The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, the new darlings of the indie rock world, are the very real Trachtenburg family _ Jason Trachtenburg, 34, his wife Tina Pina Trachtenburg, 39, and their daughter Rachel Trachtenburg, 10.
The shtick? Dad writes comical, sometimes poignant songs based on slides the family buys at the estate sales of dead people. The debut CD Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. I features a peppy tune, Mountain Trip To Japan 1959, based on one family's trip to that country.
The live show, coming to St. Petersburg's State Theatre on Thursday, features Dad singing and playing keyboards, little Rachel on drums and backing vocals and Mom working the vintage carousel slide projector. (Tina also designs the band's groovy costumes.) Last year the band was the first unsigned act to ever get a spot on Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
From his apartment in the East Village in New York, where the family lives part time, the delightfully chatty Jason Trachtenburg answered 10 Pressing Questions.
(1) I've read that you consider yourselves entertainment revolutionaries. How so? For starters, in the rock 'n' roll scenario, we've turned our life into the show. Our life at home _ our day to day activities _ and our show are the same.
Beyond that, we came up with this concept: We find slides and we write songs based around the contents of the slides, in a rock band setting. Which, I think, adds intrigue on at least three levels: (1) the found art concept; (2) the actual visuals; and (3) the family dynamic of the band with a now 10-year-old, but who was once a 6-year-old drummer, playing as tightly as any of these other dudes who are 20- or 30-year-old dudes who are rocking so hard. She's just as competent. Especially when she's on. When she's on, look out, she's amazing.
(2) Let's talk about the fashion component. You are a nattily dressed trio. That's Tina's doing, correct? Oh yeah! Yeah. If it weren't for Tina, I'd still be wearing T-shirts that were three sizes too big. All the designs are Tina's. She does them in collaboration with her mom, Mrs. Pina. Did she study fashion design? No. Tina is not actually a strong proponent of formal education. She's more learn-by-experience, learn-through-your-bloodline.
Tina gets really angry when she sees all these little restaurants in the city open up and they have no concept; it's obviously the work of some chef-school graduate. The food is no good; it's about the way it looks. Whereas, Tina has operated a salsa business and has cooked for hundreds, just by learning it through her (Mexican) heritage and by learning it on her own. That's how she views fashion.
(3) Much of your press focuses on the band's "gimmick," but the music is terrific. You're an amazing songwriter, Cole Porter quality. Oh, wow! Thank you! You're so kind. I love the artistic process. I love putting songs together and getting inspiration from those before and yet also coming up with something new. As for as Cole Porter, he's one of the finest lyricists in popular music. He does things with words that are so above and beyond what any writer ever attempted to do. With melody, too, he's just out of control. He's just the Jimi Hendrix of songwriting.
But, we want to be considered an rock band, not a comedy act. When our record got pushed for reviews in rock publications in Spin and what is it _ Maxim? _ no, Blender _ Maxim is the magazine where you have to be naked on the cover. Right! Well, I go the gym. (Deadpan.) I'm not gonna shy away from that. I'll pull an Iggy Pop or a Red Hot Chili Peppers. Those guys never have their shirts on. Ever. Ever. They just don't have shirts. Maybe we'll go down that road. (Breaks deadpan.) That would be a goof. Jeez, maybe that could be our whole deal. Maybe we'll do it as a goof.
Anyway, the rock publications like Spin didn't see our record as a rock record. They interpreted it as a show tune/comedy record. So, for our next record, Vol. II, which we feel has really strong material on it _ we feel it's a stronger record, there's no comparison. We love Vol. I, Mountain Trip To Japan and Eggs _ those are all cute _ but Vol. II has serious contributions to rock. And this one will have Rachel on drums. (The band brought in Fastbacks drummer Mike Musburger for Vol. I.) The new album will also be based on slides? Of course!
(4) Let's discuss the slides. You must feel a bond with all these strangers and families you've never met. It gets stronger and stronger. One new song, Look At Me, really gets into the lives of these two women, Jeanne and Cathy. It traces their lives in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. You really get to know them. You see them with their friends. They were definitely social alcoholics, and they weren't afraid to break out the camera during parties!
As the years went on, you'd see the same people as they got older and older. You got to recognize them as they got older. These were particularly fun-loving people. You could just tell. So, that's a very special song for us.
(5) Have you ever met anybody from a slide? I've met people who say they know people from slides. Most the people from the slides are dead.
(6) You and Tina once owned a dog-walking business? Yes, we did. Tina used to walk dogs in New York City, then we thought, "We could pull this off in Seattle," especially with the economy when it was so good in the 1990s. Oh, man, people just had money to throw away in Seattle with the computer industry. It was good times. Good times to be in the service industry anyway (laughs).
It's always rough times to be an artist, but if you're an artist in the service industry, it was extra bucks in Seattle. We did it for 10 years and after a while we had too many damn dogs. We couldn't schedule them all in. I couldn't take a lunch break or take a day off. We definitely got our bills paid. Good honest work for good honest pay. Do you have pets now in New York or is it too much of a hassle with touring? Both. We have pets and it is a hassle (laughs). We have two dogs. We've had them the whole time, about 15 years. They're mixed terriers, Emma and Rags.
(7) Let's talk about Rachel. Everyone loves Rachel. She's the star. She's the star of the show. For the folks who scoff at the idea of parents taking their kid on the road to perform _ past her bedtime _ in a ROCK BAND, IN BARS (Trachtenburg laughs), tell us of the positive experiences this band has afforded your daughter. Well, within the next two weeks, she will have gone around the world. We are traveling around the world. She has a friend in Australia, also a drummer, who's 11, named Scarlett. Her parents are in the music business. She lives in our building here in New York. She's in Australia right now. So, these two little girls just hit it off completely. So, our music career allows her to travel around the world without it costing us an arm and a leg.
(8) How does it affect Rachel's self-esteem? She seems so poised. And happy. Her self-esteem is fine. She's not one of these kids who doubts herself. The only time she does is when she's watching too much TV, then that makes you into someone you're not. She loves TV. When she does that, it messes with her head. You mean watching herself on TV or regular TV? Oh no, regular TV. She's not as obsessed with the band as I am (laughs). I'm the one who watches us on TV. Does Rachel go to regular school? She goes to an alternative school in Seattle. She goes to school half the time, then they give us curriculum that she does on the road when we're touring. She's level-headed about being semifamous? She's completely the same as if she had a regular childhood except she would be watching a lot more TV. Much to her enjoyment. She loves traveling. Every tour we go on, she's the first one in the '83 Suburban.
(9) Ah, the next question: You named your tour the '83 Suburban Tour. Is the Suburban still faithful? It keeps going and going. Unless an engine or transmission blows, that thing will keep going forever. Even when that happens, if someone can fix it up cheap, I'd keep it going. It's such a safe vehicle. If anything should happen, you're safe. It's a beast for sure. But it keeps going.
(10) What do both your parents and Tina's think of this crazy career your family created for itself? We'll start with Tina's parents. They are extremely supportive. They collect all the magazines. If they know we'll be on TV, they'll sit by it all day. Even if they think they may have missed it, they'll sit by it all day, MTV or whatever. They're in their late 60s, recently retired, and they live in San Antonio, Texas. They are quite loving, very, supportive, very warm.
And your parents? My folks live outside Philadelphia, in south Jersey _ but Philadelphia is where my family has been based for three or four generations. They, too, are still married to each other. My mom works as a teacher. She's an extremely skilled educator, probably one of the best ever. The same way I love being a songwriter, this is my mom as an educator and a lecturer. This brings her the same kind of joy.
My dad is a retired family and marriage counselor. He's our biggest fan. He's come to more shows than anyone. He also saves all the clippings. He's all over the Internet, like an Internet "worker" for us. He writes back to anyone who writes about us. But he writes to anyone who writes negative reviews, too. And, of course, we've had some off shows. Everyone does. And, also, some people just don't get us. But, if they post something on the Internet, my dad will e-mail these people and explain why they're wrong and they have a problem and our band is the greatest thing in the world _ which is sweet, but it's a little embarrassing.
Gina Vivinetto can be reached at ginasptimes.com.