiftly signed to Howie Klein’s independent label, 415 Records (which became part of Columbia Records as soon as the band signed), on the strength of their demo version of Steve’s song “Everywhere That I’m Not,” the song that would remain the band’s signature tune.  The band released four albums before breaking up in 1986.  Sometimes People Forget, a compilation of Translator rarities, was released by Omnivore Recordings earlier this year.

Barton continued on as a solo artist.  Projector, his most recent release, features Barton on all of the instruments. The album was produced by Marvin Etzioni and was recorded and mixed on tape. This record is made up of songs that he wrote in the immediate aftermath of his dad’s death.

You can find Barton online.