Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Trachtenburg Interview

A Family Affair
The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players bring their loopy genius to Hartford for the first time
By Adam Bulger

If J.D. Salinger ended his self-imposed exile and moved to the Lower East Side, he'd invent the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. The three-piece ensemble is fronted by Jason Trachtenburg and supported by his wife Tina, who accompanies her husband's pop ditties with ancient slides collected from estate sales. The real star of the show, however, is their 13-year-old daughter Rachel who plays drums and sings harmony. Rachel, who has been performing with the band for the entirety of their seven-year history, has become something of a celebrity, appearing on magazine covers and a popular YouTube video where she performs Syd Barrett's "Effervescent Elephant."

The society-tweaking presentation of America through slides, the familial nature of the performers and the genuinely catchy music create a perfect storm of cute, smart and funny. It's indie rock fun for the whole family, by a whole family.

A: How did the slide concept come together?

JT: With everything we do in the band — which is me, my wife Tina and my daughter Rachel — we're trying to create a ground-breaking artistic statement. That can mean creating an entirely new genre, as well. The possibilities are there. We tapped in on the concept of combining the slides with music, taking these images we found from estate sales and using songs to narrate those songs.

I was a struggling songwriter up until about the age of 30 or so. I was having trouble finding an audience for my music. Tina said "you gotta do something. You've been trying for ten years and nothing's happening. Why don't you try and reach your audience and really communicate with them through the visual medium of imagery through slide show projection?"

A: You play catchy pop songs that could stand on their own. Do you ever want to ditch the slides?

JT: I think the audience has come to expect the full presentation. They want to see the slides; they want to see Rachel on drums. They want the dynamic of a family band, and I don't blame them.

A: Rachel is 13 now, and she's kind of becoming a celebrity.

JT: She has a lot of skills, and she's very sincere. She could teach kids a lot of things, through her experience. She's working on her own show, which focuses on things kids can do themselves. It's something for kids that isn't dumbed down or patronizing, like a lot of Disneyfied culture.

A: Does her celebrity worry you as a parent?

T: Actually, that might be a better question for Tina.

A: Hello.

Tina Trachtenburg: Hey.

A: Well, the question is whether Rachel's celebrity worries you as a parent?

TT: Not really. I don't know if there's much to worry about. We live a quote unquote normal life. I think you should worry about are the ones that come from your basic tragic situation. She just has a really great family and friends and support system. She has tutors and teachers and us teaching her. There's a conglomerate around Rachel.

Right now we're doing puppets for the Rachel morning show that we're debuting in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She's also performing it in London.

A: When I was 12 or 13, I think I didn't want to have much to do with what my parents were doing.

TT: I think about that too. When I was 13 the last thing I wanted to do was hang out with my parents. With Rachel, I guess we're quote unquote cool parents. We do fun stuff. We're not sitting in an office. We're not doing things she can't do.

A: There's the Alex P. Keaton syndrome, where cool parents' kids rebel by being stiff and corporate.

TT: That's always a possibility. She said something to me like "It'll be interesting what I'll do when I'm 21, because by then I'll have already toured the world and been in every bar and rock club." Her friends will come and stay with us and they can't wait to go to a bar. Rachel's like "Whatever. You want to go to a bar, I'll go there. They're dumb. It's boring unless you're performing. You stand around, they drink and smoke, and talk to each other. It's dull."

A: Does she rebel against the concept of the band. Does she ever wants to do hip-hop or something?

TT: She doesn't like that kind of music. She likes classic rock. ... Doing the slideshow players is more Jason's thing. ... It's a fun family thing we do. Rachel, who has now picked up the ukulele and started playing a lot of ukulele songs — she loves that. Drumming, she likes, but I don't think she loves it like the ukulele. It's not her passion.

A: A major part of the band's appeal is that a cute little girl plays in this quirky rock ensemble. Is there an end date in mind — like OK, you're 16 and it's not so cute anymore?

TT: I guess we're not thinking about that. By her having her own show, that really broadens her thing. If she doesn't want to be in the band anymore, she can always get out of the band. She can do her own show, which she loves doing. I don't know if it would ever not be cute. When she's 16 it'll still be fun to see a family still doing some songs.