Steve Barton’s old 1980s outfit Translator might seem to be from San Francisco. Signed to Howie Klein’s classic local imprint 415 Records, the band resided in The City when the hit “Everywhere That I’m Not” broke. But the group originally hails from Los Angeles, and that’s where Barton returned in 1998, a move that proved good for business. There, he re-formed Translator (with a new album, “Big Green Lawn”); launched a new band (Steve Barton and The Oblivion Click); issued solo recordings (like the new lo-fi “Projector,” penned after his father’s passing in 2009); and maintained a day job in music licensing. He plays a career-spanning show in San Francisco tonight.
So what’s your day job like? I work a lot with indie filmmakers, getting songs into films. So I’ve learned a lot about licensing and publishing in general, stuff I didn’t know anything about before. And it’s a good skill set for me to have, because publishing is really the only side of the music business where any money’s being made these days.
Your dad, Dan Barton, was a famous actor, right? He was 88 when he died, and he started in radio in the ’30s. And on “Projector,” there’s a photograph of him at the NBC mic when he was only 17 and first starting out in radio. But the good thing is, I got the chance to tell him a bunch of stuff I wanted to say, and one of the songs talks about this. I wrote “Super Fantastic Guy” the day after he died. Then all these songs just started pouring out.
What surprising things did you discover about your dad afterward? I found this diary that he kept when he was 15, and it was amazing. He grew up in Chicago, but his family had taken a trip to L.A. and they’d gone out to a restaurant where he saw Edward G. Robinson and some other big stars. And he had these little expressions — he was really excited about the new year coming, and he said “1935 — here come I!” So I have a song on “Projector” called “Here Come I.”
Your late mother was an actress, too? Yes, and she did more films than he did. But they both did a lot of early television, like “The Twilight Zone” and “Perry Mason.” And when I was a kid, they turned our garage into a theater, complete with real theater seats. They’d rent 16-millimeter films and we’d watch Laurel and Hardy or The Three Stooges in the garage. All our family home movies are in 16-millimeter, too, so that’s where “Projector” came from. — Tom Lanham