It's possible to compare Frank Barter to any number of distinctive singer/songwriters: Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Bob Seger are names Barter's honest, simple-yet-complex songs most often evoke. Barter appreciates the comparisons, but he hopes they don't get in the way of his own voice over the soft whispering of these musical influences.
"What happens, I think, is you listen to your own influences so much and can't help but pattern yourself a little after them," he says. "But then you take that and structure your own style and refine it until it feels right. You personalize it. And what comes out is something from your gut."
Barter spends a lot of time contemplating the musical process, both within his songs and outside them. Originally from the East Coast, Barter attended film school in San Francisco in the early '80s, but after graduation he spent more time writing plays and musical drama than he did making films.
"I found the way I went about writing songs at that time was very visual," Barter explains. "I had these theatrical visions about what the songs were about. I wrote `Wheatfields' at that time, and it was based on this big vision I had of a guy wandering through wheat fields at night, like a scene from `Invasion of the Body Snatchers', and he's wishing he was in a better place. That song took 10 years to refine to what it is now. It's the one I'm most proud of - every drop of my blood and soul is in that song."
Though engaging and talkative, Barter has an intensity about his work that comes through his music. Each song on his current CD "Stone Highways" tells some kind of story that is intensely personal yet strikes a chord of common experience.
"It started out as a concept album," says Barter. "You know, about life, death, and where you are. I wanted to have each song connect, but they don't - not even close! They're just portraits of characters going through life."
Even though the nature of his music is emotionally intimate - "this record is so revealing, it's scary" Barter says - he enjoys performing and sharing his music with a crowd.
"I always want the audience to have as much fun as I'm having," he says. "I love to go out into the crowd, to see them dance around and sweat and forget the week before. If you're doing it (performing) right, you're releasing everything, and the audience gives you so much back." Where to catch Barter: Friday, 9 p.m. at "The Party To Die For" for the film crew of "Assassins" and as a benefit for the Seattle Symphony. Sand Point Naval Station Hangar No. 3, 7500 Sand Point Way N.E. Tickets $100, available by calling 443-4747. Barter's CD "Stone Highways" will be released next month.