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The first family of indie-vaudeville: the Trachtenburgs.

One More, and Then the Drummer Has to Put on Her PJs
For the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, bedtime takes a backseat to music

By Ashley Hahn

It’s no picnic being a touring musician and trying to maintain a healthy family life, but then again, your family usually isn’t your band.

Jason, Tina and Rachel—the songwriter dad, the designer mom and their 10-year-old drummer girl—comprise the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, a family trio who play quirky songs set to slideshows and have a reputation for melting the icy hearts of cynical hipsters and crabby pop snobs alike.

They traverse the country in a 1983 Suburban custom painted by Tina and Rachel, opening up for the likes of They Might Be Giants and hitting festivals like South by Southwest. Conventions like bedtime and classrooms are frequently tossed aside along the way.

This month finds the “first family of indie rock” hitting the clubs with their TFSP “On Ice” shows, which include a stop at the Berkshire Museum on Saturday (Dec. 13), and feature some new seasonal material: Rachel wrote her first song for the holiday shows, and Jason has a new one too, a commentary on organized religion.

“I have a lot of Christmas slides, a lot of obscure slides, and a lot of weird government slides,” Jason said over the phone, while Rachel was still nestled in bed at 11:30 in the morning on a Wednesday.

Where most families quibble about chores or other mundane things, the Trachtenburgs also navigate the waters of creative pursuit together. “It’s always my turn to take out the trash for some reason,” Jason jokes, and says that although the family gig is wonderful, it’s not always a cakewalk.

“Rachel likes to exert her independence,” her dad concedes. “And generally a lot of the suggestions that I have, she likes to fight them at first, but then eventually gives in. I take her input really seriously as far as where she’s at musically. I feel she understands pop music as strong as anyone.

“I feel I have a particularly good grasp on pop music as well,” he giggles.

Jason also admits he’s a “lifetime left-wing individual”—a fact that helps explain how his songs nimbly hop from fondue to bombs and apathy. And though his ultimate yard-sale score would be J.F.K.-assassination slides, because they’re so rare, he’d settle for “some political figure’s home slides.”

Though Rachel is young, her dad says she gets the politics on a basic level: “She doesn’t want to see anyone suffer”—a compassion that Jason says he’s still working on. “She acquired that empathy from her mom.”

For those who have yet to experience the family: Guitarist Jason shares the stage with a screen—Tina projects slides onto it from 10 to 20 feet away—and Rachel sits behind the kit. They sport matching costumes designed by Tina and her mom in loud, upholstery-looking prints. “You can’t miss us,” Jason says. “We call it Von Trachtenburg.”

Jason had been struggling in music since the late ’80s as a solo artist. But things changed after Tina bought an old projector and box of slides at a rummage sale. Jason wrote a song set to the slides. “We realized from the very first show that we struck entertainment gold,” he says. “It was a complete accident.”

Now they have thousands of slides, but use only about 300 per show (the rest are all fertile ground for future songs). “We threw out the ones that were just scenery and a lot of Immaculate Conception ones,” Jason says. “I really have no use for that kind of stuff.”

On their debut album, Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1 (Bar/None), two songs on the enhanced CD feature slideshows—and Jason promises that the next record will include even more slideshows.

“It’s a bit of a crutch, but it’s also our show,” he admits. “If that’s the case, every show is a crutch or everything is shtick.” The shtick stuck so much so that they uprooted to New York City from Seattle to see how they’d fare, and it seems to be working out. They held a successful residency at Fez, and Jason says they “just want to take this as far as it can go, our own terms . . . by any means necessary.”

Rachel Trachtenburg thinks New York is “pretty cool” and doesn’t seem to mind that most of her friends in the East are adults. “I like to go out and see shows, and I like to get together with our friends,” she says. “I go to the Sidewalk [Café] a lot for the open-mike nights.” The Sidewalk is an anti-folk hotspot.

Rachel also has been busy listening to Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Rufus Wainwright, Led Zeppelin and the White Stripes. “That’s about it right now,” she says. She likes Meg White—to whom she is often compared—but Rachel thinks she might ultimately enjoy playing bass a bit more than the drums.

Being in a band at age 10 means staying up late, hanging out in places that are frequently for folks 21 and older, and being homeschooled or tutored. But Rachel is pretty nonchalant about it all. “Selling merchandise,” she says, is one of her enjoyments. “And I like to watch my daddy get paid up at the end of the night.”

While having her own band when she gets older is a possibility, Rachel claims, “I’m not sure yet; I’m still thinking about that.”

In the meantime, the Trachtenburgs are just curious to see where the slideshows will take them. “We have enough material for like 10 albums,” says Jason. “The possibilities are infinite.”

Well, one man’s trash is another’s family album.

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players will perform at the Berkshire Museum (39 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.) on Saturday (Dec. 13). The show starts at 8 PM, and tickets are $18 in advance, $21 at the door. For more information, call (413) 443-7171.

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