first family of indie-vaudeville: the Trachtenburgs.
More, and Then the Drummer Has to Put on Her PJs
For the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, bedtime
takes a backseat to music
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
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.
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.
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.
feel I have a particularly good grasp on pop music as well,”
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.
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
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
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.